Wild Yeast Questions Answered

Hi Friends,

Many students have been asking some great questions about wild yeast lately, so I thought it would be helpful if I clarified some things for you all.

I wrote a post called Wild, Wild Yeast about two years ago which you can read here, but since that time I have become better acquainted with my pet starter. Thus, I will happily share my knowledge on the little beast.

First off, for those of you who take my class, you know my little trick of breaking off a piece of dough from the one you mixed in class to jump start the process. Here are the directions:

When you get home after class, tear off a quarter-size portion from the dough and place it in a quart-sized mason jar (preferred) or BPA-free plastic container. To the jar add one cup organic flour and one cup filtered water. Stir. Place lid gently on top and place in a cupboard, out of sunlight. 

For two more days, feed it once every 8-12 hours: Dump out 50% of the starter, add one cup flour, one cup water. Stir. It shouldn’t be too liquidy. Think pancake batter with lots of bubbles and an aroma of wine. That’s a healthy starter. 

Once you have fed it 3 or 4 times over the course of the first 2 days, it should be happy and bubbling. At this point, you can try your hands at baking a loaf of bread with it, or if time doesn’t allow it, you can place it in the fridge. Make sure you feed it once/week if you store it in the fridge. Some say it can go months without feeding, and that may be true, but in my experience, it is best not to abandon it and just feed it once/week. That way it will also remind you to bake those loaves of bread for your friends and family.

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Some questions answered:

If I store it in the fridge, when do I need to take it out of the fridge in order to bake? Usually a minimum of 12 hours, but ideally one or two days before you bake is best. That way, you will get the chance to feed it between 2 and 4 times before baking. You want to see the starter bubbling and smelling yummy. That’s when you know it is ready to be mixed into dough.

Help! Is my starter dead? Wild yeast is amazingly resilient, but if it does turn pink or moldy in color, or smells horrifically of your sister’s nail polish remover (acetone), then it’s best to chuck it and start over again (directions here.)

Is that liquid on top hootch? Should I throw it away? That is ethenol (alcohol), and some people like to stir it in before they discard their 50%, bc it adds to the sour taste of the starter. Personally I usually pour it down the drain, and then discard 50%, and feed it.

Why do I have to discard 50% every time? What can I do with the stuff I discard? Yeast is a living bacteria. A probiotic one at that. Many of these bacteria experience die-off after hours of not being fed, so essentially you are discarding half of it to revive it with fresh food. I know it can seem frustrating to some who do not wish to waste, so luckily I recommend using the stuff you pour off in pancake mix (Chad Robertson has a great recipe in his Tartine 3 book), or instead of baking soda/powder in muffins or cookies (substitute 1 tablespoon starter for 1 teaspoon baking soda/powder). There are still many trillions of healthy probiotic bacteria in that discard, so why not create some new tasty creations with it.

 My starter has been fed nearly 5 times over the course of 2 or 3 days and it still doesn’t want to bubble…what do I do? Fear not! Add 1/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or pineapple juice or freshly squeezed OJ to it and stir. The acid will wake it up. Feed it a few more times after this and if it still doesn’t bubble, you may need to start over.

How much starter should I have in my jar at any given point? I always like to keep a minimum of one or two cups in there, in case I want to mix dough on a whim. After you use a bunch of it, always re-feed it one or two cups flour, one or two cups water before putting back in the cupboard or the fridge.

Why can’t I use commercial yeast? Commercial yeast is made of only one bacteria: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t have lactobacillus or any other bacteria that is healthful for our gut health. It is also chemically processed, and by making it into a powder, it loses the peak of its nutrition over time. To me, the yeast is the most important nutritional aspect of the bread. It is what makes it rise, it is what has healed my digestion, and the digestion of many of my patients who eat my bread each week. I can’t emphasize it’s importance enough.

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There you have it, friends. If there is something I did not answer here, feel free to write and ask me questions. And stay tuned for a webinar with more details and bread baking galore in 2016.

Thanks for reading. Happy Holidays to you and your families and friends!

Love,

Mary

 

Aunt Mary: FACE YOUR FEAR!

When my niece Lily was about 5 years old, she had a favorite phrase: “Face Your Fear.” No one knew where it came from, but she would repeat it over and over again, as 5 year-olds do, and we would all just burst into laughter, hugging her and smiling. At the time no one really stopped to realize just how incredibly wise she was.

I’ve been thinking about Lily and her phrase lately. She is 17, and applying for college, both an exciting and often fear-provoking task. And I am in the midst of starting two businesses at the same time: 1. my Eastern Medicine and Acupuncture Practice, and 2. Bread Culture as an LLC and full operating bread-teaching service. We both are at the forefront of change.

I am coming clean and being totally honest with you folks — I have a lot of fear surrounding both. All the what-if’s seem to be upfront and center, blocking my view of potential greatness sometimes. Dozens of
questions come up each day, how will I… But then I remember Lily at such an innocent and adorable age, reminding us grown-ups to go for our dreams, to trust the process, and to be vulnerable and courageous in the face of fear. Talk about wisdom!

My missions are strong. They are both rooted in helping others, so I know in my heart that they will inevitably succeed, but putting all fears aside is challenging. I’ve been listening to/reading all kinds of business media stuff lately: bread-talks, entrepreneur podcasts, business documentaries, and they all seem to have one common theme: their greater mission far surpassed all obstacles and “failures” along the way. And sure, they failed. We all do. It just makes us one step closer to realizing success. They were determined like it was nobody’s business. They didn’t take no for an answer, and they surrounded themselves with people who supported them and believed in them.

I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…

My dreams for Bread Culture are huge. I am fully determined to help all of us who want better food in this country, to take matters into our own hands (literally), and start baking! I have visions of a massive bread class in Times Square. It is filled with thousands of cambro containers, dough wands, and bread scrapers. People are elbow deep in dough, and they are smiling and sharing words with their neighbors. They are mixing whole grains in that container. Whole-organic-grains that have just been milled very recently into flour. They are sharing life stories with their neighbor, and that night they will go to their homes, place the dough in their own refrigerator, and wake up the next morning to bake it — themselves. In their own oven. Then they will break it with someone they love.

We deserve the right to know where our food comes from. What the farm was sprayed with or not sprayed with. How many thousands of hours of work the farmer put in that soil, come rain or shine. How those bubbles were created in the wild yeast we used to help the dough get its proper rise. How many hours bread needs to develop. I mean, heck, we all need time to rise, no? Poke a hole in me and I’m not ready at 6am!

So I invite you all to do the same. What is it that drives you? That one thing that keeps popping back into your head when you least expect it, hounding you (in a good way). I challenge you to go out and do it. To face your fear. After all, as Nelson Mandela put it so eloquently:

“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

I think Mr. Mandela and Lily would have been friends.

lily bread pic

Organic Farming, Iowa-Style

early morning harvest

About 6 months ago my husband Kevin and I went to visit his family in the midwest. Lucky enough for me he grew up in farm country. He was born in Nebraska and spent most of his growing years in southwestern Iowa. My father-in-law bought two farms in his 70’s….something he had always dreamed to do, but wasn’t able to achieve until later in life. I really admire his spirit. One is never too old (or young, for that matter) to make their dreams come true.

A few days into the trip, we were headed to visit my mother-in-law, Ann, in Minnesota, and as we were driving past all the corn and soybean fields, I thought to myself: “there has got to be an organic grain farmer out here somewhere!” So I googled just that; and low and behold I came upon Early Morning Harvest: Iowa’s Premier Aquaponic Produce Farm and Grain Mill. I gasped, Kevin swerved a bit at the wheel, and then I immediately called them. Jeff answered the phone. “Hi there,” I said, obviously excited, “my husband and I happen to be driving through Iowa right now, on our way towards Minnesota. Where exactly are you located?”  A few explanations and directions later, we realized that we would be driving straight through Panora, IA. No such thing as coincidence!

We spent a few hours with Jeff. I asked him a lot of questions about farming. I am totally green, verrrrrrryyyyy green when it comes to this. It is only something in the last 6 months that I have grown more interested in, to be honest. Now, after spending time with Jeff and Kevin’s Dad, and other farmer’s recently, I dream of having my own organic grain farm one day…Jeff was very patient with my seemingly dozens of questions. Farmer’s tend to live in a different time zone of their own. I envy this. And then he showed us his Aquaponic green house. This is a whole post in and of itself, but let’s just say that I was amazed at the sheer possibility of marrying aquaculture (raising of fish) and hydroponics (soil-less growing of plants). Totally blew my mind!

As did their flour. I get it now. The freshly milled flour I get here in CA, still yielding utterly delicious and complex breads, well, let’s just say it doesn’t quite have the spunk that Iowa grains have.  And I am pretty sure it has to do with the water — or lack thereof. Iowa gets a lot more rain than we do and therefore, its soil is more rich in nitrogen; yielding healthier plants and grains. When I first opened a bag of the flour I purchased from Jeff that day, I had to take a step back. I couldn’t believe the smell. This was the Earth’s Flour. It smelled like rain, soil, insects, wheat, sunshine — all of the things you want your grains to smell like. All of the healthy things you want your family to eat, your kids, yourself.

I must admit, I was a little afraid at what the end result may be. I thought “Is my bread going to taste like dirt now?” I laughed at the possibility. I made a few test loaves and was amazed at the complexity of flavor. It is definitely distinct, so I mix a little rye and sprouted sonora berries in there to vary its taste and texture.

I call it Farmer’s Bread. Kevin came up with that one, of course. There is a definite history to the feel of this particular grain. It’s hard-working. You can feel the effort that was given by both the earth itself, and the farmer’s who spent many an hour growing it, sweat, exhaustion, and all. I admire that.

For more info on Jeff and Early Morning Harvest, take a look at their website. He does ship nationally, and in fact, I just order 50 pounds of his whole wheat flour for the upcoming Bread Festival at Grand Central Market this coming weekend.

Hope to see you there!

Love,

Mary

aquaponics

bread festival pic

 

The Bran, The Germ, The Endosperm

Say that ten times fast! These three properties of the whole grain are essential as a trio, and without the whole seed intact, many nutrients are lost and the bread becomes less healthy.  I know we have all heard of these terms, but many of us are wondering what they really are, and how they act separately and together as a unit.  So let’s break them down…

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THE BRAN: The “Roughage” — makes up about 14% of the whole grain. It is the outer skin of the edible kernel. It contains large amounts of B vitamins, some protein, trace minerals, phytochemicals, and dietary fiber.  This fiber is insoluble, which makes it easier to digest, and helps to prevent constipation by speeding up the digestion process.

THE GERM: The “Nutrients” — makes up only about 2.5% of the kernel weight of the whole grain.  It is the sprouting section of the seed.  It is usually separated during the milling process because it contains the most fat, and therefore has a shorter shelf life.  It also contains a higher protein content, more B-vitamins, such as niacin, riboflavin, thiamine, and iron.  You can also purchase wheat germ separately if you want to add it into your normal flour.  Keep in mind that whole wheat flours already have it in tact, but many other flours do not.

THE ENDOSPERM: The “Energy” — makes up 83% of the whole grain. It is the main source for white flour. It contains the greatest amount of carbohydrates, protein, and iron.  It also contains some of the other B-vitamins as well.  It is a source of soluble fiber, and is therefore more difficult/takes longer to digest, but also makes you feel full faster and can help maintain blood sugar and weight.

Whole grain flour contains all three of these vital parts of the kernal.  In the milling process, usually the bran and germ are removed and only the endosperm remains, depriving our flours of essential vitamins, protein, fiber, and trace minerals.  I know companies add back some of these nutrients after they mill, but keep in mind that this method is artificial and you are not truly eating a “whole food,” or a “whole grain.” Eating foods as you see them in their most natural form is essential to life, vitality, and to your health.

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So the next time you are on a hunt to purchase some flour, please take a moment to study the brand that you purchase.  Does it have the highest nutrition content for you and your family? Is it truly a whole grain flour? Don’t let the language on the bags fool you! Companies verbage on the front, sides, and back are not regulated by the FDA. But the nutrition panel is monitored.  Study it. Or you could pull a Foodbabe (www.foodbabe.com) and pick up that phone and call the company yourself to get the most honest answer. She is so inspiring!

Let’s regain our power when it comes to our food. Educating ourselves is the first step! And then those cookies or pie or bread (mmmmm) you make from that flour will have that much more history to it; that much more knowledge, because you have empowered yourself to eat healthier! Go get ’em!

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