Tuesday 21 June 2011

When all else fails bake: Sourdough Yeast Beast.

During my unplanned sabbatical I unleashed my creative side in many weird and wonderful ways.  There's something about creating that is soothing to the soul.  It doesn't matter what it is, but to be able to sit back and say "I made that" is better than sunshine on a rainy day.

Perhaps my most enjoyable endeavour during this period, was growing my own wild yeast and making my first loaf of fresh sourdough bread from scratch.  I know, I know.  I am walking on the wild side.

Surprisingly, I found that I wasn't alone in my slightly strange obsession with homemade bread.  The requests have flowed for recipes.  So by popular demand, I give you:

The Yeast Beast:

The basis of the Yeast Beast comes from a recipe featured on River Cottage Everyday, but has also been influenced by a recipe for a no-knead sourdough that I found on the delightful Miss Buckle's blog.  

Living the fun life of fructose malabsorption (FM) I have been experimenting with different flours (Spelt, Kamut, Oat and Rye) as normal wheat is like Draino to my innards.  Now before anyone jumps up and points out that Spelt and Kamut are in the wheat family, I know.  However, they are supposedly easier to digest that common commercial wheat flours, and some with FM can tolerate a few slices of spelt and kamut bread (kamut is sadly nolonger my friend, but a sourdough spelt is awesome).  Plus sourdough is also supposed to be more easily digested as it breaks down the fructans.  So whilst I and my youngest may be able to tolerate these, there are no guarantees that others with FM can do the same.  It's all trial and error.

As you probably know by now, thanks to my Dorothy Shoes post, I feel that a glass of wine really is essential to the creative process.  So buy a bottle of your favourite beverage so you can celebrate every step along the way.  Growing your own wild yeast from scratch is really about creating new life.  And just like children, your yeast will need to be fed on a regular basis and goes bad if ignored.  But unlike the moody teenagers you offer to strangers on a regular basis (or is that just me?) your yeast doesn't talk back or leave rancid sandwiches to liquefy under their bed.  So there are multiple reasons to celebrate with a glass of bubbly or two.

Now I am sure there are essential baking rules that I am breaking when I make my sourdough, but I am impatient and slow witted at times.  Yet despite my stupidity and poor attitude I have managed to make some damn fine bread.  Even the one that barely rose and which I subsequently decided was therefore a surprise foccocia was fantastic toasted with some chutney and chedder cheese melted on top.  So I say, "To hell with the rules!  Livin' on the edge baby" and just see what happens.  So far, so good.  

My Yeast Beast (aka sourdough starter) was of the spelt variety.  Now I did read that you should therefore only make spelt loaves with it, but I didn't read that until after I'd used a mix of flours and it still worked well.  Rules were meant to be broken people.

I should point out that the growing of the Yeast Beast is a long process.  Given that I am at home all day and have no life, that wasn't a worry for me.  For those with lives you may wish to stick with other quicker methods or go to the local bakery.  I will say that I have found it a rewarding process though.  And one of the best breads I have ever tasted.

Stage 1.  The Starter. (7-10 days)

I know 7-10 days seems ridiculously long, but trust me it's worth it.  Plus, that's 7-10 reasons to have a glass of wine!  Every new yeasty bubble should be celebrated.

Now I will admit to some trepidation when I first started, as evidenced by my FB status updates:

"Day 1: Attempting my first sourdough starter. Hoping for yeasty goodness and not a mutant hell beast bent on world domination, but really it could go either way. This time in 7 days hopefully I will hopefully be supping on homemade bread and not loading my shot gun to take down the shrieking hell spawn in my kitchen. Wish me luck.
Day 3: The Yeast Beast is looking good. Though if a lifetime spent watching Sci Fi has taught me anything, you should never get cocky as that always leads to disaster and a world taken over by zombie dogs".

But it all went well and the world wasn't taken over by my mutant Yeast Beast, yet.

Thumb sized piece of fresh rhubarb.
4tbsp Wholemeal organic spelt flour
Warm water.

Clean glass jar

Day 1.  
  • Pour a glass of wine.
  • Put on some groovy tunes.  I've been in a Sarah Blasko phase of late, so that's been my choice.
  • Go out to garden and grab a piece of rhubarb.  Realise it's a nice day and sit outside for a while and relax.  Eventually, recall that you were in the middle of creating the Yeast Beast.  Go back inside and top up glass of wine which appears to have been affected by the mystery of evaporation.
  • Find a clean glass jar and fill with boiling water to sterilize.  Pour out water and let cool.
  • In a bowl whisk the flour with enough water to make a batter similar to thickened cream.
  • Pour into prepared jar.
  • Drop in rhubarb and cover with plastic wrap.
  • Put it somewhere warm. My Yeast Beast was grown in my bedroom as it was the warmest room in the house.
  • Grab another glass of wine and do a little dance to celebrate your magnificent efforts.
They do say you can get bubbles within the first 24hrs, but with Winter here, it took a couple of days.
Warning: initially it can smell really foul, and resemble something that my dog threw up.  But by day 4 I started to have the first hints of a yeasty smell.  After which it went from strength to strength.  

Day 2.
  • This is where the feeding begins.  
  • Whisk in another 100gms of flour, with enough water to keep the right consistency.
  • It will smell bad.  I recommend a glass of wine to recover.
Days 3-10. 
  • Every 24hrs scoop out 1/2 the starter.  You can toss it, but I just put it into the compost.
  • Add 100gms of fresh flour, with enough water to keep the right consistency.
  • Repeat this each day.
  • You will know it is ready for use when it has that sweet, yummy yeasty smell.  
  • Throw out the rhubarb and you are ready for some baking.
I should mention that although the River Cottage recipe says to feed it each day, I, with my brain fog, forgot a day here or there and it was still fine.  You can 'refresh' your yeast this way forever.  Some Yeast Beasts are known to be nearly 100 years old.

Stage 2: The Sponge.

Yes I know, another stage.  But it's worth it.  Trust me.  Would I lie to you?  Leave overnight to ferment.

2/3rd cup of your Yeast Beast.
300gm spelt flour
250ml warm water
  • Mix all ingredients in a glass bowl with your fingers.
  • It's very gooey, but kinda cool.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and leave overnight. I make mine about 9pm and leave it till about 10am the next day.
  • It's late so a nice tawny port may be more apt than wine to celebrate, but whatever suits.  A warm glass of milk is equally good in the evening.
  • The next morning it will be bubbly, thick and sticky.

Stage 3: The Dough.

Almost there.

300gm spelt, or a mix of other flours to make the 300gm.  Go crazy.  I don't measure and just put in a bit of each till I get the right amount.
10gm sea salt.
I have added a handful of pepitats and mixed GF grains at this point.  No real measurements, just what felt right.  Apparently you should soak them beforehand.  Again I found this out after the fact, but my bread was still good.
  • Mix it with your hands again.
  • The dough should be fairly wet but you may need to adjust your flour or add extra water as certain flours absorb more water than others.
  • Now this is the point where my planning fell down.  Kneading.  Bugger.  When your upper body strength is measured in wet tissues and yours wrists crack and roll, kneading becomes somewhat challenging.  I swear I heard the dough snort laugh at my efforts.
  • You can use a dough hook on a mixer, but I persevered much to my bodies protestations.  This is a really good point for another glass of recovery/pain management wine.
  • Knead for about 10 mins until the dough is silky smooth.
  • Put dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap again.
  • Leave the dough to double in size.  Can take a long time.  With Winter temperatures I ended up leaving it till late afternoon (about 6-7hrs, Update: I've now increased my time to roughly 24hrs as this gives a better flavour and also breaks down more of those pesky fructans).
  • Knock back the dough by punching (very therapeutic) ready for proving.
  • I put a flour covered tea towel in a large bowl on which I put the dough to prove.  I have also sprinkled the tea towel with oats and pepitas.
  • Leave to double in size again.

Stage 4: Baking.

I have used a few methods at this stage but the one from Miss Buckle has given me the best results.  I use a cast iron camp/dutch oven in my normal oven.  
  • Heat the camp oven in the normal oven at 200C (Miss Buckle says 250C but I found I didn't need to go so high).  
  • I put a piece of baking paper in the bottom and scattered more seed over that.
  • Put dough in camp oven and top with more seeds.
  • Put lid on and bake for half hour.
  • Take lid off and bake for another 15mins.
  • When golden and the bread sounds hollow when tapped, it is ready.
  • Take out and let cool on a wooden board for at least 20mins before carving.
  • A glass of wine and the busting of some moves, are definitely required to celebrate your creation.
(1) spelt and oat soudough, (2) kamut, spelt and oat sourdough

Then pig out on your baking masterpiece until a sourdough coma ensues.

I found the whole process to be really rewarding.  Growing my yeast from scratch using the wild yeast spores in the environment.  Knowing what is in the bread.  Seeing that final product.  Really I am easily pleased.

Happy Baking

Michelle :)

The Sourdough Companion is also a good source of information and ideas.


  1. Wine, sour dough, Sarah Blasko... what more is there to life? I'll get on this soon. The yeasty beast, wine? I'm already on to that.

  2. I'm pretty sure your yeast beast has possessed my ankles.

  3. I love that. Yeast beast. You've almost inspired me to grow one of my own. Almost. I have enough beasts (read kids) at the mo.

    Cool adaptation of the no knead technique. I bake a spelt one too, but for special occasions since the flour costs four times as much as the normal flour :-)

  4. Naomi - it's like the bliss trifecta isn't it?

  5. Elly Lou - loading up the shotgun now. Should be there in about 24 hrs to take the bitch out and free your ankles. Now to get the navman out and get directions to Hoboken.

  6. Miss Buckle - My two are teenagers, so they are beasty in a whole different way. With your newest addition I'm guessing things are pretty busy as they are without tending a yeast beast as well. I loved your recipe, the cast iron pot works a treat. Plus, your photos make all your food look amazing.

  7. That looks great! I usually do a raisin sour, but I bet rhubarb has a neat tang to it. I love sourdough because it's always different with the season and location.

  8. My mother makes sourdough bread- she has had the same starter for thirty years. I wish I had the time and space to commit to it, but I just don't. I occasionally make regular yeast bread but would rather be doing sourdough.

  9. Thanks for the recipe, and also your highly entertaining writing style :)

  10. M Hicks - raisin sourdough, I like the sound of that and may have to try it.

    The Sweetest - I love that your mum had a starter for 30yrs, that's my hope. I hope you find a way to do it.

  11. Anonymous - hope your yeast beast grows well. The bread is definitely delicious. :)


All who are lovely enough to comment should be showered with cup cakes, glitter and macarons. I promise to use my spoon bending mind powers to try and get that happening for all who are lovely enough to share their words. Those who go the extra step to share posts should really get a free unicorn. Or at least the gift of finding the shortest and quickest line at the supermarket on a regular basis. xx

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.