I’ve realized that I have a lot of skills and habits that have become useful during our current COVID-19 crisis, and I thought it might be a good idea to share some ideas and resources with people. We are lucky in that neither my spouse nor I have lost work, but we are still trying to reduce the number of times we leave the house or order things to be delivered. There are also things that are difficult to buy right now because they are out of stock. I know tons of people have lost work, and have even more need of some tips to stretch resources right now. My grandmother was a home economics teacher, and my grammie had some useful habits from living through the great depression in rural Pennsylvania, so I came into this situation with a lot of knowledge. Nevertheless, I’ve been learning new things and experimenting a lot as well.
I realized while writing this that rather than make a super-long list of resources it would be better for everyone to separate it out by categories. Today’s category: baking bread.
We’ve had weeks where we either couldn’t find bread or yeast (or both) at the store. Things have gotten a lot better, but I figured I’d share some information I learned about baking bread using a sourdough starter. Even if your local store is stocked, home baked bread is less expensive than store bought and tastes great. The recipe below is also easier than others to slice thin for sandwich bread.
Have some old yeast that you aren’t sure is still good?
Do you have old yeast at home that could be still good, but you aren’t sure? Use the information on this site to easily test it even if it is expired (https://breadopedia.com/how-to-revive-dead-yeast). They also give information on using it for nutritional yeast if it is no longer viable. If you find out that your yeast is still good, you can use your test batch to inoculate some sourdough starter and have infinite amounts of yeast without waiting 5 days for a sourdough starter (that’s what I did, by replacing the water in the starter recipe with the test batch).
What if I don’t have any yeast?
You can bake sourdough bread without commercial yeast using wild yeast by making a sourdough starter. Both of these sites give really useful information on the process:
Like the idea of sourdough starter, but hate the potential waste when splitting the culture?
If you don’t bake very often, you can put your starter in the refridgerator and just feed it once a week. Remember to take it out 12 hours before you want to make to re-activate it.
Bake with your potential discard, or give it to someone else so they can have their own.
There are recipes online that you can use sourdough starter discards in, like this cracker recipe (https://littlespoonfarm.com/sourdough-discard-crackers/). I am definitely trying this!
Need bread flour?
If you don’t have bread flour, you can combine all purpose flour and vital wheat gluten to make an equivalent. Just add 1.5 teaspoons of vital wheat gluten to a 1 cup measuring cup. Fill the rest of the cup measure with flour (https://www.savorysimple.net/how-to-make-cake-flour/).
I haven’t experimented with how much rise you lose if you use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, but maybe there are ways you can build the gluten in the dough to at least partially make up for not adding gluten. If you give it a go, leave a comment below to let us know how it turned out.
How to use a sourdough starter to bake bread, even if you don’t have a dutch oven
I’ve been using the recipe linked off this page for “Tim’s Bald Head Bread Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Sourdough” bread recipe (https://qz.com/1823971/how-to-bake-bread-using-a-sourdough-starter/). It has a timeline laid out that fits my schedule well. I’ve made two regular loaves and one smoked gouda thyme loaf so far, and all of them came out great. Next might be Kalamata olive-rosemary bread.
I looked at a lot of sourdough recipes, and all of them called for using a dutch oven to cook the bread in. However, I don’t have one so I found this site online giving various suggestions for what you can use instead (https://truesourdough.com/3-ways-to-make-amazing-sourdough-bread-without-a-dutch-oven/). I heat up my oven with a pizza stone covered with parchment paper inside. When it is hot I quickly put my dough in, score the top, and put a 6 qt. stainless steel Instant Pot insert on top. I increase the cooking time for a bit with the pot off to make the crust crispy. (I don’t have the type of pot or roasting pan suggested, but the stainless steel pot works very well, as would a large stainless steel mixing bowl.)
The first time I made the bread I did a full recipe (makes 2 loaves), and gave away the second to a friend who needed it. The second time I split the recipe in half since I was making weird, experimental bread for us, and it works just as well.
This is a time when we all need to help each other, even though we are apart. If it makes sense for you, please consider giving a neighbor a loaf of bread or sharing some starter. Sourdough starters have become so popular right now that you might be able to ask a neighbor for some and avoid the 5 day wait. I left a jar of starter on my front steps and someone from my church picked it up.
If you liked this post (or maybe even if you didn’t), keep an eye out for more in this series. Next I think I might do fabric face masks and homemade hand sanitizer.