Good Cooking since 1995
Oh no, I can't find any yeast in the store, what now?
First a little yeast info--- Don't be dismayed, there are a few solutions for your bread baking needs. Did you know that yeasts exist in the air and you can capture them, grow them and preserve them under refrigeration, then bake bread? Let's go back 3,000 years or more to Egypt for beer, yes beer! In brewing, yeast is what turns sugars in barley, wheat and other grains into an alcoholic brew. Back then the yeast was wild and in the air, it still is! Brewers combined the grains with water and sorghum and cooked it to extract flavors (hops in beer didn't appear until the 1100 or 1200's). Some of the wild yeast in the air survived the cooking and a slow fermentation began. More wild yeast got in because the vats were open. All grew because of warmth, plus it had sugar and starch to eat---yum! It sat for days in the open vats covered with cloths, it started to bubble and foam.
Just like brewing beer today, after a 3-4-5 days the fermentation slowed and came to a halt. Then the brew was transferred to clean vats to age, ferment more and develop flavor. During this second period of fermentation, sediment in the soon-to-be beer dropped to the bottom of the container; this was both dormant and dead yeast cells from the fermentation process. Foam was skimmed off the top of the fermenting wort, to save, because it also contained many live yeast cells. It was learned that this slop, yeast sediment and foam, when added to flour, caused yet another fermentation, this time in the dough. After mixing, the dough increased in volume and thus was baked into bread! Ah ha, fermentation of dough was discovered. Well it wasn't just the beer yeast, the same happened with wine making...yeast fell to the bottom of the container, and was reused in baking.
Through history, until the true cultivation of modern day baker's yeast, bakeries were always located next to the brewery or winery because of the availability of yeast. But then in the 1870's, thanks to Louis Pasteur, yeast was cultivated with scientific accuracy. First used in beer and wine making, it was then brought to the baking world. All this aside, a basic sourdough starter is nothing more than wheat, rye or barley flour mixed with water and set to ferment for about 5-6 days. Wild yeast grows and voila, after a period of time it becomes a suitable leavening agent. Yes it needs to be stirred, and fed with more water and flour to keep it vigorous. Bread made with a real sour starter does take more time to rise, 6-8 hours, before going in an oven. The dough is handled a bit differently than yeast-risen dough. With sourdough, after mixing, you don't need a double proofing, or as much kneading and shaping and forming associated with the yeast-risen bread. Like all bread, sour dough bread dough is mixed to develop gluten; it then is shaped and left to rise for a period of many hours and then baked. In a commercial bakery all the rising just isn't done because it isn't efficient. There might be some artisan bakers that do the extra steps I just mentioned, but in reality a baker needs all the space in the bake shop for other production. If you want to do it at home, plan on 2 or even 3 days of slow fermentation, use of refrigerator space and potential accidental issues such as deflating the dough before you bake it---is all this worth waiting for? The answer to me is no it isn't, it's a proven waste of time to go through the process. So now that you know this and you can't find yeast in a store, you can make a sour dough starter instead but plan ahead.
A sour starter can be used in
so many ways, just think of it as the flavor of your
location. Ah, that's why San Franscisco sourdought is
*Special Note: The following
dough will be wet, probably wetter than what you are use to.
You will have to kneed it to develop good elasticity, do so
so with as little additional flour as possible and try not
to deflate it, you want to make nice shiny, plump dough
balls for shaping into rolls or loaves.
Basic French bread dough water to flour (hydration) on this recipe is about 60% (Using about 1/4 of the sour starter) 22% of sourdough starter, to figure this add the weight of ingredients and multiply it by 22% to get weight of starter needed (375g + 650g + 10g * .22) = 227.7g)