Many students have been asking some great questions about wild yeast lately, so I thought it would be helpful if I clarified some things for you all.
I wrote a post called Wild, Wild Yeast about two years ago which you can read here, but since that time I have become better acquainted with my pet starter. Thus, I will happily share my knowledge on the little beast.
First off, for those of you who take my class, you know my little trick of breaking off a piece of dough from the one you mixed in class to jump start the process. Here are the directions:
When you get home after class, tear off a quarter-size portion from the dough and place it in a quart-sized mason jar (preferred) or BPA-free plastic container. To the jar add one cup organic flour and one cup filtered water. Stir. Place lid gently on top and place in a cupboard, out of sunlight.
For two more days, feed it once every 8-12 hours: Dump out 50% of the starter, add one cup flour, one cup water. Stir. It shouldn’t be too liquidy. Think pancake batter with lots of bubbles and an aroma of wine. That’s a healthy starter.
Once you have fed it 3 or 4 times over the course of the first 2 days, it should be happy and bubbling. At this point, you can try your hands at baking a loaf of bread with it, or if time doesn’t allow it, you can place it in the fridge. Make sure you feed it once/week if you store it in the fridge. Some say it can go months without feeding, and that may be true, but in my experience, it is best not to abandon it and just feed it once/week. That way it will also remind you to bake those loaves of bread for your friends and family.
Some questions answered:
If I store it in the fridge, when do I need to take it out of the fridge in order to bake? Usually a minimum of 12 hours, but ideally one or two days before you bake is best. That way, you will get the chance to feed it between 2 and 4 times before baking. You want to see the starter bubbling and smelling yummy. That’s when you know it is ready to be mixed into dough.
Help! Is my starter dead? Wild yeast is amazingly resilient, but if it does turn pink or moldy in color, or smells horrifically of your sister’s nail polish remover (acetone), then it’s best to chuck it and start over again (directions here.)
Is that liquid on top hootch? Should I throw it away? That is ethenol (alcohol), and some people like to stir it in before they discard their 50%, bc it adds to the sour taste of the starter. Personally I usually pour it down the drain, and then discard 50%, and feed it.
Why do I have to discard 50% every time? What can I do with the stuff I discard? Yeast is a living bacteria. A probiotic one at that. Many of these bacteria experience die-off after hours of not being fed, so essentially you are discarding half of it to revive it with fresh food. I know it can seem frustrating to some who do not wish to waste, so luckily I recommend using the stuff you pour off in pancake mix (Chad Robertson has a great recipe in his Tartine 3 book), or instead of baking soda/powder in muffins or cookies (substitute 1 tablespoon starter for 1 teaspoon baking soda/powder). There are still many trillions of healthy probiotic bacteria in that discard, so why not create some new tasty creations with it.
My starter has been fed nearly 5 times over the course of 2 or 3 days and it still doesn’t want to bubble…what do I do? Fear not! Add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or pineapple juice or freshly squeezed OJ to it and stir. The acid will wake it up. Feed it a few more times after this and if it still doesn’t bubble, you may need to start over.
How much starter should I have in my jar at any given point? I always like to keep a minimum of one or two cups in there, in case I want to mix dough on a whim. After you use a bunch of it, always re-feed it one or two cups flour, one or two cups water before putting back in the cupboard or the fridge.
Why can’t I use commercial yeast? Commercial yeast is made of only one bacteria: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t have lactobacillus or any other bacteria that is healthful for our gut health. It is also chemically processed, and by making it into a powder, it loses the peak of its nutrition over time. To me, the yeast is the most important nutritional aspect of the bread. It is what makes it rise, it is what has healed my digestion, and the digestion of many of my patients who eat my bread each week. I can’t emphasize it’s importance enough.
There you have it, friends. If there is something I did not answer here, feel free to write and ask me questions. And stay tuned for a webinar with more details and bread baking galore in 2016.
Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays to you and your families and friends!