The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Italian Bread Recipes - A Lievito Question

albacore's picture

Italian Bread Recipes - A Lievito Question

Whenever I browse Italian bread recipes, they all seem to use either lievito di birra, which is standard bakers yeast (fresh or dry), or lievito madre.

In the past I have dutifully refreshed my LM starter many times to get it in peak condition - a tedious process - before making the bread. However I am now wondering if it is really necessary to use LM in most recipes.

I accept that there are certain products or processes that need it, eg panettone or biga, but is it required for everything else? Perhaps the recipe would work just as well using my standard sourdough starter?

Indeed, maybe the Italians think this way too, as there appears to be a starter known as licoli "Lievito Madre a Coltura Liquida". This seems to be made at 100% hydration; on the other hand it is often started off with raisins, so is it more of a yeast water?

I look forward to enlightenment!



Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

A LM will give a different flavour profile to your liquid starter. LM will be flavourful but more mellow when it comes to tang. More like a biga then a typical sourdough starter. 

Many sourdough starter recipes do begin by adding skins of fruit especially grapes. This is done because of the natural yeast on the grapes and it is believed it'll give the starter a boost. However because it is maintained as a sourdough starter it'll become one as the lactic acid bacteria will also be propagated. 

mwilson's picture

I can't help but feel there is a question underneath this one... 

It seems to me you're seeking validation to throw out the rule book.

It's okay Lance, you can make bread any way you want. No one is going to curse you to hell. The Mafiosi won't be leaving a horses head in your bed. 

When it comes down to it there are technical reasons why things are so. Choosing to divert from them will always result in a trade off (universal truth). If you can live with that, then may your breads be absolved. 

As for licoli, this is more a domestic / amateur baker technique. Really the hydration should be higher than 100%, more like 130%. And contextually "lievito madre" can simply translate as "sourdough starter" but in Italy this would be commonly understood to be a firm type. Such is tradition. Don't forget this tradition of firm starters has evolved with good reason - to make the most of the weak flour historically grown in Italy.

As a general reminder, stiff starters can provide more dough strength -  Liquid ones more extensibility.

A stiff consistency slows acid development. But TTA will be higher at an equivalent pH compared to more liquid ones.  Note that increased acidity will slow fermentation and wreak havoc with gluten formation and rheological properties.

albacore's picture

Thanks for your replies, Abe and Michael. No sub plots, Michael - I do respect the traditions of bread making, as long as they make good sense. However if there is a quicker or easier way of doing things without detriment to quality then I am all for taking it.

Here are a couple of Italian posts about licoli by Gabriele Bonci, who appears to be its "founding father".