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How to bake bread with your own bread starter and yeast substitutes

With many people stuck at home, "bake your own bread" has become the new BYOB.
Loaf of bread still life
Make beautiful bread any time, even if you don't have any yeast. Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

For many people, spending more time at home over the past several weeks has opened up new opportunities to hone their domestic skills. As evidenced by Google's top recipe searches recently, one of these skills is baking bread.

It turns out that millions of people have turned to the simple serenity of working with their hands, while the act of kneading and rolling sticky, delicious dough has been providing some solace during a stressful time.

The only problem? Trending recipes like how to make your own pizza dough or sourdough bread have made yeast harder than ever to find at the grocery store these days.

Whole-Wheat Sourdough Bread

No need to worry, newly minuted home baker!

Take your practice a step further by learning how to make your own starter, then memorize these handy yeast substitutes.

How to grow your own starter

sourdough starter
Need a sourdough starter? It will take some time, but it's easy to do. Getty Images

"Yeast exists everywhere — it’s what keeps a lot of products from going sour — orange juice, for instance," New York City-based chef Ryan Hardy of Charlie Bird, told TODAY Food. "Yeast is in the air and will settle on everything that has sugar in it and will ferment that. The most delicious breads are started naturally."

To make your own bread starter, Suzi Gerber, chef and executive director of Haven Foods, said it only takes a few simple steps to allow flour and water to culture with the natural wild yeasts in the air. One loaf of bread requires about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of starter (100 grams is the magic number, if you happen to have a scale).

  • To make enough starter for one loaf, combine 3 tablespoons (1/4 cup) pastry flour, bread flour or all-purpose flour and 3 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon of water in a dish that can be easily covered, like a Mason jar or Tupperware container.
  • Mix flour and water until well combined. Cover the dish with a cloth sealed by rubber bands so bugs or dust can't get in. Let it rest for 12 hours. Once you begin to see that the mixture is bubbling, it's time to feed it.

"Feed it," you ask? That's baker talk for giving your starter mixture a little more flour and water — and it's a crucial step to activating your starter for proper bread, as well as keeping your starter fresh in the fridge for future baking sessions.

  • To feed the starter, repeat the first step by adding the same ratio of flour and water, mix it and, again, allow it to rest. Feed it one to three times (the mixture can sit in the same spot for up to a week, just check it to be sure it is clean and without mold) over the course of a week.
  • Once it is bubbling, active and larger in size, it's ready to use in your bread.

"If you're not ready to bake yet, keep the starter in the fridge and feed it water and flour once a week to keep it happy, then pull it out to room temp and feed it to get it bubbly and active again," Gerber told TODAY.

The remaining yeast starter can survive in the fridge, covered, for hundreds of additional baking opportunities, as long as you continually feed it with equal amounts of flour and water (3 tablespoons each) every week.

It's basically like a pet ... but one that creates delicious carbs.

3 simple substitutes for yeast

1. Self-rising flour and yogurt

According to Gerber, this combination works well to make different types of breads and doughs, including delicious two-ingredient bagels. This yeast substitute proofs (or rises) during the cooking process, as opposed to the prep process like other doughs that need yeast or a starter to rest and grow before it can be baked.

To make enough dough for one loaf of bread, or about six bagels, all you need is yogurt (any kind of fat ratio or even plant-based yogurt will work since they all have active cultures) and self-rising flour.

  1. Mix 2 cups each of self-rising flour and yogurt with a hand mixer, or vigorously by hand, until it forms a nice ball. Now your dough is ready to be formed into any shape you desire.
  2. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes until dough is lightly golden brown.

2. Baking soda and vinegar

Close-Up Of Vinegar Pouring In Spoon Against White Background
Apple cider vinegar is a versatile pantry staple. Michelle Arnold / Getty Images

When you can't get your hands on some yeast, a little vinegar and baking soda will do the trick. Just take the total weight of dried yeast needed in your recipe and divide that between baking soda and vinegar.

  • For example, if your bread calls for 2 tablespoons of yeast, use 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of vinegar, such as apple cider vinegar.

To note, if you use this swap option, you'll need to get the dough into the oven to bake as soon as those elements combine, otherwise it won't work well. The best way to ensure this is to mix the baking soda with the dry ingredients and the vinegar with wet ingredients to keep them separate for as long as possible.

3. Skip the yeast all together

Unleavened breads, like flatbread or crackers, are also fun to make and don't require any yeast.

"This is the older way to make bread and only requires flour, water and salt and any type of seasoning you want to use," Hardy told TODAY. "Mix it all together and roll it out thin. Brush it with olive oil and place over the grill for an easy, fast bread."

There are also tons of delicious quick breads, like banana bread, that don't require any yeast. They might not need to rise, but they're incredibly comforting.