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Sunday, July 18, 2021

A New Take on Sourdough

Maybe "new" isn't absolutely on the mark, but for me, this came as a shot from left field. What am I talking about? 

Yeast Water.

I have to believe that I am not the only bread baking person who hasn't heard of this before, and the whole idea came to me in such a roundabout and serendipitous way that I am sure I was just "meant" to find it. I was still working on my bread cookbook, and it was coming to a close. For some unknown reason, I was dragging my feet on finalizing the project, and it had been days since I really did anything with it. And then, I came to a point I thought, "Okay, I have to finish this already!" And with that said, I thought I'd take a look at "The Rye Baker," by Stanley Ginsberg, just to see if there was a blank page in between the last recipe and the Index. Simple enough.

bread, sourdough, yeast water, ciabatta, poolish


There was not a blank page there, but there were a few pages that dealt with things like resources, and one of the resources was blogs that he frequented. One of these was for a baker in Switzerland, no less, with " . . . a wealth of information of sourdoughs and Swiss regional breads." The blog is Bernd's Bakery (berndsbakery.blogspot.ch).

I love things foreign. I always have. Things from foreign places fascinate me, so I immediately went to check out the blog. Of course it is in German, so that posed a problem. I tried Google Translate, and that left a little to be desired, but then I realized that the English version of the recipes is right there, just further down the page. All right! After perusing the first page, I looked at the menu bar and chose "Bread Baking with Wild Yeast." After all, Stanley Ginsberg referenced sourdough right there in his Resources. And there I came to a halt and stared. Was I seeing this correctly? He talked of "Yeast Water." And I felt like a fish out of water. I am fairly knowledgeable on bread baking terms. So what the heck was this, then?

I read about this phenomenon in that Swiss blog. Then, I opted to just Google "yeast water" and see if anything came up. The very first place that came up was a blog called Drive Me Hungry (drivemehungry.com/yeast-water). Here it is all explained in American English, and this blog showed how the yeast water is made and how it is used. Do check it out - so very worthwhile and so easy. I looked at a couple more places, but this one was sufficient. It all seemed too easy to be for real, but I am always game for something new. I went to the kitchen (about 10 steps away) and got out some figs, sugar, water and a container and mixed them together in a container. Three days later my yeast water was ready.

So, What IS Yeast Water?

sourdough, bread, poolish, Ciabatta, yeast water
Yeast water is fruity, fermented water that can stand in quickly to make a
sourdough starter. No muss, no fuss, and best of all, no waste. Simply a mix of preferably organic raisins (or figs or other dried fruit), filtered water and a small amount of sugar. Mix well, cover and set aside. Shake or stir vigorously morning and evening and once the fruit is floating and there are lots of bubbles, plus the lovely fruity fermented smell, it is ready. Strain out the fruit (use them in a recipe if desired, instead of tossing), then keep the water in the fridge till needed. 

With a regular sourdough starter, it must be fed to become active. A flour and water mixture is added to existing starter and left to ferment. But unless you throw out some of the initial starter, you end up with gallons of it. And if your starter is pretty dormant after too long in the fridge, this process is repeated over a series of days until the starter is very actively bubbly. Each time, you are tossing a portion of the starter. 

With yeast water, in order to have a nicely bubbly and active batch of starter, all that is needed is to combine equal portions  - by weight - of flour and fermented yeast water. No waste. After a few hours at room temperature, it is as bubblingly active as you could ever want. No discarding anything. This has long been a bugaboo of mine - the waste of flour. Especially last year, with all the grocery shelves bare and flour in short supply. 

When I first created my wild yeast sourdough starter from scratch in South Dakota, it worked exactly as the recipe said, in Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." It was perfect. It bubbled and grew, just as it was supposed to do. Since moving to Arizona, where I opted to recreate a sourdough starter from scratch rather than try to bring an active starter along with me. For whatever reason, though I followed the same recipe, did everything right, my sourdough starter is sluggish. No matter how many times I feed it, it will grow, but never very much.

With this yeast water, which fermented so quickly, I went on to use one of Drive Me Hungry's recipes for Sourdough Ciabatta. I mixed up the Poolish and set it to rise overnight. I mixed up the yeast water and flour and set to rise. Drive Me Hungry's recipe says to let the two starters ferment for 10 to 14 hours, depending on temperature. Well, we live in Arizona, so it's a lot warmer indoors than in Aberdeen. I have a suspicion it may have taken about 4 or so hours to ferment the starters, and next time I am planning to make the starters in the day and once risen, place them in the fridge overnight, to develop more flavors. That will be another post. By next morning the starters were huge. I made the bread and it turned out great. Though, with the very wet dough I had to haul out my baker's couche to support it while rising. All the flour needed on the couche made a thorough mess in my kitchen, then outdoors where I shook it out later, and all over my clothes (face, hair, feet) as the flour flew everywhere when I shook out the cloth. All that aside, I made the Ciabatta recipe and aside from needing a full cup more flour to make the dough even remotely clear the sides of the bowl, it came out perfectly, and it is delicious. 


My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest.

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