Did you know that each and every Panettone we produce shares the same 70-year-old yeast from Italy? In Italian, this is referred to as the “Lievito Madre,” which literally translates to “mother yeast.” Typically, when we bake, we have our recipe, collect our ingredients, and follow a specific process. Most ingredients can be found readily on store shelves, and the quality and purpose of these ingredients varies by brand, location, and availability. We buy, we make, we consume. But when a component is so important to the core of a product, well, it demands that extra special love and attention. For the Panettone, this is the yeast, and it is the heart that brings it to life.
Yeasts are single-celled microorganisms, the first of which originated hundreds of millions of years ago, and one of the earliest to be domesticated. There are currently around 1500 recognized species of yeast, and vary in use from leavening in baking, to probiotics, to the fermentation of alcohol. As a living organism, it can be continuously propagated with daily refreshments.
The story of our Lievito Madre originates in Italy, under the tutelage of Antise Vancouver head chef Emiddio Isernia’s mentor of 6 years. The yeast had been passed down from pastry chef to pastry chef before then, and had resided in the care of Emiddio’s mentor for over 30 years. When moving to Vancouver, and with the utmost care, Emiddio brought a piece of the Lievito Madre with him, naming it “Pasqualino,” and while it took a while to settle in, it has come to love its new home.
As a living thing, Pasqualino has particular needs and tastes. Every day, chef Emiddio wakes up early to care for it, feeding it ‘meals’ of flour and water. On days just prior to production, there are always 3 refreshments (meals) provided. It has particular preferences for an idyllic environment, and requires particular care in the control of internal moisture and ambient humidity and temperature, safe from contaminants. It likes to have its meals in warmer climates than it prefers to rest at. The quantity of flour and the temperature and quantity of water also vary greatly depending on the constantly observed needs of the yeast. Furthermore, it requires occasional baths in sweetened temperature specific water. It is a delicate endeavour, managing balances between lactic and acetic acids. This consistent attention keeps the Lievito Madre at a prime size for constant use and regrowth and maintains it in peak condition. At no point during the year are there any vacations; it is the baker’s child. When asked about Pasqualino, chef Emiddio shares: “after working together for a while now I can say I know better how it reacts to temperature and weather changes, and I feel more confident and familiar with it every day.”
In the production of Panettone, the yeast works as a leavening agent, creating balanced pockets of air inside the dough. The best yeast allows for the best natural leavening and long rise. The pockets of air are quite crucial, as their size and distribution directly correlate to a softer and silkier texture, as well as the ideal moisture (and in turn longevity) of the Panettone. Smaller and inconsistent distribution of air pockets results in a dense texture, and too large air pockets results in a quickly dried out product. It is for this reason that among the many ingredients, it is given such special attention.
Next time you try a Panettone, make note of the distribution of air pockets, the density, the softness, and maybe you will be able taste a bit of the love that it was given.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We wish you a wonderful day 🙂