As some of you know, I recently (unsuccessfully) attempted to start my own wild yeast starter. For those of you who don't know, a "starter" is what you use when you want yeast risen food without using yeast you purchased at the store. I first heard of this via reading about San Francisco Sourdough bread. The yeast is "caught" locally in San Francisco, and that's what gives their bread its distinctively yummy taste. The yeast makes its home in the flour and water mixture and "ferments." "Fermented" bread (sourdough) is supposed to be better for you because the starches are more easily digestible and the phytase has been activated to dissolve the phytates, which means minerals in the bread are more easily absorbed. For more info in this area, check out:
How do you catch wild yeast? Wild yeast is floating around in the air all around us, (some websites said there is speculation that the yeast is actually IN the flour - who knows) and all you need to do to "catch" it is mix flour and water together in equal parts - and wait.
… and wait.
Though it's not difficult, it does take some time. I had some confidence that I would succeed in eventually "catching" some wild yeast because in the past, I've noticed the telltale bubbles in my flour and water mixtures when I make paper mache. I just knew Long Island had hearty wild yeast.
I scanned a lot of Pinterest pages and chose one to follow that had great pictures and clear descriptions. My starter (Bertha - from my last post) produced bubbles very quickly, but just as quickly turned horribly smelly and died (I'm just guessing it died, but I'm not an expert in yeast life…). I read though a bunch more Pinterest posts and searched some bread making websites and decided a few days ago to try again, and I met with success!! This time instead of feeding my starter every 24 hours, I fed it every 12 hours. I threw out slightly less than half the starter every time I fed it, and I think this resulted in more available "food" for the active yeast organisms to eat. I eventually want to transition to making whole wheat bread, so in addition, I used a small portion (roughly 25%) of whole wheat flour right from the beginning with this starter.
Here is the website that I found the most helpful. I can't seem to get links into this blog, but if you cut and paste this, I'm sure you'll get there...
I started with 4 weighed ounces of flour, and 4 fluid ounces of filtered water. I mixed, covered and let sit for 12 hours. Then I added another 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water, waited 12 hours again. My starter looked like this:
I took some out, put in another 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of flour, mixed and waited another 12+ hours - probably more like 20 hours. It looked like this:
I was excited! And this time, it smelled a little yeasty, like beer, but not terribly singe-your-nose-hairs-sour, like last time. Last time I had the bowl sitting near the wood stove. Even though it was covered, maybe that had something to do with it…
It had pretty much doubled in size. I decided I should attempt the bread. I needed to bulk up this starter, but I didn't want to ruin my good luck with taking some out each time, so I removed one cup of starter, and added 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of water. I put it in a slightly warm oven (that had been turned off) and left it overnight. The website called for 5 cups of starter - 4 for the bread, and one to save in the fridge for next time.
In the morning I had this:
As per the directions on the website I listed above, I removed 4 cups of this starter for my bread, and put the rest in a covered (but NOT airtight) container in my fridge. I had a little more than a cup leftover.
I took out my KitchenAid mixer and used it to mix the starter with the olive oil, salt, warmed milk and sugar and dried herbs (I used rosemary, thyme and sage). Then I slowly added the flour.
It took almost all of the 5 cups of flour. I didn't want it to be too dry, and the bread seemed moist enough, so I left the last 1/4 of a cup or so out. I cut my dough in half, made 2 loaves and set them aside to rise for 3 hours.
…and they did double in size!
I transferred one to my clay baker and let it sit for a while longer, to recover from being moved.
Here it is, ready for the oven.
Here is is after I baked it at 375 for about 30 minutes.
The family was afraid of the starter when they saw it sitting out on the counter.
"Iewwwww!! that looks nasty! You're gonna BAKE with that??"
But when the bread came out of the oven, all they could say was,
"Where's the butter?"
I gave my second loaf to my parents and they loved it. My dad thinks I should have left out the herbs and put in raisins and cinnamon instead, so that tells you he sour taste is not overpowering.
Here's my remaining starter, ready for next time…