Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking

January 13, 2019


Experimenting with Sourdough Starter


I have a bread thing going on. About a month ago I was gifted some thirty year old “starter” and since then I’ve baked more bread than I have in years. I’m still in the experimental stage as I’ve only ever baked with dry packaged yeast. My first few attempts were sourdough loaves which turned out pretty good (see below), although they took the greater part of a day to rise and bake (not counting making the “leaven” the day before).








I also baked Pane di Como Antico (Como Bread of the Past) from the wonderful book by Carol Field- The Italian Baker– and it may look a bit like ciabatta, but it’s quite different with it’s very crunchy crust and chewy interior.  I used it for mushroom bruschetta which we loved it.pane

As for the semelle rolls (pictured at the top of the post), well they have a great crusty exterior, but I think I should have used a little more of the starter. They didn’t rise as much as I would have liked and had a somewhat dense interior. That being said, while they were still warm I broke one open and slathered a little butter on and it was pretty tasty.

So, if you are a baker and have experience with sourdough starter I’d love some input. I’m unsure how much I should be using in replacement of dry yeast. Since I started writing this I’ve done a little reading about replacing yeast with starter and it’s not as simple as I had hoped-you have to decrease the amount of both water and flour in your original recipe and there’s most certainly a longer rise time involved.

My next attempt will focaccia stuffed with cheese-this is a bread my grandmother used to make and so I’ll be baking this from a memory-we shall see! I think I’ll stick with dry yeast this time.

Semelle Rolls (from The Italian Baker)

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package / 0.2 oz / 7 g) active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups (10.5 oz / 300 g) warm water

3 3/4 cups (17.5 oz / 500 g) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons (0.4 oz / 10 g) salt

Olive oil for brushing

By Hand
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixing bowl; let stand until creamy, about 
10 minutes. Stir in the flour, 1 cup at a time, and the salt. When the dough is too stiff to stir, plunge in with your hands. Knead on a lightly floured work surface until solid and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.


By Mixer
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour and salt and mix with the paddle until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Change to the dough hook and knead until solid and elastic, 3 to 4 minutes.


First Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Shaping and Second Rise: Cut the dough into ten equal pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Brush a little oil over each and let rest 10 minutes under a towel. With the edge of your hand, make a deep indentation down the center of each ball; be sure to press down firmly. Place the rolls, cleft side down, on floured parchment or brown paper. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Baking: Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Just before baking, turn each roll over and reemphasize the cleft. Place the rolls, cleft side up, on an oiled baking sheet. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, spraying the oven three times with water in the first 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Panini Girl In Lucca May 2019-there’s one spot left-come along!


7 thoughts on “Experimenting with Sourdough Starter

  1. When you’ve got it mastered, you’ll have to come on my sourdough panettone course with Mirko Tognetti of the Cremeria Opera! Not yet on my website, but we did a pilot course in October and it worked well. Mirko is a brilliant teacher!

  2. Wow! a 30 yr old starter really is a gift! I did starter experiments a few years ago, and it was really difficult to maintain, especially when I was away and had to get a ‘babysitter’. I had to find things to do with the extra ‘unfed’ half since I don’t have a lot of baker friends. Last Christmas I used it to make panettone, but a few months later I had to give up on my lievito madre. So sad. I just can’t bake enough to use it properly. I guess a starter is a big responsibility. Your breads look amazing so wishing you luck with it! Ciao, Cristina

  3. Cristina-I hadn’t thought about what will happen to my starter while I am away in Italy in the spring! I too don’t have a lot of baker friends-I keep asking if anyone wants a little of it.

    • It should be ok for 2 weeks. I’m sure you will be gone longer. You may want to ask someone to feed it every week or 2. Leaving it on the fridge may help increase the time between feeding. There are ways of preserving it by feeezing but they sound complicated! Hope it survives! Ciao, Cristina

  4. Well it seems as though you did quite well with the starter. Carol Field’s book is one of my go to references; I had the pleasure of assisting her in a class years back and learned quite a bit. Your breads look impressive, keep it up.

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