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christine215's avatar

Has anyone ever made bread using wild yeasts?

Asked by christine215 (3173points) July 13th, 2010

I’m considering trying to make bread using wild yeasts. (basically setting a crock of flour water slurry on a window sill and checking on it till it’s foamy and… yeasty)

I’ve never done this before and would like advice/suggestions what to look for, etc when making bread from wild yeast.

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13 Answers

tranquilsea's avatar

I tried but I don’t think I’m in a yeasty area. I had quite the experiments going as I had failure after failure. I finally ended up using a bit of commercial yeast to get my starter going.

It helped to have a bit of some sort of sugar to start.

dynamicduo's avatar

Oh yes! I love bread baking period, and when I moved into my farmhouse I started up a sourdough culture by doing exactly what you say, mixing flour and water and leaving it partially covered on the countertop, and feeding it each day by discarding half and adding water then flour to the culture.

Here is some advice. First off, it is way more easier when you feed your starter to dilute it with water and then add in the flour. The alternative I’ve seen recommended is to mix the new water and flour into a dough and mix that in to the liquid starter, and that is just a pain and a half to do. I have seen no differences in the culture’s health when I mix water in first, and the time you save is simply amazing.

For the first week or even up to the second week, the culture is getting started, so its yeasty potential will not be as big. If you are like me, I really didn’t like the idea of discarding the daily half, so I used it to make up breads and pancakes. For the first while though I supplemented it with regular active dry yeast, the bread had a very small tanginess and the dough wasn’t simply discarded so I enjoyed it, but it was certainly not a sourdough bread.

Sometimes when you go to feed your culture, it will have some liquid floating on top which smells of alcohol. Well it basically is alcohol-ish, as it is a byproduct of the feasting yeasts. I simply mix it back in before halving and feeding.

After two weeks of daily feeding, you will probably have a potent-enough culture to create some bread without needing any yeast. I often never use a recipe, instead I water down the portion of starter (or sometimes add in some milk), add in a bit of salt, a bit more sugar, and enough flour to make a good consistency dough (which often involves adding a bit more flour when I take it out of the mixing bowl to knead on the countertop – remember you can always add flour but it’s really a pain to wetten a firm dough). After four weeks though you will certainly have a tangy sourdough culture! Nowadays my breads are mighty tangy.

Once you reach the tanginess level you enjoy, you can choose to suspend the culture by storing it in the fridge. Simply take it out and let it warm up to room temperature over a few hours on the day you intend to feed it, divide and feed as normal and put it right back into the fridge. This way you only have to feed your culture once every 3 days as the fridge slows down the action of the yeast.

Sometimes, despite the best of efforts, you will inadvertently encourage the wrong type of yeast/bacteria to grow. I’m not sure if they can pose any harm to you, but they might not make the bread rise or may impart a different flavour. Simply discard and start again if this happens. To avoid situations like this it can be handy to have a backup starter – after a week of successful development, when you feed your starter don’t discard or use the discard portion, put it into another container and cultivate both of them. Worst situation is you end up with two successful starters, one could be given as a gift or simply baked into bread.

Oh, and a tip for the bread baking itself, we were met with a lot of success when we took our culture portion and mixed it with a portion of water and flour, and left this to ferment all night. We then completed the bread-mixing and baking in the morning and were left with a really really poofy and airy sourdough loaf which required very little effort to knead. It is fun to experiment with things like this, as well as things like different shaping and bread scoring, as making the dough is only one part of the bread-baking experience!

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I think quality control would be a major problem. You might get some yeast out of the air, but what else comes in?

dynamicduo's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe, what do you mean by “what else comes in”? Are you referring to different yeasts or bacteria, or foreign objects? Foreign objects are easy to eliminate, and with experience you can use your sense of smell to determine if the sourdough culture is correct of if it smells a bit off. Also, following visual instructions and comparing the yeast’s behaviour helps to identify if you’re doing it right or wrong. This site looks promising. In general, a correct sourdough culture is too acidic for most bacteria to live in, and has a yeasty organic but not putrid smell. Sourdough bread doesn’t pose much of a risk in terms of quality control for me to be concerned about, I have never heard of anyone getting sick from eating a bad sourdough bread.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@dynamicduo I was thinking yeast breads, not sourdough breads when I sent that and it was almost the same time as your answer came thru so I didn’t get a chance to read your response. You obviously have a lot of experience with sourdough. I’ve only worked with yeast breads but now you’ve made me curious. Thanks for your first answer as well as the second. I’ll check out the site.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Them Wild Yeasts is hard to catch, you know it? And then when you get them home they stomp around the house tearing stuff up and biting the furniture. Wild Yeast are viscous buggers.

christine215's avatar

@Dutchess_III Awesome answer!

(loves me some sour dough bread though)

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@dynamicduo What a terrific answer. Would adding a spoonful of sugar not encourage the yeasts?

I love baking my own bread and might do so tonight if I ever get away from the computer!

@Dutchess_III Too funny!(except maybe for anyone with a nasty yeast infection)

dynamicduo's avatar

@Dr_Lawrence When you go to make your bread, adding sugar can indeed change the result of bread you get. It could be more airy if you don’t proof it as long, as the sugar will make the yeast go on overdrive, but if you let it proof longer you might get a tougher bread due to the yeast exhausting themselves faster because of the sugar. I generally don’t add it to the sourdough culture though because the sugar can encourage the wrong type of bacteria/yeast to propagate. With the dough though, by all means add all sorts of things, try milk instead of water, honey instead of sugar, herbs, butter or oil, use an egg wash or a milk wash or no wash, score the bread prior to baking to change the way the bread will expand or don’t score, shape it into a round or a long bread or many little rolls, top it with sesame seeds or poppy seeds or flax seeds or no seeds… It’s really amazing how much variety you can get from one simple dough recipe. Making the dough is really only half the battle – it’s the skills you apply in finishing the dough that really distinguish a good from great baker.

For anyone wanting advanced bread theory and application I recommend a book called The Professional Baker, written by the Culinary Institute of America. You can’t get better than this book in my opinion. It’s 2–3 inches of solid full color recipes and techniques, and bread is only one section of the book. Similarly, for general cuisine, The Professional Chef by the CIA is my bible.

christine215's avatar

@dynamicduo my step son is a chef and he has lots of his “school books” stashed away, I may need to ask if I can dig through them for this one.

dynamicduo's avatar

@christine215 Chef school books are absolute gold! They are to the point, practical, illustrated, and most importantly the baking ones use weight instead of measurement (250 grams versus 1 cup, etc) which makes for much more accurate and consistent results each time.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well….“Wild Yeast” just sounds dangerous, you know!

@Dr_Lawrence Once, when my son was about 10 I was making some bread. As I added the (tame) yeast, I could hear him sort of whispering under his breath, “YE-ast! Infection. YE-ast! Infection!” The things kids pick up on…..: )

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@dynamicduo Thank you for that information. It provided my with some information I did not know and I have been baking yeast raised breads of many types for 49 years and I am only 56.

@Dutchess_III That is funny! Kids learn all kinds of things from all kinds of places.

For those among you who are often troubled by yeast infections:

Ingest less sugars and simple carbohydrates that are, or quickly break down into, sugars!

Eat fewer and smaller portions of yeast raised baked goods (bread and buns) and

Watch that your fresh fruit intake is reasonable because they contain both the sugars and also some of the yeasts.

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