The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hi and a question

Marios's picture

Hi and a question

Hi there !!!

these forums were a big surprise , a good one . There are tons of info in these forums and i am just starting to go through them but i have some unanswered questions to which i hope more experienced members can shed some light .


I understand , i hope , what is the difference between a sourdough starter  and a pre-ferment . Over here ( i live in Athens, Greece ) there is a process that i have seen used that i am not sure in which category it falls in. Let me explain :


This is a bread recipe that my grandmother  used to make .

Combine 1/2 cup of wheat flour with water to make dough that is close to 60% hydration.Knead it and place it in a bowl , cover it with a towel and leave at room temperature for 24 hours. Next add 1/4 cup wheat flour and water to 60% hydration , knead it and leave it covered for 24 hours. Repeat the process one more time.

Was that a starter?

Bread ingedients

  • 1 part luke warm water
  • 3 parts wheat flour (my grandmother used some variety of durum wheat endemic here )
  • salt (1tsp for every lb)
  • honey(1tbsp for every lb)
  •  our starter (????)

In a large bowl mix the starter(?) with some of the water to make until it  looks milky . Add most of the flour keeping some for when kneading.Knead until dough stops sticking to hands. Continue kneading for 10-15 min more. 

Take a portion (...My grandmother never used measurements , her recipe was that she wanted a piece of that as big as a small orange for 2 lbs of dough ....)off the dough and refrigerate it . This will be used as our pate fermente(?) for the next time we make bread.  Store it in a covered bowl that has a pinch of salt and some oil  in the bottom of the bowl. It can last up to 15 days .

Now is that pate fermente ?

Take the dough , cover it and let it rise in a warm spot of the house for 8-12 hours until boubled. Shape as required , let it rise again  and bake.



Now i have been reading for the past 6 hours these wonderfull forums and i still cant figure out exactly what is this process? Is it a sourdough bread? Is it a bread using apre-ferment ? A combination maybe ?



Ambimom's picture

I think you've already figured it out.  From what you describe, your grandmother made a starter, waited for it to become active before mixing her bread.  Sounds pretty delicious too.  How lucky are you that you have such a fantastic legacy from your grandmother.  She sounds like a very special woman to have written it all down for you.  I'd make a loaf if I were you.....and I wouldn't be too worried about what things are called.  It's the end result that matters.

I know if you read things here, people become obsessed with percentages and baking terms, but bread is a living thing that often has a mind of its own.  A lot of it is about touch, feel and smell.  Your grandmother knew that.

It's the joy ...

Marios's picture

Thank you Ambimon for your reply

Yes i am lucky in the sense that i have actually seen my grandmother as well as my great grand mother , and have witnessed too their baking bread the old Greek way .

What i forgot to add is that when they made the starter they used fresh basil .

What they did was : they used basil water , i ll cal it basil water from an idea i got from this forum where a poster wrote about raisin water . They dipped a small branch of fresh basil in water , waited for 5 min and used the water for the starter . When they put the starter in the bowl they placed the basil on top of the dough and removed the basil the next day when they added more flour .

Well i just made my fresh sourdough bread and i am not all that thrilled actually with the results . I used whole Dinkel flour for the starter and the bread did rise but the smell was not what i remembered it should be. It has a bit of a rotten apple smell instead of a milky-nutty smell that i remember my grandma's bread smelled.

I have no idea why that happened , i am thinking its the Dinkel flour , wrong bacteria , wrong procedure , something i don't know yet. I have put aside some of the starter and i am gonna nurture it for a weak adding wheat flour . I found a flour that people here cal country bread flour , its a yellowish wheat flour cut a bit coarse (reminds me a bit of semolina flour)and i will be using that on my second attempt on sourdough breads .




Marios's picture



i would have liked to include a pic but i cant . I will tho with the next loaf.

Just wanted to say that the second third and forth attempt have gone very well. I am reading now a thread on starters and i will add there what i have found for this particular recipe for starter that uses basil .Very interesting stuff i think

AnnaInMD's picture

caught the "basil" water.  I feel that dipping a fresh branch into water for five minutes will do little to enhance the flavor of the water, so maybe it has something to do with a religious ritual.  But you enlivened my brain ! I will now exchange finely chopped fresh basil for my usual grated caraway seeds, or maybe I will use both.  I will try your grandma's recipe, thank you for that.

I guess we can figure out that the term starter means just that, we start a sourdough yeast from scratch.  The pre-ferment piece is the product of the unbaked bread dough which can be used for the next bread without having to do a new starter.

David, I am already in a mourning stage re my fresh basil  and the season coming to an end. Have you tried bringing in the basil plant and growing it in the house ? I will give it a try this year.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Anna.

My basil is planted in a raised garden I use for tomatoes also. It seems to love it there and ends up about 30 inches in height - not suitable for transplanting and taking indoors.


AnnaInMD's picture

at least you will have plentiful to freeze or make pesto.  Nice  :)

SylviaH's picture

My grandson had some lovely herbs and basil plants growing in his indoor Aerogarden planter.  Grow lights can do wonders!  Mine is still doing well outside and is over 2 ft. sits in a large pot under the lemon tree in partial sunlight.


AnnaInMD's picture

a grow light might be just THE idea for our cold Maryland winter weather !

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Marios.

Welcome to TFL!

When you have your grandmother's recipe figured out to your satisfaction, I would love to have it.

One of my sons is married to a Greek woman. Her family is from the Peloponnese. We have been looking at various recipes for Greek breads, trying to find one that makes the bread she remembers eating in Greece. The ingredients in your recipe sound right, but having the ingredient quantities (weights, preferably) and a description of the loaves or a photograph would be wonderful.

Whenever you are ready.

In the meantime, I have to tell her about "basil water," and I have to try this myself before my basil is gone for this year.


RobynNZ's picture

I'm reading Meredith Kirton's new book 'Harvest' a complete Australian guide to the edible garden, in the herb's section p370 there is a side bar:

"did you know?   In India where it is called tulsi, basil is sacred, and dedictated to the gods Vishnu and Krishna in a special Hindu ceremony. It is also used in the Greek Orthodox Church in the preparation of holy water, as it is said to have been found growing around Christ's tomb after Easter Sunday."

Serendipity has such a lot to do with the evolution of fermented goods. I wonder if the basil water does enhance the mix. One assumes its use had its origins in some form of blessing.

Yerffej's picture

I would guess that the use of basil is well founded and not a random act.  I would love to know why it was used.


mkelly27's picture

I believe the dipping of the Basil into water is to gather the wild yeasts present on most foliage .  I have done the same with grape leaves and cabbage leaves to gather wild yeasts.

  This was the only method I ever knew to gather wild yeast. You would take a cabbage leaf from the garden and soak for a few hours, throw away the leaf and reserve the water to mix with flour to get a starter culture.  This wild yeast can be seen on some darker colored fruits and veggies in the garden as a whitish residue sometimes called "bloom" or "blush".

Yerffej's picture

Maybe so.  As it is not visually apparent I never thought of basil as having yeast on it.


Marios's picture

Well let me first clarify or rather add here a few things . I had already posted this on  this  thread but i ll post it here as well in case anyone missed it.


Now i would also like to put forth what i have found with a certain starter i made , a peculiar way of making a starter actually .And some VERY interesting findings concerning the properties of basil. Well here goes:


If you took the time to read the procedure then you know that i used what i call BASIL water. Soaking fresh basil leaves in water , then using that water to make my starter. Its an old recipe , actually dating at least as back as the the Byzantine era , thats almost 2000 years old . Thats right , 2000. It could well have started long before that but my atempt to find more info on its use in Ancient Greece (i am Greek by the way) has not turned up anything , at least till now .

When i first made this starter i couldnt understand why they used basil. At first i thought that they did because it added wild yeasts. Then through reading and searching the internet and especially the thread in tfl  -> The Pineapple Juice solution 1 and 2 was when i thought that maybe basil did something to the ph level . Neither of these assumptions is correct though. After a bit more info hunting i stumbled on to this

In addition, basil has been shown to provide protection against unwanted bacterial growth. These "anti-bacterial" properties of basil are not associated with its unique flavonoids, but instead with its volatile oils, which contain estragole, linalool, cineole, eugenol, sabinene, myrcene, and limonene. Lab studies show the effectiveness of basil in restricting growth of numerous bacteria, including : Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli O:157:H7,....., Enterococcus and Pseudomonas, all of which are not only widespread, but now pose serious treatment difficulties because they have developed a high level of resistance to treatment with antibiotic drugs.(September 8, 2003).....


   ...basil EOs had selectively high activity against B. cereus, Enterobacter aerogenes..



The list goes on and on . Every basil variety has a different antibacterial composition and different percenages of those . I have found this book and have ordered it to figure out what precicely is it that drove the people here in Greece to use Basil for making starters. In a nutshell  i am pretty sure that at least Escherichia coli and Enterobacterhwhich that are identified in the Pineapple thread from a piece written by Rudi Vogel and quotted in that thread as "bad" bacteria are deffinetely not basil friendly . I an not sure about Slamonela , although i have found some texts that say that basil is an inhibitor to Salmonela too i also found a lot of pages that attributed a salmonela outbreak to basil , although that was also not certain or from what i could figure out not scientifically proven with out a doubt.


Anyway i think i know why they used and still use basil and i will continue to use it . I have already started a new starter with oj and basil , just for the fun of it . I ll let you know of the progress .

PS I am gonna come back here later on to answer to all the good people here that took the time to post and left some questions for me .

Yerffej's picture

From all that I know about basil this makes perfect sense.  Thanks very much for the information.


Marios's picture

Thank you all for your posts . I ll try to answer as best as i can to those that had some questions or that i think a post is required to advance this discussion.

@ AnnaInMD

Thank you for your nice comments and your willingness to try this recipe for making bread . You are correct , basil is not used as a flavor enhancement . If you read what i posted previously you know what i think the reason was and still is since some people still make bread this way albeit only very few.

Hold on on the recipe , pls give me a week to experiment some more and find the correct quantities and procedure. I was a noobie when i started reading the TFL , i still am , but at least i am now a noobie with lots of information. Yes, its is a sourdough starter , they only make it once a year and that is the day of the holy spirit . They take the basil from the Greek orthodox priest that has . dipped it in the holy water. This procedure dates back as i said before at least since the Byzantine era .

Through searching for relevant info i stumbled upon some interesting facts about sourdough , its use in ancient Greece and what was most interesting is that sourdough never stopped being made here even during the Roman empire when ,from what i ve read, beer yeast was used in Gaul and its use was widely spread through out the empire.

@ RobynNZ

Thank you too for your comments . I ll just continue from where i left off as RobynNZ's post gives me the opportunity to continue with an explanation of why i think the Greek orthodox church included basil in one of it's ceremonies .

I think its use Robyn has its origins in very practical and pragmatical reasons as i described in my previous post. The Greek orthodox church ( as i think a lot of churches , i dare say all of them) has included a lot of things that were there before it arrived. It is not the scope of this forum to delve in to such discussions so i ll only say that i think one of the things the church "adopted" was the use of basil in making bread. Even though i am not a religious person i still remember stories when i was vacationing as a child in a small Greek village that some women would take the basil from the priest and deliver after a few days the holy bread that the priest would then use in his service. Through reading now about this i have found that this is exactly the case .

If you want to have some fun read this

What it basically says is that once every year(day of the holy spirit) folks would take that basil from the priests (that required them to say a few chants when using that basil), use it as a supplement to the water -some say that they need to keep it in the water for three days- and then use the old dough or pate fermente from that starter during the whole year. I have also learned that until the 2nd century ad it was the law that if you asked for pate fermente from anybody that had some they were obligated to give some to you. That coincides actually with the start of the beer yeast use.

So to put it bluntly , religion in this case i think had nothing to do with the bread evolution here. They (priests)saw a good thing and used it in their ceremonies , maybe even as a way of control or for stressing the importance of going to church in order to receive that supplement. Anyway , this is so out of context, sorry for the long post.

@ mkelly27

Thank you for your comments . And thank you for giving me more reasons to do research .

" By definition, sauerkraut is "acidic cabbage." It is the result of a natural fermentation by bacteria indigenous to cabbage in the presence of 2 to 3% salt. The fermentation yields lactic acid as the major product. This lactic acid, along with other minor products of fermentation, gives sauerkraut its characteristic flavor and texture."

@ dmsnyder

Thank you David for your nice comments .

I ll certainly put the recipe here , i want to know what others can do with this and from what i ve read in these forums you ll certainly do it justice.

As it happens one of my grandfathers from my fathers side is from Kalamata,Peloponnese . I have no idea what kind of bread they bake , although i think bread making is such a fun activity that eventually i will find out all there is to know at least for the recipes being used here in Greece.

The bread i remember my grandmother used to make was very dense , almost like a rye bread , full of very small holes , sour with a lot of sour aftertaste and a very earthy AND wheatty flavor . Crust was minimal for the size of the breads that were almost 4 lbs and it would not stay crunchy for more than a few hours obviously form the water retained in the bread. The bread would stay fresh for at least a week and the taste would get better with time .

What i also remember is that when i asked her once what flour she uses she told me that it was mauragani , a durum wheat that is still being produced here . I have found whole seeds that i plan to grind them as soon as i get a grinding machine this week and i ll try to bake again with that and see if i get the exact same results i remember.

Anyway , sorry again for the long post but its been more than a week now that i read about sourdough and bread and ferments and anything i can find thats relevant to my new hobby and my head is filled with too much info .


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I would have joined the conversation sooner, but I've been away from TFL tending to life's responsibilities. Thank you for posting to my pineapple juice thread. Since you have a thread devoted to basil, maybe this is the better place to respond.

Many herbs and spices have antibacterial and/or antifungal properties, so it isn't surprising to learn that basil is among them. Spices in particular, have been used for ages to help preserve such baked goods as the Christmas fruitcake and spice cookies like pfeffernusse.

I once tried a starter procedure that used cumin, because it was supposed to promote yeast growth (as do cardamom, cinnamon in small amounts, ginger, nutmeg, thyme, fenugreek, and possibly others). However, since it can't enhance yeast activity, unless and until the yeast are actually active, I found no benefit to using them for the purpose of creating a sourdough starter from scratch. I did the side-by-side test, and it didn't hurt anything, but it didn't help either.

On the other hand, anything that thwarts the kind of bacteria that can slow things down in the beginning has potential to help, as long as it doesn't inhibit yeast or desireable lactic acid bacteria (LAB). I am skeptical that enough of the antibacterial compounds are actually transferred to the water, just by dunking a sprig into it. Are these compounds water-soluble, and are they on the exterior of the plant?

What I find, with this process in particular, is that people generally assume if they tried something and it worked, that it worked because of what they tried, when often, things work in spite of what they did, rather than because of it. Hope that made sense :-)  Mother Nature has a hand in it too. The only way to know for sure if the basil really is giving it an edge is to run a side-by-side test with a negative control.

Here's what you need to do: Follow your procedure in duplicate; everything must be the same---same formula, same location (literally next to one another, since they can't occupy the same space), same flour(s), at the same time on the same feeding schedule. What you do to one, you must also do to the other. The only thing that should be different, is that you use your basil water in one, and plain water (from the same source) in the other. Then, if they behave differently, you can conclude that the basil is the reason. But if they behave the same, you'll know the basil didn't have any real impact, and you can attribute the results to statistical variation, or if you make a lot of yeasted breads, to the bakers yeast in your kitchen.

Please let us know how it turns out---inquiring minds want to know :-)