wild yeast bread

I've been collecting wild yeast for a few days now, and when the recipe called to throw half of it away (deeming it not quite good enough for bread yet...or something) I decided to try baking with it anyway.  Rebel of rebels.

Without using a recipe, I just added flour and water until it felt right--sticky but not too wet, refrigerated it overnight, and added more flour and water the next morning.  I proofed the loaves for a few hours and stuck them in the oven, starting at 500 and reducing to 450, keeping a ceramic bowl full of water in the oven and spraying it with water in the beginning to keep the air humid.

The loaves came out incredibly--thin, crunchy crusts with beautiful pockets of air inside, and very moist.  Texture-wise, they were possibly the best loaves I've ever made.  The flavor was a little nontraditional, likely owing to the dark rye flour used to catch the yeast and the flavor of the local yeast as well.  That said, I still ate an entire loaf before N got out of classes--I worked from home today.  I'm interested to see how the yeast flavor evolves with time.

Catching and Caring for Wild Yeast
adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice

Seed Culture
1 cup (4.25 oz) dark rye flour
3/4 cup (6 oz) water
Mix flour and water, making sure all the flour is wet.  Place in glass container or bowl, mark the top of the dough (e.g. with tape) and let sit covered for 24 hours at room temperature.

1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
Mix flour and water with previous day's dough.  Update marker and ferment another 24 hours covered at room temperature.

1 cup (4.5 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1/2 cup (4 oz) water
Check for a rise in the dough--perhaps a 50 percent rise.  (Mine had more than doubled thanks to the warm weather and the amazingness of King Arthur bread flour)  Discard half the dough and mix in the new flour and water--the height should be the same as the previous day's marker.  Ferment again at room temperature for 24 hours.  The next day the sponge should have at least doubled in size.  If not, repeat for one more day, discarding half and adding new flour and water.

Mother Starter
1 cup (7 oz) seed culture
3 1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 cups (16 oz) water
Mix seed culture, flour and water, making sure that all the flour is moist.  Transfer to a non-metallic container at least double the size of the dough and cover for 6 hours or until bubbly.  Refrigerate overnight before using.  The dough will be ready to use for the three following days.

Refreshing the Starter
When you use some of the starter, you should feed it.  For example, if you use 1 cup of the starter, add 1 cup flour and some water to refresh it.  Otherwise, throw half of the starter away and replace it with flour and water.  It's okay to let the yeast starter go soupy, which will happen after 4 or so days. Once fed and bubbly, you have three days to use it.

Using the Wild Yeast
There are a number of recipes that call for wild yeast, and you can always make simple bread by adding more flour and water.  To use it in recipes that call for commercial yeast, you can either calculate how much flour and water/liquid you need to subtract, or else just add the flour/water slowly until it feels right, which is usually what I do for dough recipes anyway.

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