How to make more yeast from the 1 packet I have left
March 25, 2020 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I have one packet of baking yeast and not surprisingly all the stores are now sold out. I've been looking forward to doing lots of baking with my kids during quarantine. Can I use this 1 packet of yeast to grow more yeast, and keep it going forever?

I know that I could go the sourdough route, but I'd prefer to end up with something like a regular yeasted bread, to the extent that is possible. I'd like a lot of rise, and not a lot of sour.

Can I grow more yeast?
posted by Winnie the Proust to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Creating and using a starter doesn't necessarily lead to a 'sour' bread. Starters are definitely one way to make bread without needing more yeast.

But another option is to stretch the yeast that you already have. Most 'no-knead' recipes use time rather than lots of yeast to get a good rise. This one for ciabatta, for example, uses just 1/8 tsp of yeast. That will stretch your packet quite a long while.

You can also look at breads that use a poulish, which is a sort of overnight starter. These will often use less yeast overall (similar concept as a no-knead).
posted by hydra77 at 9:56 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]

Ok so I was literally JUST reading about this on Anthony falcone’s Instagram (@millenium_falco). He was talking about bigas/poolish which are somewhere between a true sourdough starter and just using commercial yeast. It can be done although I think you’d be somewhat limited in what you could make.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 10:03 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]

Usually, I just use 5 grammes of yeast, which is a tenth of the packages you can buy here. I mix the yeast with some flour and water and let it rise for an hour or so before going ahead with the normal recipe (I believe this is the poolish method mentioned above).
If you are about to run out of yeast using this method, you can always take a portion of your dough and save it for the next day in the fridge as you would a sourdough. It isn't a sourdough and it will taste like a normal yeast dough.
In both cases, the rises will take a little longer. You'll have to use your experience and instincts here, but a lot of professional recipes are based on very little yeast and the dough will work out just fine.
posted by mumimor at 10:15 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]

I looked into this when I realized that what I consider a criminally small bottle of yeast is selling for like $4. But then my sister-in-law gave us a lifetime supply of vacuum-packed/frozen yeast packages & I never pursued it. It sounded a lot to me like making/maintaining a sourdough start, but as others have already noted, supposedly you can cultivate different strains that have different flavors; they're not all "sourdough" (though it should be noted that different sourdough strains and recipes have different flavors as well--not all are super sour, and in fact most are not because most people don't really prefer a super-sour taste).

Couple of samples of 'natural' yeast making: Off the Grid News - Survival Mom

I haven't tried any of those yeast recipes, but I have been making a lot of sourdough. It is surprisingly easy & tastes great. There is a trick regarding the sour flavor, however:

- No baking soda, it rises slower, quite sour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda, it rises faster, moderately sour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda, it rises the fastest, not sour at all to my taste buds
- 2.5-3 teaspoons - haven't tried it, but worth trying if you still find the result too sour for your taste

This is for something like a 2-2.5 pound loaf. You mix in the baking soda at the final step--ie, after the sourdough starter has "worked" and when you are mixing it into a loaf with oil etc to let it rise.

Adding baking soda is how a lot of traditional sourdough recipes get their rise. The acid produced by the sourdough start mixes with the baking soda to create carbon dioxide bubbles within the loaf, so there is your rise. Sourdough bread (muffins, rolls, pancakes, etc) made this way rise far higher/fluffier and far, far faster than if you just let the natural yeast do its thing.

It is actually kind of astonishing how much rise you can get & how quickly it happens. A little explosion in your mixing bowl. Chemistry FTW!

As a side effect, the sour taste is almost entirely eliminated.

Whole wheat sourdough bread machine recipe (though that recipe uses yeast in addition to the sourdough--you could use the baking soda trick in place of the yeast, though it might take some experimentation to get it to work as you would like).
posted by flug at 10:34 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]

The general term for the thing you use to start your dough later is a preferment. You can keep a pâte fermentée going for a long time just by reserving a third of your dough as the levain for your next batch (and reserve a third of that for the subsequent batch, and so on).

If you were really worried about stretching your yeast, you could make a sponge (or poolish) with just a little bit of yeast (say, ¼ tsp), then incorporate that sponge into a dough from which you reserve a third as a pâte fermentée. As long as you don't try to store the pâte fermentée too long without feeding and dividing it again, the yeast in your old dough will become quite active given new flour, water, and time.
posted by fedward at 10:41 AM on March 25 [11 favorites]

Sour dough is sour not mostly due to the yeast but due to a bacterium, lactobacilli, that grows with the wild yeast. You should be able to grow your commercial yeast without it turning sour.
posted by tmdonahue at 10:50 AM on March 25

Also as a general rule you can use a lot less yeast in any bread recipe and just give it more time to rise, which will have the side effect of improving flavor. In that case for the first rise go by the descriptive text ("until the dough has doubled [or tripled] in volume") and not the time given for the recipe with a lot of yeast. (Subsequent steps should perform about the same as written). One incredibly easy shortcut to flavor is cold fermentation, where you cover the dough and let it rest in the fridge to do its thing overnight. You can think of a preferment as an easy way to make a little yeast go a longer way, and cold fermentation as both an easy way to develop flavor and a way to make time work for you, not against you. Combine a preferment and a cold fermentation step in one way or another and you have an entire ecosystem of books, blogs, and comment boards.
posted by fedward at 10:57 AM on March 25 [7 favorites]

And yes, as tmdonahue says, if make dough with commercial yeast and then reserve part of it to be the levain for your next batch, you won't have sourdough. You'll still have the same strain of yeast you had when you started. Commercial yeast reproduces rapidly and it will starve out any wild yeast it encounters.
posted by fedward at 11:00 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]

You can use a sourdough starter for quickbreads (i.e. normal yeasted breads) and it will not taste like sourdough, because it takes rise time to develop that sour flavor. Starter can be subbed for yeast (and an equal-weight portion of water and flour) in pretty much any recipe, and there are a ton of recipes out there that use discarded starter (for example).

If you start a starter now, it will be ready to use in about a week -- this would also be good insurance in case you're not able to get your hands on more, and a good daily project for the kids. There are also a ton of Youtube videos on this so if they're old enough, you could task them with learning about sourdough starters and have them take the lead.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:24 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]

Make a giant batch of no-knead bread and keep it in the fridge. That'll stretch the yeast. My library has Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day available for download. If you don't have an ereader you can still read on your computer. If you don't already have a library card, my library at least, is offering signups online.

I've seen recipes for making yeast out of potatoes in really old cookbooks found in antique stores and secondhand shops, but I can't remember the process. However, that might give you more information to help with googling.
posted by liminal_shadows at 12:09 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind that tap water has chlorine and chloramine, both of which kill yeast. Chlorine evaporates when you let water sit around. Chloramine has to be filtered out by reverse osmosis filters.

You may be able to make yeast with treated tap water, but it'll be more difficult.
posted by liminal_shadows at 12:13 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

I'm in exactly the same boat you are--used up all the yeast I had in the house during the first three days of quarantine, foolishly thinking I'd just get more at the grocery store. In addition to the excellent advice given above re: pâte fermentée, let me throw one more idea at you: most of your family/neighbors AREN'T baking furiously to keep their small kids occupied indoors, and have little use for their extant yeast collection. I started asking people during phone calls with them, and that is how I now have 8 packets of mostly-unexpired yeast inbound via regular old USPS, to be sterilized when they enter the house. In particular, grandparents who desperately want to help seem to be the mother lode.
posted by Mayor West at 12:22 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

A side note, but if you have beer or can get it, you can make beer bread. This is a basic recipe; there are lots of variants. People in the comments give lots of variant recipe ideas, and talk about using other carbonated beverages instead of beer, like cider, or seltzer. Unless you use a strong beer, the beer is not noticeable in the taste of the bread, to me anyway.
posted by gudrun at 12:30 PM on March 25

^See also greek yogurt. ("If you don’t have/can’t find self-rising flour, combine 1 cup all-purpose flour with 2 teaspoons baking powder and 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. You can use any percentage of plain Greek yogurt you like, but it does need to be Greek, or it won’t be thick enough to form the dough," at link)
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:44 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

Amish friendship bread starter, which is somewhere between a sourdough and regular dough...starts with yeast and then theoretically uses wild yeast to continue it's growth. Makes enough for several loaves (I usually make 3) every 10 days. You can also just fry up the starter for a type of fry bread if you like that kind of thing (makes a great topper on salads...). You can use it for more traditional breads or quick breads (sweet and savory).
posted by AnneShirley at 2:02 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

Yes. When you make bread, I would use less yeast, to conserve what you have, and save 1/2 cup or so of dough before baking. Feed it like a sourdough starter. I have some in my fridge right now. I've been making simple flatbread in a frying pan. It's very satisfying.
posted by theora55 at 2:04 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]

Nthing using a poolish, biga, or pate fermentee. Also, most sourdoughs are not that sour, mine have never been sour once cooked. A lot of commercial sourdoughs can often have additives to increase the sourness and super long rising times.

Keep in mind that tap water has chlorine and chloramine, both of which kill yeast. Chlorine evaporates when you let water sit around. Chloramine has to be filtered out by reverse osmosis filters. You may be able to make yeast with treated tap water, but it'll be more difficult.

This is not true. I mean, technically it is true, but the impact on growing/maintaining a sourdough is negligible, I've been using water from taps for over a decade; unless you're somewhere where it's truly radioactive, you'll be fine. Note also, that chlorine evaporates from open water quite quickly. If you keep a jug of water in the fridge for example, the chlorine off gasses after a few hours.
posted by smoke at 3:38 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

boingboing has a series on making a starter starting with no yeast at all.

Have we had a post on bread baking in quarantine yet? Anyone want to pool up links and look for a through line?
posted by clew at 7:31 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]

Two related videos from Glen & Friends making yeast last forever, more or less.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:27 AM on March 26

And there is this twitter thread from a yeast geneticist: twitter thread
posted by nat at 12:14 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]

Courtesy of the current yeast shortage in Germany, here is "Oma's Rezept":
Time to bake, and no yeast in the house?

Grandma's recipe for homemade yeast

Simply take 100 ml (~4 oz) Weissbier (ie white/wheat ale), 1 teaspoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon flour. Mix together and let stand overnight at room temperature.

This makes the equivalent of a 50g yeast cake.
FYI equivalents/conversions between different types of yeast, including yeast cake, are explained here.

I'm not an expert on beer, but if you don't have Weissbier handy, you probably want to use something like an ale--or even better, a wheat ale. More info here.
posted by flug at 11:30 AM on March 30 [2 favorites]

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