Posts tagged Bread

Capturing and caring for Yeast

:: Bread

Hello, wild yeast people!

It appears that I have not recently documented how exactly it is that you “capture,” and (more importantly) feed and care for a wild yeast culture.

I should start by saying that most of what I know comes from

  • “Cooked,” by Michael Pollan,
  • “Tartine Bread,” by Chad Robertson,
  • … and certain brief conversations with biologists at Cal Poly

The fundamental assumption behind the effectiveness of what I’m going to tell you comes from the ‘everything is everywhere: but the environment selects’ hypothesis, “promulgated by Dutch microbiologist Martinus Wilhelm Beijerinck early in the twentieth century.”1 The basic idea is that most microorganisms are present in varying densities nearly everywhere on earth, and that it’s possible, by providing the right environment, to breed pretty much any microorganism that you want.

In this case, we want a yeast culture. Some people take great care to preserve a particular culture that has been handed down for generations. My reading suggests that this is … well, kind of pointless. You can create your own culture in a week or two (or maybe less) without much fuss, and without anything but flour and water.

With that said, it’s certainly easier to preserve a culture than it is to create one, so once you’ve got it going well, it makes sense to me to keep it going. Honestly, it’s a lot like a fire was to primitive culture: starting it is a pain, and feeding it isn’t too expensive.

Okay, here’s my “recipe.” I’ve started from scratch on this twice, and I’ll probably do it again.

what are you doing to my yeast, blue hill?

:: Bread

Traveling across the country with yeast. Hard. On the way out here I slopped a bit in a ziploc bag, and though I’d been planning to give the TSA guys some lame story when they pointed out that the bag was way bigger than 3.5 ounces, in the event I actually forgot about it completely, and they missed it on the scan or decided to give me a pass.

I got to Connecticut, and it was still pretty healthy. I feel self-righteous about only feeding my yeast unbleached flour, but basically, it was bubbling along just fine.

Then I brought it to Maine.

Tartine Bread

:: Bread

This summer I started raising wild yeast. It was more or less a biology experiment, and it was extremely hit and miss, mostly miss, for the first few months.

For one thing, it took me quite a while to figure out that you actually do have to dump 4/5 of the starter down the drain every day; I was trying to feed an ever-growing bowl; not nearly enough food-to-yeast ratio, and the resulting bacteria were really… um… not the ones I was looking for.

Fortunately, I enjoy strange smells, but the rest of my family started moving out of the room when I would start feeding my yeast.

Anyhow, I’ve now figured out more or less how to keep a culture alive.

The next big step was reading Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread. It turns out that if you have a reasonably lively yeast culture, and a little patience, it’s totally possible to make bread that the rest of your family actually likes a lot. Here’s a loaf from two weeks ago:

loaf of bread

loaf of bread

I also got an interesting lesson last week when I’d been away for two days and was trying to jump-start my starter again; the starter was actually just fine, but my “help” was actually doing terrible things to it; I started feeding it every eight hours, and I realize now that the fast feeding—or, more precisely, the fast 4/5-killing—was annihilating the population of my microbiological zoo.

Anyhow, it’s hard to knock the stuff out completely, and this week it’s bubbling away as well as ever.

Next week, maybe I start experimenting with higher hydration.