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Sourdough from Scratch: Baking with Wild Yeast

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February 14, 2011

Sourdough from Scratch: Baking with Wild Yeast

By David Draper

I’m happy to report that I’ve checked off two of the three resolutions listed in my New Year’s post. There are two cottontails in my freezer and a loaf of fresh baked bread on the counter. The bunnies were as simple as stepping onto the front porch early one morning with the Ruger 77/22 in hand. The bread has been a bit more challenging.

Part of my bread-baking resolution was not using any commercial prepared yeast. Instead, I would bake my first loaf with wild yeast, captured in my kitchen with a slurry of flour, water, and honey set out as a trap. Not as simple as it sounds, at least not in the dead of winter when wild yeasts are least active. Still, after a few fits and starts, I had a bubbling bowl of what I hoped was an original sourdough starter. I named it Black Dog, after the mood these cold days bring and my preferred color of Lab.

Never one to stick to a single recipe, I used pieces of knowledge I gathered here and there, with How To Cook Everything and The Lost Art of Real Cooking  as my primary guides. I’ll admit to kneading the dough the lazy man’s way with a food processor. For my next loaf, I think I’ll dive in with doughy hands, but the shortcut was pretty handy.

After the initial, electrical kneading, the dough—a simple mix of the Black Dog, water and flour—was left to rise overnight. The next day, after working it into boule and letting it sit for a few hours, it went into a 450-degree oven, along with some ice cubes to create a hot and steamy environment. Forty-five minutes later, my very first loaf of bread was done.

I could barely wait for it to cool before trying, and, while it wasn’t as good as I hoped, it wasn’t as bad as I expected either. The starter appears to be still a little weak, creating a dense loaf. I also forgot to add salt, so the flavor isn’t what it could have been.

I’m encouraged enough to try again but would like to hear from you. What advice can you give an admittedly bumbling baker?

Comments (11)

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from Koldkut wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

I would have started with a cup of long cook oats and 2 cups of boiling water, let that set until it's cooled to 120 degrees, then proceeded with the mixture as normal, subbing in as much flour as necessary. I might have added more yeast or given it more rise time.

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from Koldkut wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

And if you don't have it, 1 tablespoon, per intended loaf of bread, of some sort of fat, ie...butter, margarine, lard, or shortening to make the loaf a tad more moist, a dense loaf of bread isn't always bad, but it's better when the bread is moist.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

if you add some sort of fat as koldkut wisely suggested, make sure it is room temp before you do. love homemade bread.

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from jackie_treehorn wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

This looks delicious... I'm even more intrigued by the capture of wild yeast. I'm going to have to look that one up and give it a try. Do you think the wild yeast imparts a unique flavor... or something unique?

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from mad_dog9999 wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

I've never tried to capture my own yeast.. yet. I commend you and hope I can learn more about this in later posts.

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from Brian Jackson wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

Wild yeast usually give a slightly sour flavor, usually because they travel with some wild bacteria unlike the antiseptic yeast you buy at the store. Hence the name sourdough. For another version of a spontaneously fermented treat try some Lambic beer which is fermented with fruit and wild yeast.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Levi Banks wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

I wouldn't use a food processor for kneading, maybe it's not as bad as it sounds, but it sounds like it would tear up the dough. I use a stand mixer with a dough hook, it looks like you might have used a little whole wheat flour, this can make bread a little more dense, you can add some wheat gluten to help offset this, about 1 tbs. per loaf. Overall, homemade bread is more dense than a lot of the store bought stuff, at least in my experience. I feel sort of weird eating bread nowadays that doesn't have a little chew to it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from square_peg wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

".....I would bake my first loaf with wild yeast, captured in my kitchen...."

This is probably the most common myth about sourdough starter - that you 'capture' it from the air. In truth, the wild yeast is already present on the flour. All you need to do is provide a suitable environment for it to thrive.

The bacteria that jacksjb_44 was referring to is lactobacillus. It forms a symbiotic relationship with the wild yeast. The lactobacillus breaks down the starch in the flour into simple sugars that the yeast consumes. The lactobacillus is responsible for the 'tang' in a good sourdough.

My current favorite sourdough bread is a no-knead recipe that I adapted from a commercial yeast bread recipe. Very good bread and simple to make.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian W. Thair wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

Congratulations! I suggest you try again with no more than a bowl and a stick, the time-tested technology from the past few thousand years. There are times when the whine of the mixer just turns me off.

Some factory bread(?) is a flour/water foam with yeast and sugar for flavoring,2,000lbs done in 5 minutes, scaled and into the ovens before it flops.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dadsmom wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

I have heard of using water that potatoes have boiled in. Might try it for your moisture the next time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greenhead wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

Being a sourdough junkie, I would suggest that your bread is too dense because of a lack of yeast. When I make bread from "wild" yeast, I begin with a starter. To adapt my method to your recipe, I would allow the flower/water/honey mixture to sit until it is frothy, probably 36-48 hours. I would then discard half of it and replace the lost half with a fresh mixture of flour and water. Allow this new mixture to double in bulk, probably 24-36 hours. Repeat, discarding half and replacing it with water and flour. When this has doubled in bulk, you might consider making bread, though another cycle would help.

When making a new starter, I seldom use a mix that has worked for less than a week. The good news is that you can keep this starter for your next batch, so after you go through the first process, you can make bread as often as you like.

Some organization here in town, I think it is the American Legion, claims to have starter that has been working since the 1900s. The do a sourdough pancake breakfast every year that is excellent.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from square_peg wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

".....I would bake my first loaf with wild yeast, captured in my kitchen...."

This is probably the most common myth about sourdough starter - that you 'capture' it from the air. In truth, the wild yeast is already present on the flour. All you need to do is provide a suitable environment for it to thrive.

The bacteria that jacksjb_44 was referring to is lactobacillus. It forms a symbiotic relationship with the wild yeast. The lactobacillus breaks down the starch in the flour into simple sugars that the yeast consumes. The lactobacillus is responsible for the 'tang' in a good sourdough.

My current favorite sourdough bread is a no-knead recipe that I adapted from a commercial yeast bread recipe. Very good bread and simple to make.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Levi Banks wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

I wouldn't use a food processor for kneading, maybe it's not as bad as it sounds, but it sounds like it would tear up the dough. I use a stand mixer with a dough hook, it looks like you might have used a little whole wheat flour, this can make bread a little more dense, you can add some wheat gluten to help offset this, about 1 tbs. per loaf. Overall, homemade bread is more dense than a lot of the store bought stuff, at least in my experience. I feel sort of weird eating bread nowadays that doesn't have a little chew to it.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

I would have started with a cup of long cook oats and 2 cups of boiling water, let that set until it's cooled to 120 degrees, then proceeded with the mixture as normal, subbing in as much flour as necessary. I might have added more yeast or given it more rise time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Koldkut wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

And if you don't have it, 1 tablespoon, per intended loaf of bread, of some sort of fat, ie...butter, margarine, lard, or shortening to make the loaf a tad more moist, a dense loaf of bread isn't always bad, but it's better when the bread is moist.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jamesti wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

if you add some sort of fat as koldkut wisely suggested, make sure it is room temp before you do. love homemade bread.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from jackie_treehorn wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

This looks delicious... I'm even more intrigued by the capture of wild yeast. I'm going to have to look that one up and give it a try. Do you think the wild yeast imparts a unique flavor... or something unique?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from mad_dog9999 wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

I've never tried to capture my own yeast.. yet. I commend you and hope I can learn more about this in later posts.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian Jackson wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

Wild yeast usually give a slightly sour flavor, usually because they travel with some wild bacteria unlike the antiseptic yeast you buy at the store. Hence the name sourdough. For another version of a spontaneously fermented treat try some Lambic beer which is fermented with fruit and wild yeast.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian W. Thair wrote 3 years 9 weeks ago

Congratulations! I suggest you try again with no more than a bowl and a stick, the time-tested technology from the past few thousand years. There are times when the whine of the mixer just turns me off.

Some factory bread(?) is a flour/water foam with yeast and sugar for flavoring,2,000lbs done in 5 minutes, scaled and into the ovens before it flops.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dadsmom wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

I have heard of using water that potatoes have boiled in. Might try it for your moisture the next time.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Greenhead wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

Being a sourdough junkie, I would suggest that your bread is too dense because of a lack of yeast. When I make bread from "wild" yeast, I begin with a starter. To adapt my method to your recipe, I would allow the flower/water/honey mixture to sit until it is frothy, probably 36-48 hours. I would then discard half of it and replace the lost half with a fresh mixture of flour and water. Allow this new mixture to double in bulk, probably 24-36 hours. Repeat, discarding half and replacing it with water and flour. When this has doubled in bulk, you might consider making bread, though another cycle would help.

When making a new starter, I seldom use a mix that has worked for less than a week. The good news is that you can keep this starter for your next batch, so after you go through the first process, you can make bread as often as you like.

Some organization here in town, I think it is the American Legion, claims to have starter that has been working since the 1900s. The do a sourdough pancake breakfast every year that is excellent.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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