Also known as starter, sourdough is a mixture of flour and water that ferments through the action of microorganisms including wild yeast and lactobacilli, which in turn set off a natural leavening process. As well as numerous benefits, it boasts a colourful history.
Today, most of the bread and baked goods we eat use commercially cultivated baker’s yeast to make the dough rise. But this method dates back less than 150 years. For most of human history (and we have been making bread for many thousands of years) the only leavening agent available was natural sourdough.
It was even an unlikely hero of the Wild West, helping keep prospectors alive during the California Gold Rush of the mid-19th century and the Klondike Gold Rush half a century later. Experienced settlers would carry their starter around with them at all times, some apparently going so far as to take theirs to bed with them to ensure its survival through the long winter nights.
Compared to the commercial yeasts commonly used nowadays, items baked with sourdough take several hours longer to raise. So why is it appreciated by Pasticceria Marchesi and some other artisanal bakers? For one thing, it has numerous nutritional qualities. The fermentation of lactic acid bacteria makes for easy digestion and acts as a natural preservative. What’s more, the natural yeasts are less concentrated than commercial yeasts, making sourdough easier for the body to tolerate. Finally, it helps us absorb essential nutrients, from antioxidants and minerals to beneficial B vitamins.
Pasticceria Marchesi favours sourdough above all for the unique sensory qualities it brings to our cakes and pastries: from its fragrance and softness to its appealing aftertaste and the lightness that only a product made with sourdough can guarantee.
That’s why it is the fundamental ingredient in Pasticceria Marchesi’s leavened celebratory cakes (Panettone, Pandoro and Pandorella at Christmas, Colomba at Easter). As well as Milanese favourites the Venezianina and the Kranz (Frankfurt Crown Cake), it is now also used to prepare a selection of pastries baked daily in the Marchesi 1824 artisan pastry shops and sold at our counters.