What Did People Do Before Packaged Yeast?
Today, I am sharing the easiest recipe for sourdough starter that I’ve used. It’s super simple and will have you baking your own delicious bread in no time! Your friends and family will be so impressed, and you’ll have learned a new self-sufficiency skill.
Have you ever wondered how people made bread before packaged yeast was available? They simply learned how to make a yeast starter which can easily be accomplished by mixing equal amounts of flour and water by weight. I have had the best luck with either rye flour or whole wheat flour as these have more zinc and other nutrients to help speed up the yeast making process.
What is Wild Yeast?
Before the days of running to the local grocery store for a packet of granulated active-dry yeast or instant yeast, we had wild yeast. In fact, we still have wild yeast. It lives everywhere — in the air, in a bag of flour, on the surface of fruits. So how do we capture it? We follow this easy recipe for sourdough starter by simply mixing flour and water and allow it to bind to the yeast in the air. Easy peasy!
A Few Tips Before We Begin
Water that is high in chlorine and chloramine can hinder fermentation. If you have city water, you may want to consider using bottled or distilled water. If this is not an option, you can fill a large jug with water from your tap and let it sit on your counter uncovered over night to allow the chlorine to dissipate. However, if your city uses chloramine, this will not work. In this case you would need to filter the water with a carbon filter designed to remove chloramine.
Gather Your Materials
You don’t need a lot of materials to make a yeast starter, but a few things necessary are:
- Glass Jar or pottery bowl. I prefer clear glass as it is easier to see when your starter is beginning to ferment (the bubbles will be visible through the glass). The jar I use has a hinged cover with the rubber gasket removed. I close the cover but don’t latch it allowing just the right amount of air in.
- Kitchen scale (optional)
- Flour – Rye flour or organic whole wheat works best
- A small whisk or a fork works ok too
How To Make A Yeast Starter
Starting a culture is very simple. All you do is mix equal amounts of flour and water by weight.
If this is your first time making a yeast starter I would recommend starting a small amount and building it up over days. I like using a kitchen scale to get the proportions correct, but if you don’t have one you can simply start by mixing three tablespoons of flour and two tablespoons of water in a glass mason jar or pottery bowl. This ratio seems to work as these proportions of flour and water are close in weight. Lay a cloth over the top and let it sit on the kitchen counter. The yeast present in the air will make its way to your flour/water mixture. It will then start growing and dividing.
For the next week or so you will need to stir your starter once in the morning and once at night. You will also need to “feed” your yeast starter by adding three more tablespoons of flour and two tablespoons of water to your mixture each day.
In a few days, the mixture will become frothy as the yeast population grows. The froth is caused by the carbon dioxide that the yeast is generating. The starter will also have a bacteria, lactobacilli, in it. This lends to the slightly acidic flavor of the bread by creating lactic acid! The alcohol that the yeast creates and the lactic acid together are the source of sourdough bread’s unique flavor!
If you see a watery substance floating to the top, stir it. Sourdough bakers call this “hooch” and is completely harmless.
At this point you can do one of two things:
- You can store it in the refrigerator to slow down the yeast. Then you will only have to feed it every 5 or 6 days.
- Or keep it on the counter and feed it every day. However, unless you’re doing a lot of baking, this will quickly become too much.
Daily Feeding Process
At each daily feeding we will perform the following quick steps:
- Stir down your starter a little bit with your whisk or fork
- Add three tablespoons of flour and two tablespoons of water and stir
- Cover with towel or loose cover
Time To Do Some Baking
Now that you have perfected the recipe for sourdough starter, it’s time to whip up a loaf or two that your whole family will be sure to love. When it comes time to actually bake some bread, all you have to do is add a cup of this live culture to the dough to provide the yeast needed to leaven the bread. You replenish the pot by adding back an equal amount of flour and water. Your regular feedings will keep the culture alive.
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