Baking Essentials: Pasta Madre (Mother Dough)
Andy Anderson !
A traditional pasta madre is made by fermenting flour and water (with a bit of sugar), until you get this wonderful “yeasty” smelling dough that is used in making bread and rolls. In America we call it a starter, or a sourdough starter. However, it takes a week or longer to make.
My Aunt Josephine used this recipe when she wanted some added depth to her baked goods but did not want to wait a week or more to have it.
So, you ready… Let’s get into the kitchen.
1/2 tspfresh clover honey, or white sugar
1 Tbspactive or instant dry yeast
3/4 cwarm potato water, or plain filtered water
1 cflour, all-purpose variety
How to Make Baking Essentials: Pasta Madre (Mother Dough)
- The Back Story
If you have ever baked bread, you understand that in order for the bread to rise it typically needs yeast.
Yeast is a sugar-eating fungus. It digests food to obtain energy for growth, and those little critters favorite food just so happens to be sugar in all its various forms. The end result is called fermentation, and produces carbon dioxide gas, and ethyl alcohol.
In bread baking, when yeast ferments the carbon dioxide gas cannot escape because the dough is elastic and stretchable. As a result of this expanding gas, the dough inflates, or rises, and the ethyl alcohol (plus other compounds) produced during fermentation, create the unique flavors and aromas you associate with yeast-leavened breads. Mmmmmm
So, we purchase packets of yeast and use them in our baking. Pretty basic stuff.
- Active versus Instant Yeast
Active dry yeast and instant (or rapid rise) yeast are the two most common yeasts available to home bakers. There are others; however, we do not need to discuss them at this time.
The two yeasts can be used interchangeably in recipes, but with one main difference. Active dry yeast needs to be dissolved in water before using; while instant yeast can be mixed right into the dough.
I prefer baking with active dry yeast, because I want to know that my yeast is alive and ready to do its thing… And that is called proofing.
- Proofing Yeast
Take the water, or liquid you are using to make your bread, and warm it up to about 110f (43c). Add a little bit of sugar, and then the yeast. Give it a stir and wait about 10 minutes. If the top of the liquid looks foamy, your yeast is good… add it to the recipe.
On the other hand, if nothing happens, your yeast is dead. Give it a proper burial and buy some good yeast.
FYI: You can store yeast in the freezer, and it will extend its life far beyond the expiry date.
- What the Heck Has All This to Do with a Pasta Madre?
Well, I am glad that that you brought up that very critical question.
A tradition pasta madre, or sourdough starter, does not use any prepackaged yeast; it gets its yeast from the flour and the air around it.
I am going to tell you something scary, and it just might keep you up at night; however, it must be told. The yeast fungus is everywhere; even in the air you inhale.
When you make a traditional pasta madre, you mix flour with water, and a smidgen of sugar, and let them sit, covered, on your counter for about a week. The natural yeast in the air, and the flour work their magic and make that wonderful yeasty mother dough, we all know and love.
- What is Different about this Recipe?
For this recipe we are going to cheat by adding some store-bought yeast. It is not going to be the same as creating your own starter, and feeding it on a regular basis, but you can have great pasta madre in as little as 3 hours.
For all you professional bakers out there, please cover your ears and pretend you did not hear me say that.
- What about Potato Water?
Potato water is one of those baker’s secrets. If you use potato water; as opposed to regular water, you baked goods will come out fluffier, and moister. To make potato water, cut up a potato or two, and boil them in water. Then, use the potato water in your baked goods… plus you can make mashed taters. It is a win-win.