The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Making a strong and powerful Italian-style sourdough starter

  • Pin It
hkooreman's picture

Making a strong and powerful Italian-style sourdough starter

I have been struggling to make panettone with an Italian-style starter.  I have a supply of firm 50% hydration starter that I created and I follow the directions posted by several people here and at other sites on refreshing the starter.  Each time I refresh the starter, it seems to at least double within the 4-5 hour resting period so I was assuming that everything was working fine.  When I make the first dough for the panettone, it typically rises, although it takes close to 12 hours to do so.  Unfortunately, after I finish the second stage of the dough the following morning, the finished dough doesn't seem to rise.  The dough itself matches the descriptions and pictures I see of a very soft but strong dough with good windowpaining.  I am wondering if my starter really isn't strong enough to make it for the second rise.  Any help on making a good, strong, powerful starter would be much appreciated.

davidg618's picture

...including your dough handling techniques it is nearly impossible to give you an accurate critique.

That said, the way you describe your starter is spot on with what a 'strong' starter should exhibit. Consequently, I recommend you look elsewhere. Bread-making is often said to be 50/50 ingredients/technique; I personally think its closer to 15/85, but 85% of all people make up their own statistics;-).

I suggest you add your formula and details of your dough handling techniques to the your post so the TFL panettone experts can offer you good advice.

I'll go out on a limb based on your comment re windowpaning, 12 hours proofing and the bread type that perhaps you are not using enough levain.

David G


hkooreman's picture

The Italian starter I am using is a 50% hydration starter.  I found a good video on you tube from Italy that described how to feed the starter and in what proportions.  The starter was initially fed at 12 hour intervals for 3 days of 100 grams starter, 100 grams flour, 50 grams water.  The day of baking, I made a total of 3 feedings at 4 hour intervals of 100 grams starter, 100 grams flour, 50 grams water.  As I said, the starter seemed to rise nicely over the 4 hour period and at least doubled in size.  The recipe I am following is Iginio Massari's recipe for Panettone, which I found on mwilson's blog here on the Fresh Loaf.  That particular recipe called for a very small amount of starter in my opinion, 84 grams for the quantity of Panettone I was making.  I used 100 grams, thinking this would help.  There are no directions for mixing so I had to follow the directions I found in Italian about this recipe.  For the first dough, I combined the sugar and water together, then added the flour, the starter in small pieces, and mixed that till it was combined.  I then added the eggs in three additions mixing each time until the dough cleaned the side of my K-5A Kitchenaid.  Finally, I added the butter and mixed until well incorporated and the dough again cleaned the side of the mixer.  At this point, I covered the dough, put it in my oven with the light turned on, and set it to rise.  12 hours later, it had tripled in size.  I put the dough back on the mixer, add the flour and combined it.  Then I added the sugar alternating with 1/3 of the egg yolks, mixing each time till well combined.  I then added the honey and extracts and mixed again till combined and cleaning the bowl.  I added 1/3 of the egg yolks and mixed till combined and cleaning the bowl, finally I added the last of the egg yolks, mixed till combined and cleaning the bowl and added the butter.  After that was mixed and well kneaded, I added 1/2 of the water for adjusting the dough consistency incorporated that and then incorporated the fruits.  At this point the dough was very strong and windowpaned very well.  I let the dough rest for an hour and then rounded it and placed in my molds as directed.  I covered the molds and put them back in the oven with the light on.  When I last checked it was over 12 hours and they had shown some activity but were no where near coming to the top of the molds.  Not sure if this additional information will help but any advice/guidance is appreciated.

pepperhead212's picture

You mentioned that you thought it was a very small amount of starter, and when and what you added, as you made the recipe, but you will have to give the amounts for them to help you. This way they can see how much levain you had compared to the finished dough, as well as how much sugar, honey, and fat (other things that affect the rise) are in the dough. Good luck!


hkooreman's picture

I discovered my problem.  I need a proofer.  My oven and house was just too cold to encourage the starter to work for the second rise.  In desperation, I put both loaves in front of a space heater set at 80 degrees F for about 5 hours and that really helped.  They probably should have risen more before I finally baked them but it was 11:00 p.m., and I was tired.  The oven spring was pretty good and even though the loaves never did reach quite to the top of the mold during proofing, they did clear the mold during baking.  The end result after hanging and cooling was great: soft, moist, tender, with a nice delicate but slightly chewy crumb, sweet but not overly so, full of citrus perfume and no hint of tang from the starter.  A really exceptional final product for only my second attempt.  Now, to find a proofer.

Here is the recipe I used.  I got this from mwilson who is on the Fresh Loaf and has it posted on his blog:  The only changes I made were to up the leaven to 100g, substitute 2 grams of vanilla extract for the vanilla bean and I put in 2 grams of aroma panetonne as this is the smallest amount my scale registers. I also did not have candied citron and substituted candied pink grapefruit peel and Meyer lemon peel. I doubled the amount in the middle column to make 2 that would fit into 6" x 4 1/2" panettone molds.

nicodvb's picture

hkooreman, your procedure was perfect, but I always had better results letting the first dough only double, not triple. It's as if the starter lost force if let triple.

The ideal temperature for both first and second dough is 28°C. If you can get it you will have more predictable results.

mwilson's picture

Time to up the precision and control.

This kind of baking is somewhat akin to a laboratory experiment. Yes you need a 'proofer', precise temperature control is a must! I use an aquarium heater.

Were you just eyeballing the size increases because I find it hard to believe that the first dough would triple in volume in 12hrs with a sourdough that was only doubling in the four hour intervals, but then you did you extra...!

Obviously you don't have the book from which this formula came. Iginio Massari specifies a leaven that must triples in volume in four hours or less each time for the usual three refreshments.

Use a container with marked measurements, eg. a jug to monitor volume increase if you're not already doing so.

The second dough is meant to be proved at a very warm 32C.

A healthy and mature Italian sourdough will have a mild bitter-sweet taste, not sour. Have elongated alveoli and appear very white - this is important.

It takes a while to convert a common 100% hydration sourdough to an Italian style 50% one. Feeding daily for two weeks seems about right. The flour needs to be the same so buy a big bag. This is also important as I have recently discovered myself.

Control, Consistentcy and Commitment are required...