The Fresh Loaf

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How to store Italian starter (lievito naturale) in water

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hkooreman's picture
hkooreman

How to store Italian starter (lievito naturale) in water

I have been working tirelessly to develop an Italian firm starter.  So far, it seems to be going well.  My question is how does one store an Italian starter in water and what are the benefits of doing so?  I saw a video done by Iginio Massari that showed him cutting up his starter and washing it in water into which he had placed a heaping spoon of sugar.  I am not sure what the benefit of this process is either.  Any thoughts or experience with this process would be appreciated.

d_a_kelly's picture
d_a_kelly

The bathing of the starter in lightly sugared water (2g per kilo of water) is a process Massari calls the "lavaggio" of the starter, and is different from storage. The lavaggio should be done before refreshing the starter in order to prepare it for later that day. The reason Massari gives for this process is as follows (my translation from Italian here - so sorry for any mistakes): "the sugar gives the water a light sweetness (...) it needs to stay in the bath of fresh water and sugar for no less than 20 minutes, allowing the hydrocarbonate material, a type of resin similar to gum, and the fatty substances formed, to dissolve." He goes on to say that it shouldn't stay in the bath much more that 20 minutes either. After that you squeeze out the excess water and do the first of 3 - 4 refreshments.

As for actual storage of the starter, his advice is really geared towards a professional bakery which is going to use it every day. He recommends wrapping the starter in plastic wrap and then in clean cloth before tying it with string. This is to stop it from expanding too much, which keeps the acidity under control for a maximum of 24 hours at room temp. He does in fact also talk about storing of the starter in a bowl of cold water, but he's a little disparaging of the method (again I quote): "this method allows speed of production (...) but the product has a tendency to become sour, because the carbon dioxide continues to escape, augmenting the production of acetic acid."

Everything in Massari's method is geared towards controlling the amount of acetic acid in the starter - it ought to be acidic (a pH of about 4 is his ideal) but not sour, so largely lactic rather than acetic acid. This also explains his method of 3 to 4 consecutive refreshments before using it, as the higher temps (26 - 28C) will favour lactic acid development of acetic, as well as ensuring healthy and active yeast. 

Here is a good link (in Italian, but you can use google translate) with photos, for the traditional Italian method: http://www.coquinaria.it/forum/showthread.php?120957-Il-rinfresco-della-pasta-madre-step-by-step-con-fotogrammi

Now, with all that said, the site of the San Francisco Baking Institute has a few interesting words to say on this method - I've copied this directly: It is more common to maintain a starter at 100% hydration for mild acidity, but with the Italian starter, the hydration is 50%. The reason can be attributed more to tradition than theory. When there was no way to control the temperature of the room, the starter was fed every four hours and left at room temperature. Then, during the period that no one was in the bakery, the starter was wrapped tightly in a cloth and tied with a rope or string in a way that allowed minimual room for expansion.

I maintain my starter at 100% hydration in the fridge (I only use white flour for feeding, as again this seems to reduce acetic acid production) and then convert it to 50% whenever I need it. So far I haven't had any problems, and it certainly minimizes workload when trying to make a panettone. The only problem is that it sometimes isn't acidic enough! But this is easily remedied with an extra feed or two.

 

David

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Thanks David. You saved me the trouble of quoting Massari.

However I am curious about the method you use. I would say that going from a 100% hydration to 50% in a few feeds is completely different to using a starter that has been continually kept firm for two weeks plus. I would expect the LAB count to be too high causing an unwanted acidic taste in the final product (lemony taste and smell).

I currently keep my starter in water but I might try returning to the tied method to rediscover the differences.

Not acidic enough? Really? please explain...

Michael

d_a_kelly's picture
d_a_kelly

Hi Michael,

I was surprised myself by this - and I don't know enough about the chemistry to explain it - but I find that my 100% hydration starter usually has a pH of about 4.5 to 5, depending on how long I've kept it in the fridge (the acidity increases slowly the longer it has been in kept cool). Massari seems to prefer a pH of about 4.1 as his ideal, so in that sense mine is "understrength". The smell of it is extremely clean, with a very slight milky hint to it. Interestingly, when I convert it to 50% the smell changes immediately, becoming more of a "classic" starter smell. Until a few months ago I was following Massari's method of maintaining at 50% so I feel reasonably confident in saying that they behave in similar ways, and seem to produce similar results. I've never noticed anything resembling a lemon smell or flavour. The mature starter, converted from the 100%, has that battery acid fizz on the tongue, a nice light alcholic smell, and a flavour of flour, just as Massari says it should. I don't know if I've just been lucky so far, and I'm still very much in the experimental stage here. The number of times I refresh depends on the starting pH. Sometimes I refresh just once, sometimes twice... rarely 3 times (as dicated by Massari). I really need to find some time to do some systematic tests and comparisons. Massari's method is about converting a starter of ph3.8 to pH4.1 - whereas I'm trying to convert something from pH4.5 to pH4.1 in as few steps as possible. It's still a work in progress but results are promising :))

 

David

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Hi David.

I don't think pH is the most significant thing here, generally. pH is only an indicator of acidity and not a measure of total acid. Other pastry chefs dictate a pH range from 4.3-4.8. Mine stays at around 4.3 when mature. I think rising power and temperature are the most important details. Having said that I believe to follow Massari's formulas exactly then the pH 4.1 is significant as the lower the pH the less lievito is used hence why his formulas use it at only 25%.

Is your lievito bright white with elongated gas pockets?

Michael

d_a_kelly's picture
d_a_kelly

It is when refreshed and mature... so far it has always tripled for me in 4 hours when held at 26C, so in that sense it agrees exactly with Massari's description. Moreover it also raises the first and second impastos within the proscribed time limits. In that sense it seems to be working. Of course by storing in at 100% and leaving it in the fridge it isn't perhaps ready for use everyday (because it changes subtly while being stored) in the way that Massari's is, but for domestic purposes I'm quite happy. However if I use it the day after refreshing my 100% then I have to give it more consecutive refreshes to bring it up to the appropriate acidity level. This doesn't have an effect on the rising times of my lievito, but certainly has an effect on the flavour and storage capacities of the finished product.

David