Making bread without yeast: a lesson in patience

by | Apr 15, 2021 | Daily life, Food & Drink

Like many people I have been making A LOT of baked goods over the last year while stuck at home during this pandemic. I’ve made English muffins, Pão de Deus, focaccia bread, bagels, chocolate donuts, the best chocolate chip cookies ever, Brazilian cheese bread, taralli, cinnamon rolls, baguettes, etc.

A friend of mine gave me the Tartine Bread cookbook for Christmas. I can only assume as a challenge. The first recipe in the book is for “Basic Country Bread” and it’s supposed to introduce the reader to creating your own bread starter and then use it to make amazing bread.

It couldn’t be easier, simply mix flour and water together, wait, then discard and feed at regular intervals and wait some more.

Well. My first attempt at a starter never rose – even after two weeks of feeding – so instead of trying to revive it, I started over. Attempt #2 was looking pretty grim after a week so as a lark, I swapped out 100% King Arthur AP flour for 50% King Arthur AP flour + 50% Caputo Tipo AA soft wheat flour (my pasta making flour). Worked like a charm! Within two days my starter was bubbling and active. Finally!

bread starter: 5 hours after feeding  bread starter from side: all those air bubbles!
Look at all those bubbles! Gertie Jr. is a happy starter.

After two days of predictable starter action, I was ready for the float test.

passed the float test - ready to make bread!
my starter passing the ‘float test’ = ready to make bread!

The instructions in this book are written in a prosaic, literary way and I found myself struggling to make sense of how long each step was going to take and when the dough ‘looks’ ready along the way.  So, being me, I made a spreadsheet.

my spreadsheet to track steps and time

This way I could track how long each step took, from mixing the leaven through to the final rise after shaping.

For my first attempt, I started the leaven in the afternoon and let it sit until just before bed when I mixed the dough and stuck in in our wine fridge (55°) to let it chill overnight. The next morning, I shaped the dough and let it sit at room temp in a warm spot for four hours.

Instead of flipping the dough straight into the preheated dutch oven, I decided to transfer it to parchment paper and do the scoring for a quicker transfer and … my dough completely stuck to the dishtowel. Ugh. I scraped off as much of the stuck dough as I could and let the dough blob rest for an additional 30 minutes, hoping the relaxation time would heal the harm of my underflouring the towel.

It looked a little ugly going in the oven but take a peek at the end result!

fresh from the oven!

look at those holes! :)

The bread had a mild sough dough flavor (all from naturally occurring yeast!), a chewy interior and crispy crust. Success! Can’t wait to make my next loaf.

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