My bread bakers have been busy! These are loaves they baked from my previous post for No-Knead…
Homemade yeast? It’s Yeast Water. The next best thing to, ok, sliced bread!… but what is Yeast Water?? Keep reading and I hope you become hopelessly hooked as I have to this long-rise, easy-knead, artisan style bread baking. It’s bakery quality results. Just look at that crust and crumb!
Long before the terrible spring of 2020 when active dry yeast and flour were coveted commodities, I had been baking with yeast water. I was introduced to yeast water by my friend Jennie Schacht. She showed me her jar of golden water and I said, “Yeast water, what??”. She said, “Trust. It will work”. And it does! I’ve never had a failed loaf of bread made with yeast water. And the best thing is yeast water does not require regular feeding or wasteful discard like sourdough starter.
What is Yeast Water?
Yeast water is wild yeast captured in liquid form. It can be made from plants including edible flowers and herbs, grains, and a variety of produce like apples or beets. My choice for making yeast water is raisins and dates.
What does Yeast Water Look Like?
The jar marked golden is made with golden raisins. The center jar made with natural raisins also called ‘dark’ raisins, was just refreshed so the dates are on the bottom. When the water is fully fermented the fruit floats. The jar on the right was made with pure dates. I always use dates for refreshing the water, just because they are easier to take out than a bunch of raisins.
Is Yeast Water Like Sourdough?
Yes and no! Yes – YW leavens bread dough like sourdough. No – YW does not need regular feeding and re-starting like sourdough. And there is no messy flour discard.
Does Yeast Water Have a flavor?
The YW that I make does not add a specific flavor, nor have I noted any difference in flavor or performance between the waters shown above. What YW does do, is bring out complex flavors of grains or any addition of nuts or seeds. YW does not add sour notes to bread like sourdough starter, but it can be used in a ‘preferment’ to produce sour-like background flavor. The longer the preferment ferments, the more the sour notes are enhanced. Preferment is used in my recipe below.
Is It Easy to Make Yeast Water?
Yes! Just fruit + water + time. I still find the process incredulous. To prove it works anywhere, I’ve made YW multiple times away from my home kitchen. Here’s a close-up of the active yeast water I made at my daughter’s home in Arizona.
How to Make Yeast Water
The process takes 5-6 days at room temperature. Simply combine water and dried dates and/or raisins in a jar. Sometimes sugar is added, but I haven’t found it necessary for starting yeast water with dark raisins or dates. Leave the jar at room temperature, venting the lid and shaking twice a day, then magically in a few days, live bubbles and yeast molecules form. It’s ready to use for baking, with no additional feeding until the jar is nearly empty. It’s really just wait and watch for a few days, then you’re ready to bake.
How to Use Yeast Water
Below is my basic long-rise artisan bread recipe with Yeast Water. If you’re familiar with the popular New York Times No Knead Bread recipe, that one is also a good first recipe to bake with yeast water. I’ve written how to adapt that recipe to yeast water in my Easiest Ever No-Knead Bread. Or use other recipes like those in my favorite book Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish, and substitute YW for the dry yeast by replacing 100 to 200grams of the total water with yeast water. The amount can be adjusted based on time and temperature for rising. IE: for warmer room temps (above 75F), use a little less YW vs tap water; cooler room temp use a little higher percentage YW, and expect a slightly slower rise.
Below is my adaptation of Ken’s formulas, using his recommendations for mixing, folding, shaping, and baking.
Get in touch if you have any questions along your yeast water experience! I love to chat bread baking 🙂
Basic Recipe for Yeast Water Artisan Bread
- Cast iron or enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven that withstands 500F oven.
- 6 quart cambro bucket or very large bowl
- Digital thermometer
- Gram scale is preferable to measuring cups
- optional: dough scraper; plastic shower cap
Preferment – make 12-24 hours before mixing Final Dough. This means up to 48 hours before baking.
Final Dough – start 24 hours before you want to bake the bread
- 700 grams white bread flour (~5-1/2cups + 2Tbsp) all-purpose flour also works, I prefer the slightly more structured texture with bread flour.
- 200 grams whole wheat flour (~1 cup + 2Tbsp)
- 550 grams tap water or filtered water (~2-1/3 cups) or 600 grams water for softer/moister crumb
- 100 grams yeast water (~1/2 cup minus 1Tbsp)
- 18-20 grams salt (~5 tsp. Kosher salt) Less salt as low as 12 grams or to your preference. Other salts can be used such as gray salt or fleur de sel. Table salt can be used and is 3 tsp per 18grams.
- Step 1) MAKE PREFERMENT 24-48 hours before you want to bake bread.Stir together the 100 grams 90-95F yeast water and 100 grams whole wheat flour. Let stand at room temperature at least 12 hours or up to 48 hrs. It should double in about 24hrs. At this point either use the preferment or refrigerate for up to two days. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.
- Step 2) START DOUGH 24 hours before planning to bake bread. In a 6-quart container or bowl, stir together the flours. Combine the tap water (or filtered water), and yeast water in a bowl or 4-cup measure. Heat to 90-95F (in my microwave this takes 60-75 seconds).
- Stir together the flours and warmed yeast water mixture until all the dry and wet are just combined. No need to knead! Let stand 20-30 minutes or up to 1 hour. This is the autolyse stage which hydrates the flour and starts to activate the enzymes and the gluten forming proteins, improving the dough's ability to stretch and hold shape.
- Now pour the preferment and the salt over the dough. Begin the mixing by lifting and folding the dough over and scooping up from the bottom of the container. Then pinch across the dough making chunks, then refold over itself until all the ingredients are combined. This usually takes me 2-3 minutes.
- Let the dough rest 30 seconds, then do a couple more folds and let it relax into the bowl. Cover the container (plastic shower cap works well) and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Ideal temperature is between 70-80F. If less than 70F, expect the dough to take a lot longer to proof.
- Step 3) FOLDING: Now you'll start the series of three folds every 30 minutes (the time doesn't have to be exact, even an hour is ok). Here's how to fold: lift an edge of the dough as far as it will go pulling gently, then fold it over itself. Do this 4-6 more times around the bowl to make a smooth-ish ball.
- The dough tightens with each stretch so the last time it barely stretches up. Cover and let rest again about 30 minutes. Repeat the stretching 3-4 times at interval of about 30 minutes, which will take about 2 hours. Don't stress if you let it go longer, just not more than 3 hours.
- Step 4) PROOFING (also called bulk fermentation): Now cover the bowl and let it do it's thing. Time will vary greatly from 4 or 5 hours to 8-10 hours depending on room temperature. I set the container on a cloth, not directly on the cold countertop. Or, in a proof box such as this folding proofer and set the temperature to 75F. If I need it to go faster because of my schedule for shaping, then I use 78-80F. Up to 85F would be ok, but I prefer the lower temp which adds to flavor development.
- Be patient! Dough should be about 2 to 2-1/2 times the original volume. Look for a slightly domed top and some bubbles on the surface. Also use the finger poke test by coating a finger with flour and indenting about 1/2-inch. Look for a slow rise back with the hole slowly enclosing. If it springs back immediately, it needs more time; if it doesn't spring back at all it is over-proofed.
- Photo below is top down view of well-proofed dough. Domed with visible bubbles.
- Photo below is very active dough; it could be over-proofed. Over-proofing weakens the gluten which tends to reduce the final rise (called oven spring) during baking. It may be a denser bread, contrary to expectation of making a lighter bread from such big bubbles. This dough still made delicious loaves!
- Gently scrap the dough out of the container onto a floured work surface.
- Flour the center top of the dough and cut in half with a dough scraper or knife.
- Step 5) SHAPING Make 3-4 gentle stretch and folds to shape each piece of dough into a rough ball. Let rest 20-30 minutes. Then turn and tuck with hands or one hand and a bench scraper, moving around the ball several times to form a smooth and taught ball. Use little or no flour allowing the dough to create tension on the work surface. If the dough is very sticky, wet hands can help shape better than flour. The dough will become more taught, and bubbles will form on the surface as the dough is rounded into a ball. Prick any very large bubbles as they tend to burn during baking. See the link in the notes below to Ken Forkish on YouTube for detailed instruction on folding and shaping dough.
- FINAL PROOF: Turn into lightly floured cloth lined bowl or banneton. Refrigerate uncovered 8-16 hours. I've left refrigerated up to 36 hours, which is ok but seemed to make a slightly more dense crumb.
- Step 6) BAKE To bake in preheated oven, place cast iron or ceramic Dutch oven in cold oven. Heat to 500F (my oven takes 45 minutes). CAREFULLY remove pan from oven, and turn lightly flour dusted dough directly from bowl or banetton into the hot pan. Score a slash (or a smile!) on top if desired, then immediately cover and return to oven. Reduce oven to 475F. Bake 25 minutes covered; remove lid and bake additional 15-25 minutes until deep golden brown.
- To bake starting from cold oven, turn dough into unheated Dutch oven lined with lightly floured parchment or silpat. Dough tends to stick in the cold pan if not lined. Place pan in upper third of oven. Turn on to 425F, convection or conventional. Time 50 minutes. Remove lid and bake additional 5-10 minutes until crust is deep golden brown. Both techniques work well. There may be slightly more rise in the preheated oven, but the total oven time is longer.
- Bake until well browned for the best crust and interior crumb.
- Turn out immediately on a wire rack. And try not to slice the loaf for at least an hour! Slicing hot will compress the interior and change the texture of the loaf.