Pasta Madre

Pasta” in Italian literally means “dough” in English. Now of course the word “pasta” is also short for “pasta asciutta” (dried noodles), “pasta fresca” (fresh noodles) and “pasta all’uovo” (egg pasta) just to make sure that all people learning Italian are confused at all times.

Pasta madre on the other hand is “mother of dough”, or natural yeast or bread starter.

I like to make bread. I find the process nurturing to my soul. There is something magical about taking flour and water and having it turn into lovely fragrant loaves of bread.

Hans is a Dutch guy and a true blue (or is that orange if your Dutch?) bread eater.

Our area has lots of bakeries, but most offer only white bread and fairly insipid whole wheat loaves, so as a result of these two facts, I’m always mucking about and baking with different types of flours and grains, both whole and rolled and often not using wheat at all.

my first pasta madre loaves


This autumn I became interested in baking breads with pasta madre. I read various recipes, each one seemingly more complicated than the next, some using potatoes or grapes, all warning that you might just end up with a bowl of useless mold.

Then, I ran across an old issue of a great magazine called “Vita in Campagna” which is a magazine for farmers. The issue I found had a recipe for pasta madre that seemed so simple, I thought I’d give it a try.

There were no quantities listed, just take some flour, mix it with enough water to make a soft ball, put it in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave on your counter. The next day add some more flour and some more water and repeat this operation for 5 days.

Well, maybe because there are probably a lot of yeast spores hanging around our kitchen, every morning I had a bubbling sticky mass of flour, and after 5 days I tried using it to make bread; mixing it with some kamut and whole wheat flours and some soaked spelt grains, adding enough water to make a very wet dough. Bread made with wet dough has a different texture than bread made with a drier dough, and I often like this more elastic, chewy texture.

Very wet dough

wet bread dough

The bread rose beautifully. I punched it down, put it in oiled bread pans (my dough was too wet to shape into a free form) and baked it after it rose again.


What this recipe made was essentially a sour dough starter. I kept a handful of the bread dough, fed it new flour and water every day until ready to bake again. You just keep repeating this process of saving some bread dough, feed it and use it.

You can also just freeze the starter until you’re ready to bake again and let it come to room temperature before using.

I’ve used it for pizza dough, focaccia and various breads. It doesn’t seem to matter what flours I’m using, but the resulting bread has a wonderful depth of flavour and none of that bitter instant yeast flavor that sometimes occurs using packaged yeast.

Give it a try.

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