[Sca-cooks] masa

Terry Decker t.d.decker at worldnet.att.net
Mon Nov 12 13:09:39 PST 2007

> I'm behind on my reading so apologies if this was already answered:
> This could be a totally mistaken impression, but here's my understanding 
> of
> "massa".
> Since the ladies baked their bread each day, they would prepare the dough 
> and
> before baking (not sure if it would be before the first or second rise) a
> lump of the dough would be pinched off and saved.  The next day, that bit 
> of
> dough would be added into the new dough.  Since it has the yeast or other
> leavening agents from the previous day's bread, it would help with the 
> rising of the
> next dough.  A bit of the new dough is then saved for tomorrow's baking. 
> And
> the process goes on.

"Massa" means dough, but in this case it is dough retained for leavening as 
you state.  For home baking, the "pinch" of dough is a lump about the size 
of your fist, approximately a cup.  For a commercial baker, it is likely a 
ten pound football of dough.

Rather than being simply added to the new dough, the massa should be broken 
apart in the liquor for the new batch, then mixed into the flour.  This 
ensures that the spread of the yeast and lactobacilli through the dough.  In 
commercial baking, this step would be used to create a sponge from which the 
starter would be recovered, then the sponge would be broken apart in liquor 
and added to the dry ingredients to form the actual dough, preventing 
contamination of the starter by any of the other ingredients of the bread. 
Whether or not this procedure was used by the commercial or home bakers 
within SCA period is unknown.

A second rise is not necessary to producing bread and I have found no direct 
evidence as to whether the second rise was a baking technique used in 
period.  The appearance of a dough box in a 16th Century woodcut of a 
baker's shop suggests, but does not confirm the use of two rises.  Second 
rise was well established by the mid-19th Century and I'm still in the 
process of tracing its use.

> Again, from my understanding *only*, ale barm is not a common leavening 
> agent
> in Spain, but they do have yeast.  As Giano mentioned, they do have
> sourdoughs, too.  (As a side note, I've found information on winemaking in 
> "Spain", but
> nothing so far on beers/ales.)

My research suggests that northern Europe with its beers and ales more 
commonly used ale barm while the Mediterranean countries tended to use 
sourdough starters until modern manufacture and refrigeration made yeast 
commonly available.  The use of ale barm as leavening was introduced into 
Italy in the 2nd Century BCE by Gallic bakers,  but apparently fell into 
disuse as the empire declined.

> One thing I haven't yet found, that maybe another Spaniard or a Spanish
> expert could answer:  Did the Spanish use "dough troughs" like in some 
> other parts
> of Europe?
> -- Constanza Marina de Huelva

Almost certainly.  Dough troughs appear in the household inventories of 
Spainsh Jews and, IIRC, there are some Moorish examples to be found in 

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