Dec 10, 2006, 8:08 AM
Post #22 of 24
Forgive my tardy entry into this thread, but yeast fascinates me and I wanted to share with you my experiences. I too have messed with starters of all sorts, in fact for years now. Slowly, I realized several things about good bread: the slower it rises, the better it tastes; the less (commercial) yeast is used, the better it tastes; the longer it ferments under refrigeration, the better it tastes. But I was frustrated by the many inconsistencies of using a true wild yeast starter, so I came upon a much simpler but trustworthy way to avoid commercial yeast and the hassle of wild yeast starters, but still have wonderful tasting, consistently good results every time.
The major ingredient is time, and the process is simply to make an initial starter with flour (whatever kind you want), water (enough to make a "pancake batter" consistency paste), and a tiny bit of commercial yeast (anything from a few grains to a pinch!). Put this in an open container and just leave it alone for several days, occasionaly striring it.
Eventually, it will begin to develop "hooch", which is a simple alcohol (and the real reason why the 49'ers used so much sourdough)- you can either stir that back in or pour it off - I discard it. In a few more days, the mixture will begin to become puffy as the yeast multiplies. If you wish, you can add a bit more flour and water.
Eventually it will develop more air than dough - it's ready now to be used as any sourdough starter would be to make bread, but you don't have to "build" it as so many sourdoughs require - just add some of your starter, and time will do the rest. But before you use it to make bread, save a small lump (1/4 cup is fine) and freeze it to do your next batch. The beauty here is that to make the next batch, you just thaw out the lump, add some more flour and water, and do as before. The freeze doesn't kill the yeast.
I prefer this over sourdough culture because it doesn't waste so much flour (with all the building and discarding of the culture as you go), it's more consistent, and it works fine, no matter how little starter you use initially - time is the only absolute. And recognize that it is almost a wild yeast culture - since it has grown completely open to whatever wild bacteria there is in your local air. But the tiny bit of yeast you add helps make it a sure bet - you're not subject to the whims of chance, which result in inconsistency.
One other thing - once I mix my final bread dough, I add salt at the very end (salt impeds the growth of yeast) and I give it a first rise at room temp. Then I give it an overnight in the fridge (important) to slow down the rise and allow for fermentation, which adds flavor. Next day you bring the dough to room temp, form into loaves, proof again (it will rise more slowly than with lots of yeast), and bake.
This sounds like a lot of hassle, but once you've got your starter made, it's really quite simple - just time consuming, which results in the best bread. And you never have to buy yeast again!
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