Flour. Yeast. Water. The basic ingredients of bread. We've done a field trip to find flour, but we didn't know where to get yeast outside of the grocery store. It comes in those little packets, right? And I've only heard of one company that makes yeast. So it seemed we had no choice. That was until, during our trip to Brant Flour Mills, Volker started talking about sourdough, and then we realized our Field Trip for yeast doesn't need to leave the kitchen.
We've always eaten sourdough. It's a tasty bread, but we never thought about what it actually is. Here's how it works: Instead of adding a packet of dry, store-bought yeast to your bread, you add a sourdough starter which is called a "wild yeast". It's simply a combination of flour and water, but it's invisible yeast and bacteria that works the magic as it ferments and sours the mixture. This wild yeast thrives naturally on the surface of grains, fruits and vegetables as well as in the air and soil. Lactobacillus, a friendly bacteria and the yeast work well together. The bacteria helps to produce the acidic environment that the yeast needs to grow. Both the yeast and the Lactobacillus digest the simple sugars in the flour, producing ethanol and carbon dioxide which make up the leavening bubbles.
I made my starter using the rye flour that I got from Brant Flour Mills. We've been using lots of spelt flour, but the rye, which ferments easily has been sitting in my cupboard waiting for this day. To speed up the process, I cheated by adding 2 organic unwashed grapes. The white, powdery dusting, or bloom on a fresh grape is the same yeast that is in the grain and air.
Here's the recipe and schedule for a sourdough starter. It's not a bread recipe, simply a guide to making your own wild yeast.
1. Mix 2 cups rye flour (can substitute rye for another flour), 2 cups lukewarm water & 2 organic, unwashed grapes
2. Cover with cheesecloth or another porous material that will allow circulation of air but keep fruit flies out.
3. Give it a good stir whenever you think about it, at least one a day.
4. You will start to see bubbles forming within the first 3 days (I saw mine in the first 24 hours), this means that the yeast is active, stirring it will help distribute the yeast throughout the starter.
5. Once your starter is good and bubbly, even rising up a bit, you can start to feed it.
Add 1-2 Tbs flour or leftover grains each day for about 3-4 days.
6. The batter will get thicker and start to rise and you want it to remain essentially liquid in form. You can add more water if it becomes so thick it is almost solid.
7. Your starter should be ready use. When you use some of the starter for a recipe make sure to leave some behind and replenish it. For example, if you use 1 cup of starter, you need to add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water to the remaining.
8. Keep your starter going by feeding it every day or so if you are baking with it weekly.
9. If you are using your starter less frequently, going away, or can't care for your starter you can keep it in your fridge and it will slow the process, just make sure to feed it before you put it in the fridge and let it actively ferment for 4-8 hours. You still need to feed a refrigerated starter once a week. Take the starter out 1-2 days before you are ready to use it and keep it in a warm place, feed it to help get the yeast activity back up.