The Fresh Loaf

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Focaccia, Carol Field , Confusion

titus's picture

Focaccia, Carol Field , Confusion

I have Carol Field's book, "Focaccia: Simple Breads from the Italian Oven" and I was thinking of using some of her recipes.

Problem: She makes a big point of saying how a starter give so much more flavor, structure etc to the dough and she proceeds to give a recipe for one. She says to measure it before using it and some of her recipes include the amount of starter to use.

Other recipes call for a simple sponge that sits for about 45 minutes.

My questions:

What is the difference between using the sponge or the starter?

Can you substitute starter for the sponge? If so, how much would you use?

Sorry to be so dense, but I am not in the sourdough/starter club and don't really have a clue as to how to fiddle with the stuff.

Many thanks for any advice!

sourdough-guy's picture


Well a sponge is a starter. A sponge, strictly speaking contains most or all of the water from the final dough. It depends how you use the sponge but I really don't think it makes much difference whether you use a small amount of starter or a sponge. Is she talking about a yeasted sponge. I don't see what letting it sit for just 45 minutes will do with a natural leaven sponge. Most use a 12 hour or over night fermentation with a sponge.


titus's picture

Sourdough guy:

Yes, she has some recipes using the pre-made starter and others using what she calls the sponge.

Her sponge calls for
1 tsp active dry yeast
anywhere between 1/4 t 2/3 cup water (depending on the recipe)
100-140 grams of flour (depending on the recipe)

Her starter is:
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons water, room temp
500 grams flour

Briefly, after mixing the lot together, it's supposed to sit at room temp for 6-24 hours and then refrigerated.

I am confused because I don't know why some of her recipes use this starter and some use the sponge.

With the sponge recipes, the dough is made with more yeast, additional water and more flour.

Can the starter be subbed for the sponge? If so, how much should be used?

jaybo's picture

I make a pizza dough that is fantastic. The dough is made with a sponge and a sponge as I understand it is a water, yeast and flour mixture that has all the liquid the dough will need to be completed in the sponge.  The sponge is mixed then rests for 1 1/2 hours and then then dough is completed by adding salt and flour. The end result of the pizza dough being cook on stones or tiles is a bubbly light crispy crust. I am also making a Cuban bread which requires a starter. I made the bread and it turned out perfect which is slighty crusty on the outside and light with lots of wholes on the inside. I still haven't figured out the difference in the end result using a sponge as opposed to using a starter. To me they seem the same only one rests much longer than the other. So my question would be why wait 24 hours for a starter when a sponge takes only 1 1/2 hours. These are both yeasted. 

Teresa_in_nc's picture

You could try a recipe using the sponge and then next time you want to bake try a recipe using the starter and see if you can taste a difference and which one you prefer. At this point in my baking, I have not made focaccia with a starter, only the straight yeast method. In fact, my favorite focaccia is made from a mix recipe where you can mix up the dry ingredients, put in a container and give as a gift if desired. I like this recipe because it has some pepper flakes in it for a bit of spice and heat.


sourdough-guy's picture

 Hi Teresa, yeah I think with heavily flavoured breads you can kind of lose the subtleties of starter let alone one kind of starter over another.