Due to the world-wide pandemic, it seems every time I go shopping, there is another hot item that is extremely hard to find, if you can find it at all. Items like toilet paper, paper towel, canning supplies, and various foods such as meat or bread have been on my “grab it if you see it” list.
So it’s no surprise then, that more and more people are attempting to make things from scratch at home. I was all excited to show my young teenage son, who is interested in cooking and baking, how to make homemade bread. A perk of quarantine, if there is one!
But, apparently my thoughts were not unique as there was a rush on even more items, making the list above grow longer. A shortage of bread, combined with boredom while stuck at home, led to shortages of ingredients for making the homemade bread that I was so eager to make.
Such as yeast. The local stores were out of it every time I tried. And what I could find online, the prices were ridiculous. Then, I found out I could make my own!
I also found that cultivating a homemade wild yeast starter has a few more advantages than simply having it on hand, such as the following:
- More natural
- Less processed
- Inexpensive to make
- Easy to make
In addition, many people are finding that their sensitivities to baked goods are less severe with a natural yeast, rather one bought at the store with additives.
One of the easiest ways to get your own starter is to grab a scoop of a friend’s, then feed it. I will address feeding later down in the article. However, if you don’t know of anyone who has the starter, or if you just prefer to start your own from scratch, it’s quite easy and doesn’t cost much at all.
So, let’s get started on your starter!
The supplies list is quite short, which is especially good when you never know what items might be hard to find.
Here is what you will need to cultivate your own wild yeast starter:
1 Quart Jar
That is the minimum size, and will depend on how much baking you actually do in a week’s time. However, the jar should not be airtight. If you use a wax jar, remove the seal. Or, if you use a canning jar with a cap and lid, do not tighten it. You could also use a cloth or plastic wrap to loosely cover the jar when it’s sitting. Oxygen needs to be kept in, but CO2 needs to be able to get out.
Water that is not distilled, or highly filtered, has chlorine in it. Chlorine will inhibit growth and actually kill your yeast.
You can use any flour for this. So, if you prefer all-purpose, or a hard white, it doesn’t matter. If your palate can tell the difference between flours, then use what you prefer for baked goods. Otherwise, just use what you have on hand.
Unsweetened Pineapple Juice (Optional)
You have the option of using pineapple juice in place of the water for the FIRST day. But, the first day only. This will add just a little natural sugar, which will help kick start your starter to act a bit faster.
The mix of ingredients (flour and liquid) is equal parts by WEIGHT. For example, I am adding 3 tablespoons of flour and 2 tablespoons of water or juice.
Add 3 tablespoons of flour to the quart jar.
Add 2 tablespoons of water or juice to the flour in the jar.
Whisk the flour and liquid together.
Lightly cover the jar, with an untightened lid, cloth, or plastic wrap.
Set the jar on the counter, keeping it at room temperature, lightly stirring the mix 2-3 times within the next 24 hours.
Repeat the steps from Day 1, with the exception of not adding any juice. Use water in place of the juice from now on. The juice is only for day 1, if you use it at all.
Repeat this process every day, adding more flour and water, and stirring 2-3 times a day. In 3-5 days, you should start to see air bubbles or pockets in the mix through the jar. At this time, you should also be able to smell a yeast aroma.
After a week, what you do next will depend on how often you bake.
If you bake about once a week, the ongoing feeding should consist of the following:
- Store the jar of yeast in the refrigerator, which will stop the growth, because you have enough now.
- Feed it once a week, by adding equal parts of flour and water by WEIGHT, basically replacing what you take out for use.
If you bake more often than once a week, the following could be done for ongoing feeding:
- Store the starter jar out on the counter.
- If there’s too much in the jar, discard or use half.
- Feed the starter daily with equal parts of flour and water by WEIGHT.
- If the starter is not active – Try switching flours, if you aren’t seeing an active yeast after a few days. Rye flour is a good choice for stubborn starter situations. Or, make sure that it’s not too cold. With cooler months, the house might be colder than normal and can slow growth. If that’s the case, store it in a warmer part of the house.
- Clear or yellowish liquid on the top – This is common, and also referred to as hooch. Since this is normal, the liquid can just be discarded if it’s just once in a while. If it’s continuous, your starter is hungry, so feed it.
- If the starter is covered with a white’ish colored film on top of a liquid – Feed it immediately, because it’s hangry, not just hungry.
- The starter goes bad – if you notice a bad smell, or see unusual coloring or fuzziness, throw it out and start over.
- If you see fruit flies or maggots in it – Discard the entire batch and start over. Try covering the new batch with a thicker cloth. Keep in mind, if you have fruit flies around, they love this stuff as much as you will!
There are many recipes, either found in your grandparent’s recipe box or on the internet, on how to use your starter for wonderful homemade baked goods. Enjoy!
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