How to Bake Bread and Cultivate Yeast

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Bread-baking can seem like a daunting task. When you look at recipes in a cookbook or online, you’ll see hundreds of variations on the same theme—and some of them have somewhat convoluted instructions about kneading and rising and punching and rolling, types of flour to use, different starter types, etc.

When you’re new to baking bread (or accustomed to using a dough hook or bread machine), baking bread from scratch can seem just plain intimidating. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be a complicated process!

Whether you’re looking to survive in a world where pre-packaged, pre-processed yeast is scarce or simply want to save a little money (yet love bread with a passion), you can bake your own bread pretty easily.

Read on to learn more about no-muss, no-fuss bread baking—both leavened and unleavened types—and how to make your own yeast.

Unleavened bread

Unleavened bread is bread whose dough has not been made to rise, leaving it flatter and denser than its fluffy, leavened counterpart. The consistency can be anywhere from somewhat pliable (as with pita bread or naan bread) to cracker-like and crispy.

This is the easiest type of bread to make, as it doesn’t involve the need for adding yeast, lengthy kneading, allowing the dough to rise, etc.

Unleavened bread was most likely the human race’s original bread type. Ancient humans could easily grind grains upon rocks to produce a crude, unrefined flour and then mix this with water and fry or bake it over a campfire to produce a hunk of bread, packed full of energy in the form of carbohydrates.

Before the era of modern overconsumption and over-processing of foods, carbohydrates were not the “enemy food” that they have been made out to be in popular media. In fact, carbohydrate-rich foods like bread likely helped humans survive during times when animal proteins and fats were scarce.

Breads, even in their simple and unleavened form, remain a popular staple food all the world around. If you’d like to try your hand at making your own easy unleavened bread, here’s how:

How to bake unleavened bread

Just as there are almost infinite recipes for leavened bread, there are nearly countless methods for making unleavened bread. I’d like to share one of the most simple ones here. You will need the following ingredients:

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1/2 cup of tepid water
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Preheat your oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit (246 Celsius) and blend flour and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the oil, then add the water, a little bit at a time, until a nice dough ball forms.

If the dough seems too dry, add another 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water a small amount at a time until the dough reaches a good consistency—not too runny, but not too stiff.

Then, grab a handful of dough and pat it into a cake about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Place these cakes onto a greased baking sheet, pierce each with a fork, and bake for 4 or 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cool on a rack until they are cool enough to handle.

Tada! You just made bread!

You can top these tasty unleavened hunks of goodness with anything you like and create open-faced sandwiches for your family to enjoy, or eat them alone—they’re pretty good either way.

You can alternately roll out the dough into a large circle and bake as directed above to create a decent pizza crust.

To store these unleavened bread-cakes, you can chill them and they will keep for several months in the freezer.

A wrap-tastic alternative: tortillas

Where I live, the influence of Latin American cuisine leaves its mark, and the tortilla is the carbohydrate king everywhere you look.

If you want an unleavened form of “bread” that you can wrap around ingredients and take on the go, look no further: a tortilla is what you need, and they are easy to make! To make tortillas, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 2 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 5 tablespoons of lard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Dissolve the salt into the water and blend the flour into the lard. Pour the salt-water mixture into the flour-lard mixture little by little and work it in with a fork (you may only need 1/2 cup or 2/3 cup).

The dough will be clumpy rather than forming a ball. Make sure all the dough is moist, then break it up into 12 lumps.

Set these lumps onto a plate and cover with a kitchen cloth or plastic wrap and allow to sit on the counter for about a half hour.

Then, roll the dough balls flat—as flat as can be—onto a floured surface. Heat a skillet (cast iron is best) to medium heat—too low a temperature and the tortillas will lose their pliability.

Place the tortillas, one at a time, onto the hot pan and cook for half a minute. Then, flip them over and cook for about half a minute more.

These can be eaten fresh or stored in a plastic bag or other sealing container in the fridge to eat later.

To reheat, simply place the tortilla over an open flame on your stove burner for 3-4 seconds, until the tortilla becomes floppy (but doesn’t catch fire!).

Leavened bread

Leavened bread is probably the most popular form that bread takes in the modern day. Bread bowls, baguettes, and pre-sliced loaves of white and wheat bread bought at the supermarket are all leavened—that is, they contain yeast, which makes them fluffy and soft instead of flat or dense.

All over the world, people leaven and bake bread thanks to the power of yeast. When humans learned to cultivate and harness the leavening power of yeast in millennia past, it was a game-changer.

Everyone has a favorite recipe (or at least, a tried-and-true one from their grandmother), it seems, and when they don’t there are endless recipes to be found online or in cookbooks. One thing that all leavened bread requires is yeast, and many people just opt to purchase packets of the stuff rather than making their own.

However, buying pre-packaged yeast may not always be an option—and even if it is, a bread-baking enthusiast can easily wind up with a bald spot in the wallet due to the costs of pre-packaged yeast. There is another option, though: making your own yeast.

How to cultivate yeast quickly and easily

Making your own yeast is painfully simple, yet many of us still throw our money down the drain purchasing yeast cultures that have been packaged up for retail sale. Instead, why not try making your own?

You can make yeast in a variety of ways and using a variety of ingredients—from grapes to grains to potatoes. My favorite is a flour starter that is ideal for making a variety of bread-y things, including my personal favorite, sourdough. To cultivate yeast using flour, you’ll need:

  • 1 and 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (I used unbleached)
  • 1 cup very warm water

That’s it! Mix the flour and water together in a large jar and cover the jar with a cheesecloth. Leave at room temperature, and within two to five days you should see bubbling within the batter. Use a half cup of this mixture to replace a packet of active dry yeast for bread recipes.

Note: You may need to increase rising times when using home-cultivated yeasts, depending on the temperature of your food prep area. Some doughs may take a half a day to rise to ideal height!

Be prepared for breads using home-made yeast to take longer to prepare than those using store-bought, packaged yeast.

How to bake leavened bread

There are so many recipes for good bread that it’s hard to pick just one to share here. However, there is a simple round-bread recipe that I love that you can use to try out your home-cultivated yeast, and it can be used to serve alongside suppers in hunks or it can be carved and turned into a bread bowl for dips. To make this simple round bread, you will need:

  • 4 cups flour (I use unbleached all-purpose, but bread flour works, too!)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 and 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast or equivalent fresh yeast

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 Celsius).

If using dry yeast, mix the sugar, water and yeast together in a small bowl and set aside to “proof” while preparing other ingredients.

Grease a 2-liter or 2-quart-size, oven-proof bowl all over with butter, then set aside. Stir salt into the flour in a large mixing bowl, then when the yeast-containing mixture is smooth yet foamy, blend it into the flour and salt.

This will create a runny, sticky dough that clings to the sides of the mixing bowl. Allow the dough to rise in the mixing bowl (covered with a kitchen towel) for one to two hours in a warm place, until it has doubled in size.

Then, punch the dough back down into the bowl, scraping the sides of the bowl with a fork. Transfer the dough to the greased baking vessel and allow to rise again for another half hour, this time uncovered.

Put the bowl into the oven and bake it for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 Celsius) and bake for another 15 minutes.

When the tops are golden brown, remove the bowl from the oven and overturn it onto a cooling rack.

Cool for at least 10 or 12 minutes before cutting.

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