Friday, August 22, 2008

My Wild Yeast Adventures! Part One: Breeding a Seed Culture

Since I have been making bread a lot lately, I decided a few weeks ago to take it a step further and make sourdough bread. So, on Tuesday of last week (August 12), I followed the instructions in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart as best as I could to start what he calls a seed culture. Unfortunately I was unable to find the rye flour he called for at the supermarket. Instead, I made a weird combination of flours hoping things would even themselves out.

So, day 1: 1/2 c bread flour, 1/4 c whole wheat flour, 1/4 c buckwheat flour, and 1/2 c water.
I combined them all in a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and left it on the counter for about 24 hours.
The next day, I went to see my bowl of goop and noticed something spectacular. There were little bubbles in the culture! I had caught some yeast! This time I followed the exact instructions in my wonderful bread book, meaning that I uncovered it and added flour and water. I then stirred it all up and put it into a tall, vertical plastic container to be able to track the growth of my culture easily.

Day 2: Add 1 cup bread or high-gluten flour (which has more gluten and is much better for this than all-purpose flour) and 1/2 water. The dough was more viscous after the addition.
So, I put the refreshed culture into the plastic container at 2 pm. Three hours later it had more than doubled in size, so I decided to mark the height with a piece of tape. However, before marking it I made the mistake of tapping the side of the container, causing the culture to partially collapse. I marked at the lower level. The next morning I got up to see if it had revived itself, but instead of regaining height it had fallen down to the original level. I was confused and disappointed...
The first picture below is right before the collapse, the second is the next morning. The chronological order of the markings is 2pm, then 5pm, and finally 8am.

I was dispirited by this result, but I decided to continue. When I opened the container the smell of overripe papaya filled my nose. How strange... I threw away half the culture as was instructed in the book, and added some more flour and water.
Day 3: Remove half of the culture (throw away or give to a friend) and add 1 cup of high gluten or bread flour, and 1/2 cup of water. Once again, I poured the mixture into the plastic container, marked the level, and hoped.

24 hours later, on day four, I went to check on my cultivation. There was no rise, and it seemed to have separated into 2 layers, with dark on the top and light on the bottom. This was too much, I couldn't handle it anymore. I gave up. I made plans to throw away, but I never got around too because I was busy. The container just stayed on my counter looking horrible and got worse as the days went by.

Then Wednesday, about a week later, I noticed the culture looked normal again! There were big bubbles all over the surface, and it had risen a bit. I decided to continue my cultivation.

Day 9: I measured the volume of culture I had, 1 1/8 cup. Then I added the usual 1 cup of high-gluten/bread flour and 1/2 cup of water and mixed. I left it to ferment in the bowl for 24 hours while I gave the plastic container a good wash.

The next day it had risen some, so I removed about half (not an easy feat) and added flour and water. Because I was tired of dealing with liquid culture, I decided to add half the water asked for.
Day 10: Remove half and add 1 cup high gluten/bread flour, add 1/4 water. Stir well and let rest 24 hours.

Today (day 11) I saw a nice rise in the culture, about doubled. This means that I get to go to the next level and make what my book calls Barm, which is just a more diluted way of storing and cultivating the wild yeast and its flavorful bacteria. I will address Barm in the next post.

So, since my way of catching yeast was kind of random and full of guesswork, I will also give you the method from the book The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. This book is currently my favorite book about bread. I have read at least three times in a few months.

Day 1: Combine 1 cup rye flour and 1 cup water. Let rest at room temperature about 24 hours.

Day 2: Dough will not have risen much. Add 1 cup high-gluten/bread flour and 1/2 cup water to rye mixture. Let rest at room temperature about 24 hours.

Day 3: Dough should have risen some, about 50%. Regardless, discard half of dough. Add 1 cup high-gluten/bread flour and 1/2 cup water to dough. Let rest at room temperature about 24 hours.

Day 4: Wait until dough has at least doubled in volume, more is better. Make barm as will be described in next post.

Have fun! Catch Yeast!

1 comment:

Catherine Granger said...

yeah, between day 4 and day 9, the mix was pretty disgusting! Almost threw it away!