I remember well the Great Yeast Shortage of 2020. Millions of people were stuck at home during the quarantine months, and there were food shortages of all kinds. Suddenly, people who had never thought about baking bread before became frenzied by that desire! So, it didn’t take long before stores were sold out of yeast, and people turned to the internet to find out how to make bread from homemade yeast.
“How do you make yeast” was a top Google search, and since my blog had an article on making yeast, my traffic soared.
Since then, I’ve done quite a bit of experimenting with yeast and bread-baking, and now that winter is here, and it’s prime time for homemade bread with a side of soup, I wanted to pass this info along.
(Actually, any season is the right season for bread-baking!)
Table of contents
- If You Have Yeast on Hand
- Making Yeast Starter When There Is No Yeast
- Using Starter for Baking Bread
- The Results of One Experiment to Make Bread from Homemade Yeast
- A Last Thought About Baking Bread from Homemade Yeast
If You Have Yeast on Hand
In a time of shortages, we all become hoarders. Just a tiny bit. We have that jar of yeast, we see the empty shelves, and suddenly, that yeast might as well be flakes of 24k gold!
Even if the “best by” date of that yeast is long past, it may still have value.
Incredibly, a pound of yeast I purchased twelve years ago was still effective when we took it out of storage! I couldn’t believe it when we proofed some of the yeast (instructions for that in this article) and, within minutes, saw that this very old yeast was still good. Lesson learned, never throw out yeast before proofing it.
“If I only had a small amount of yeast left, could I just use that yeast powder for DIY yeast starter?”
One of my Survival Mom Sisterhood members asked, “If I only had a small amount of yeast left, could I just use that yeast powder for DIY yeast starter?” We did just that, beginning with proofing an amount of yeast and then just using that bubbly mixture as a starter by adding a small amount of flour each day.
This is a great way to maximize the yeast you have on hand and, theoretically, never run out of yeast. I liked that this method was so easy and instantly successful compared to the various DIY processes using potato, etc.
If all you have on hand is a couple of teaspoons of yeast, and you get those foamy bubbles in the proofing process, you’re good to go. Just add 1/4 or 1/3 cup of flour to the yeast mixture each day. Stir it until smooth, and within 48-72 hours or so, you should have a yeast starter ready for baking. Super quick and easy.
Making Yeast Starter When There Is No Yeast
You can “make” yeast easily, but it’s somewhat unpredictable and not always successful. I’ve tried this process multiple times with raisins, apples, and potatoes. Sometimes I’ve ended up with a good starter and sometimes just a jar of very stinky water. All while following the instructions in my own article!
We theorized that room temperature might affect the success of this process and placed the jar outside, in our microwave, and even in our closet that holds all our electronics (always very warm). Lesson learned: If you want to make your own yeast, you may have to do a lot of A/B testing.
It’s a very simple process, as described here, and once you have a successful batch of starter, you can keep it going indefinitely. Add a bit of flour each day, stir,
If another shortage of yeast should happen, this is a process anyone can do. In fact, you can even get a starter going without anything other than flour and water.
Whatever method you use to get that starter going, know that it will require some upkeep to remain viable for baking. That upkeep is adding flour and water every day and stirring the mixture. It won’t take long for your “baby” to become a monster as it bubbles over the top of your container, so be ready to either throw out excess starter or move some of it into a second jar/glass container.
Using Starter for Baking Bread
Whatever method you use for getting your yeast starter going, it’s now time to put it to use. I’ve found that different types of starter (white flour vs. wheat flour vs. “old” starter) give me slightly different flavored breads. Some are definitely in the sourdough category, while others taste milder.
I suggest that during this process, you keep a journal and track the start date, amounts of flour and water added, recipes you tried, and the results.
To put these DIY yeast starters to work, you’ll need a sourdough bread recipe. Start there. I know it’s not the beautiful loaf of sandwich bread many prefer. However, once you begin using the starter and becoming familiar with the results you get, you can branch out with different bread recipes. Also, sourdough bread recipes will give you a specific amount of starter to use, so there is no guessing.
When you do try recipes that call for yeast rather than starter, be warned; they are all experiments until you find that just-right combination of bread ingredients and your DIY yeast.
The Results of One Experiment to Make Bread from Homemade Yeast
Here’s the result of one of our experiments.
Not exactly pretty! (Tasty, though.)
We baked this in a stoneware-covered baker, thus the odd shape of the loaf. It was also puffier when it was freshly baked. It tasted good, and I would try this non-sourdough recipe again.
My husband made that loaf (he’s the baker in the family) as an experiment using a different baking method, the covered stoneware baker.
At the same time, he used a tried-and-true bread recipe from Paul Hollywood but used information in the video below to help him decide how much starter to use in a recipe that originally called for dry yeast.
In place of dry yeast, my husband added 300g of starter, called “poolish” in the video. When we took the bread out of the oven and then out of the stoneware baker, it was a couple of inches higher than you see in the photo above. I’d say the experiment was a success. Next time, I’d like to bake this same recipe (with starter) in a traditional loaf pan to see those results.
In comparison, our free-form sourdough loaves were beautiful.
A Last Thought About Baking Bread from Homemade Yeast
As with so many practical skills, making your own yeast successfully and then using it in a loaf of bread will take some practice. Fortunately, in almost all cases, at least the finished loaf will be delicious, if not beautiful!
Making bread from homemade yeast is a bit of science and a bit of art. The more loaves you make and the more recipes you try, the better the results will be. Be sure to have some butter (never margarine!!) on hand and maybe even a jar of honey. Once you get the hang of it, though, you’ll never have to worry when the world runs out of yeast for no good reason.
Have you made bread from homemade yeast? Share your experience in the comments so we can learn from each other!