Unlike sourdough bread which is leavened with sourdough starter, this wild yeast bread (or yeast water bread) is leavened with wild yeast captured by soaking dried fruit in water. As a result, you have a truly wild artisan-style bread, without the maintenance that sourdough requires.
While rise times are less predictable, the flavor of this style of bread is rich with just the tiniest essence of dried fruit, and without the distinct sourness of a true sourdough.
What is it?
Wild yeast bread (also called yeast water bread), is artisan-style bread that you make with a wild yeast starter culture instead of commercial bakers yeast.
It tastes mildly sweet, with a hint of whatever you used to cultivate the yeast – often dried fruit or wild herbs. While it lacks sourdough’s distinctive tang, this style of bread has its own charm: mild sweetness, crackly crust, soft and bouncy crumb.
How is it different from sourdough?
Wild yeast bread and sourdough bread are made in similar ways, and both are leavened without the aid of commercial bakers yeast. Their primary difference rests in the starter culture used to give both breads both their rise and their flavor.
Sourdough starter leavens sourdough bread. Bakers whisk together flour and water which encourages the proliferation of both wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria. The yeast gives the bread its rise, while the bacteria give it a complex sour flavor and aroma.
Wild yeast water leavens wild yeast bread. Bakers toss dried fruit (or other ingredients like fresh fruit and herbs) into a jar, cover it with water and let it rest until bubbly – about a week. Then, after straining, you use the yeast-rich water to provide both the liquid and the leavening for your bread. These breads will take a very subtle essence of flavor from whatever ingredients you used to capture your wild yeast.
A sourdough starter requires daily maintenance in the beginning, and periodic maintenance after it’s well-established. With proper care, your starter will last indefinitely.
For yeast water, the starter requires no maintenance; however, it can be used only once.
Working with wild yeast can be tricky. Because its wild, it lacks the predictability of commercial bakers yeast which is bread for consistency in flavor and rise times. Your wild yeast will even vary in consistency from batch to batch, since each starter you make will have a different microbial composition and, quite possibly, cultivate different species or strains of yeast.
Here’s a few tips to make sure your bread comes out well, each time you make it.
- Plan ahead. It takes about 5 days (possibly longer in cold weather), to capture enough wild yeast to leaven your bread.
- Use a kitchen scale. Using a kitchen scale ensures the accuracy of your measurements, making for better bread.
- If you have too much starter, only use the amount called for in the recipe.
- If you have too little starter, add water until you reach 300 grams.
- Practice patience. The timings in this recipe are loose guidelines, and your bread may take significantly more (or less) time to rise. Wild yeast can behave in unpredictable ways.
- Temperature also affects rise times. Bread will rise faster in a warm kitchen and more slowly in a cool one.
- Refrigerate your dough, it makes scoring your bread easier.
- Let your bread cool completely before you slice it, or its crumb may turn gummy.
Wild Yeast Bread Recipe
Mixing the flours.
- Measure the flours into a large mixing bowl, and then stir them together.
- Pour the wild yeast starter into the bowl, and then stir it together with flour to form a loose, shaggy dough. Cover the bowl tightly with a lid, or a stretch of plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for about 30 minutes.
Salting the dough and bench rise.
- Sprinkle the salt over the dough, and then drizzle in the water. Knead the salt and add the water into the dough, and then cover the bowl once more.
- Let it rise about 1 hour, and then lift the lid and stretch the dough over itself. Repeat this process four times over the next 2 hours. Then, let the dough rest undisturbed until doubled in bulk – about 2 more hours.
Shaping and final rise.
- Dust your working surface with flour, and then tip the dough out of its bowl onto the floured surface. Gently press it down into a loose rectangular shape. Fold the corners in over themselves, and then shape the dough into a boule.
- Transfer the dough to a well-floured banneton and cover it loosely with a tea towel, and then let it rise about another 2 hours. Gently press a fingertip into the dough, applying about as much pressure as a penny. If it bounces back, let it continue to rise. If the pressure of your fingertip leaves a dent in the dough, transfer it to the fridge.
Baking the bread.
- While the dough rests in the fridge, place a Dutch oven into the oven and set the temperature to 500 F.
- When the oven reaches temperature, cut a square of parchment paper about 12 by 12 inches.
- Turn the dough out of the banneton onto the parchment paper, and then score the dough using a bread lame or a sharp kitchen knife.
- Remove the Dutch oven from the oven, and carefully remove the lid. Holding the edges of the parchment paper, gently lower the dough into the Dutch oven. Return the lid to the pot, and transfer it back to the oven.
- Turn down the oven's heat to 450 F, and bake for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes, lift the lid of the pot and continue baking the bread a further 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and let the bread cool completely before slicing and serving.
Finely dice the fruit you used in your starter, and fold it in the bread.
Add chopped fresh rosemary and thyme to the bread for more flavor.
Fold shredded parmesan or pecorino cheese into the dough for a savory punch of flavor.