|Two of my glorious loaves|
For the last couple of years, I've been on a real bread kick. I've written about it here a couple of times and I've taken this bread-baking thing to the point where I don't buy bread anymore. I doubt I save any money this way and it certainly doesn't make very efficient use of my time. However, there is nothing more satisfying to me than knowing I have a loaf of fresh bread sitting on my kitchen table. A loaf of bread I made from scratch.
Bread baking isn't just an activity I'm finding. It's a way of looking at the world. I actually like it that it takes time and effort for me to make the thing that holds together a sandwich or gets slid into the toaster. My bread baking teaches me to be patient and as proud as I am of the finished results, I am at the mercy of a fungus when it comes to the finished result.
The fungus in question is a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. S. cerevisiae is the yest sold as baker's yeast and it's the same organism that ferments beer. S. cerevisiae is just one of a host of related species that will make bread dough rise. For example, Saccharomyces exiguus is the yeast that makes sourdough bread taste like sourdough bread.
I've been reading a lot lately about the role different yeasts play in how finished bread tastes. It makes sense and I'm beginning to wonder if there's more to life than Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Susan Tenny's amazing blog Wild Yeast has been a real inspiration. My starter, to make a bad bread joke.
So yesterday afternoon I embarked on an experiment to culture my own Saccharomyces exiguus. There's a lot of folklore surrounding the whole process of harvesting wild yeast. While it's true that there's wild yeast everywhere, the yeast that will grow in my starter arrived with the flour my starter's built around. Over the course of my starter's life it will attract other local bacteria and fungi and it will lend a special St. Pete flavor to my breads. But my goal here is to culture the yeast that's already in my flour naturally.
I'm partial to King Arthur flour and no that's not a paid plug. I think their bread flour is a perfect consistency and I get good results with it. King Arther also has a great website and it's their website that got me started on this grow your own yeast kick.
From what I understand, this will take a few tries until I get it right but I'm dying to see how this affects my breads.
|Photo via K. Fields|
OK, from King Arthur's website:
Have any of your guys ever tried this? Any words of advice? I know there are some bakers out there.
Mix the water, flour and optional sweetener together thoroughly in a clean, scalded glass or ceramic bowl. The scalding will ensure that you’re starting “pure.” Cover the bowl with a clean dishcloth. Put it in an area where there’s apt to be the highest concentration of airborne yeast as well as the warmth that is needed to begin fermentation.
- 2 cups warm water that's been allowed to sit for a day to let the chlorine dissipate
- 1 tablespoon sugar or honey (optional)
- 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
If the surface begins to look dry after a while, give the mixture a stir. It should begin to “work” in the first day or two if it’s going to at all. If it does, your trap has been successful. As you would with a dried starter or active dry yeast, let this mixture continue working for 3 or 4 days giving it a stir every day or so. When it’s developed a yeasty, sour aroma, put it in a clean jar with a lid and refrigerate it until you’re ready to use it.
If the mixture begins to mold or develop a peculiar color or odor instead of a “clean, sour aroma,” give a sigh, throw it out and, if you’re patient, start again. Along with the vital yeasts, you may have inadvertently nurtured a strain of bacteria that will not be wonderful in food. This doesn’t happen very often though, so don’t let the possibility dissuade you from this adventure.
I'll keep you posted on my further adventures in bread baking.