Wild Yeast

While I was at Leiths, there was a  great talk by Hilary Cacchio who is an expert on all things wild yeast related.  Having always wanted to get into making sourdough, it was a fantastic introduction and way into this enormous subject, not least as I was able to buy some of her 16 year old starter, originally made from organic American grapes.  

There is something a bit magical about yeast culture.  And I mean magical in the wizard, slightly mad-scientist way.  I can completely understand why people become a bit sourdough obsessed- it is incredibly satisfying making bread with a yeast you have to maintain and keep happy.  And all you’ve used is flour, water and a little salt!

The main difference, really, compared to making breads with commercial yeast is time.  Firstly in terms of maintaining and feeding the yeast- a commitment in itself.  Secondly, in the time it takes to make the bread.  Whereas with standard yeast a dough will take about an hour or so to rise in a warmish place, with sourdough the slower, the better.  Six hours or so in a cool place?  Perfect-if not a bit on the quick side. 

Having said that, I’ve been surprised both at how easy it is to keep the yeast going and how little effort it actually takes to make bread itself.  The culture is surprisingly resilient, so although there has been the odd occasion when I’ve missed out on a feed, it doesn’t seem to have harmed the yeast too much.  And although it does take a long time to make the bread itself, a lot of that time involves minimal effort from you.  You can just leave it and crack on with other things. 

If you haven’t got your own culture, there is a wealth of information on the Internet- get researching.  You could try this as a way to start you off.  I’m dying to give it a go, but feel I’ve still got so much to learn just in terms of how to maintain and bake with sourdough, that it’s enough for now.  I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, here’s some pictures and a recipe from Hilary‘s fantastic class.  

Feeding the starter- organic flour is best
Room temperature water and a bit of a stir
Plenty of bubbles
Combining the frisky starter with flour, salt and water to make a dough

At the start and end of the kneading process

Before and after it has been left to rise
Discs of dough ready for rolling into cigar-shapes
Baguettes, shaped and proving (L) and slashed and ready for the oven (R)

Just add butter and jam
The recipe below is the one I’ve had the most success with.  I’ve been making baguettes, but you can also use it for pitas, calzones and simple white loafs.   The recipe makes 3 medium sized baguettes, but, as you can see from the pics above, I often multiply the recipe by 1.5 or 2 to make more. I also find the bread freezes well. 

Hilary Cacchio’s Simple Wild Yeast Dough (Summer)
You will need:
250g very frisky sour dough culture
180g water at room temperature
450g strong plain flour (ideally organic)
10g Malden sea salt
1.  Put the frisky culture into a large bowl and stir in the water.  Mix in the flour and salt until it is fully incorporated.
2.  Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 2 minutes.  Cover with the bowl and leave to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. 

3. Knead for for 20-30 seconds or until the dough begins to resist.  Cover with a damp, clean cloth and leave to stand for 10 minutes.

4.  Again, knead for 20 seconds, cover and leave for 10 minutes.

5.  Repeat the process a further three times, finally leaving the dough for 15-20 minutes and check the gluten development.  

6.  Return to a clan bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave to ferment until doubled in volume.  Ideally somewhere relatively cool (10-15 C).  This will take some time.

7.  You can now either shape the dough or leave in a lightly oiled plastic bag (unsealed) in the fridge for up to 24 hours.

Shaping a Baguette

8.  Divide the dough into 3 balls, flatten each firmly with the palm of your hand to create a disc and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

9.  Roll each disc into a thick cigar shape and then roll and stretch to a baguette shape.  Place on a well-floured baguette cloth or tin to prove until doubled in size.

10.  Slash the baguettes and bake in preheated oven at 225C, until deep golden, hollow sounding when tapped on the base and it feels light for its size. Leave to cool before tucking in, or slather with butter while still a bit warm. 


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