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Whether you've baked one loaf or 100 loaves, baking bread is a learning process--there will always be a new recipe or technique to master.

More Yeast Recipes

Starting Your Starter (for Sourdough)

Sourdough starters have a history going back to ancient Egypt, when people discovered how to use the strains of wild yeast in the air around them to leaven and flavor their bread. You can develop your own sourdough starter with minimal trouble, using either commercial yeast or wild yeast strains.

1. Be sure to use non-chlorinated water. Chlorinated water will destroy the very organisms that you want to nourish. Use filtered or spring water rather than normal tap water.

2. Don't starve your yeast. Even if you don't see any activity, feed your starter every 24 hours by adding additional flour and water. This will help keep your yeast active and prevent mold and other bacteria from taking over your starter.

3. If you notice that the amount of starter is decreasing, go ahead and feed the starter again, even if it's before the scheduled feeding time. This will prevent the yeast from running out of food and dying off.

4. After feeding, try using a wire whisk to whip air into the starter. This helps the yeast develop by providing lots of oxygen.

5. Keep in mind that warmer temperatures (70 to 80 degrees) will help yeast develop more rapidly. Cooler temperatures will inhibit development.

6. After three days, your starter should resemble a thick and foamy batter, with a slightly sour, yeasty smell. If the starter smells bad, is any color other than white or slightly yellow, or is providing a home for a mold colony-throw it away. If there are no bubbles after three days, throw it out and try again.

7. Wild yeast strains vary depending on the ecosystem that they're in. Because of this, your sourdough might not taste exactly like other sourdough breads you've tried. Appreciate the uniqueness of whatever you create!

From Breaking Bread With Father Dominic

An Important Word About Water And Your Sourdough Starter

Tap water from municipal water supplies has large amounts of chemicals added for purification. These fluorides and chlorine compounds retard the effectiveness of, and sometimes even kill the sourdough. For best results us bottled or filtered water in mixing up your starter, in all primary batters and where water is called for in each recipe to insure that your sourdough masterpieces are light and tasty.

From: Adventures in Sourdough Cooking & Baking by Charles D. Wilford, 1977

Sourdough Starter
Traditional Method

2 cups spring water (non-chlorinated)
2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar or honey
1/2 cup unseasoned, cooked mashed potatoes (optional)
Milk or buttermilk (optional)

Combine water, flour and brown sugar or honey in a non-reactive bowl. If desired, you can add mashed potatoes, or you can substitute milk or buttermilk for half of the water. Mix well. Cover bowl with open-weave cheesecloth and place outside on a warm, breezy day. The idea is to capture the wild yeast strains out of the air. Leave it out for several hours, or until the batter starts to develop bubbles and a pleasantly sour smell. Bring it inside and leave in a warm place for 2 or 3 days while the yeast develops. You might need to replenish the liquid each day; I often add more flour, as well.

There are no guarantees with this method. You might get sourdough, you might get mold, you might get wallpaper paste. But that's part of the adventure!

If after three days the batter smells unpleasant or seems a bit slimy, throw it out, sterilize the bowl and try again.

Once your starter is bubbling away, you can begin using it to make sourdough bread. You'll use 1 cup starter for your recipe. Replace that with an equal amount of flour and water. Place the replenished starter in a Mason jar or crock with a tight-fitting lid. Leave out for a couple of hours to develop, then close the lid and refrigerate for up to one week. The starter must be replenished once a week, so even if you don't use it to bake, take some out and feed the remainder with fresh liquid and flour. I alternate between flour and milk, sometimes using whole wheat flour or adding some mashed potatoes.

Using Commercial Yeast

Add 1 package active dry yeast to the ingredients given in the traditional method. Leave in a warm place, covered with plastic wrap, for several days while the sour flavor develops. Use and replenish as directed in traditional method. The starter will be sour, but not quite so wild tasting, and it will develop faster.

If you don't think you'll be baking sourdough at least once a week, you can use the starter entirely, and start from scratch with yeast each time.

From Breaking Bread With Father Dominic

An Important Word About Humidity

Humidity plays a big part in breadmaking; on humid days you'll need more flour because the flour will have picked up moisture from the air...on dry days you'll need less flour. Trust your fingers, they'll tell you when the dough is right.

Basic White Bread

2 cups warm water
2 packages active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
6 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour, divided

Put water in a large bowl. Add yeast; stir to dissolve. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes, or until foamy. Add sugar, salt and oil; stir to mix. Add 5 cups of the flour; mix well. By hand, work in enough of remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead 6 to 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.

Place dough in large oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover bowl with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm, draft-free place about one hour, or until doubled in bulk. Punch dough down. Divide dough into two equal pieces and form each piece into a loaf. Place in greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise about 45 minutes, or until nearly doubled.

Bake on lower shelf of a preheated 400-degree oven about 35 minutes, or until top is golden brown and bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped. Remove from pans immediately; let cool on wire rack. Yield: 2 loaves.

Note: You could add 1 tablespoon of any dried herb or herb mixture to this dough to make an herb-flavored loaf.

From Breaking Bread With Father Dominic

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