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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 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 Artisan 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 100-200grams of the total water with yeast water. The amount can be adjusted based on time and temperature for rising –if you have 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
- 100 grams yeast water, heated to 90-95F (~1/3c plus 1 Tbsp) Microsoft Word – How to Make Yeast Water_UPDATE_BakersDozen 070721b (rosemarymark.com)
- 100 grams whole wheat spelt flour or whole wheat (~3/4 cup) or 50:50 any whole wheat or rye flour and all-purpose white flour
Final Dough – start 24 hours before you want to bake the bread
- 700 grams white bread flour (~5-1/2cups + 2Tbsp) all-purpose 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) 600 grams water for softer/moister crumb
- 100 grams yeast water (~1/2 cup minus 1Tbsp)
- 18-20 grams salt (~5tsp Kosher salt) Less salt as low as 12 grams or to your preference. Other salts can be used such as gray salt or flur de sel. Table salt can be used and is 3 tsp per 18grams.
- Make the preferment 48 hours before baking: 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 24 until doubled. It can be refrigerated 24-48 hours and used later, if you decide you aren't ready to bake. Bring to room temp before proceeding.
- Make final dough 24 hours before baking: 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. 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 it's 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 15- 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.
- 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 3 more times around the bowl.
- You'll notice the dough tightens with each stretch so the last time it barely stretches up. Cover and let rest again about 30 minutes. Repeat this for total of 3 times which will take about 2 hours. Don't stress if you let it go longer, just not more than 3 hours.
- BULK FERMENTATION: Now cover the bowl and let it do it's thing for about 10 hours. I set it on a cloth so it is not directly on the cold countertop.
- Be patient! 9-12 hours after the final fold the (bulk fermentation) proofing is done. This can take longer if room temperature is lower than 72F. Dough should be 2-1/2 to 3 times the original volume. Look for a slightly domed top and some bubbles on the surface.
- Top down view of proofed dough.
- This is example of a very active dough, probably 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.
- Make 3-4 gentle stretch and folds to shape the dough into a rough ball. Then turn and tuck to form a smooth ball, flouring hands as needed. The dough will become more taught, and bubbles will form on the surface. 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 PROOFING: Turn into lightly floured cloth lined bowl or banneton. Cover with plastic and refrigerate 8-16 hours. I've left refrigerated up to 36 hours. It may make a slightly more dense crumb.
- 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.