Come in close dear reader, I have a secret to tell you. I’m afraid of yeast. Ssshhh, please don’t tell. I know that with a name like Fabulous Farm Girl people think I spend my days feeding chickens, whipping up homemade beef broth and baking loaves of whole-grain bread. Okay, the first two are true but the third one is my dirty little secret. I’ve never made bread from scratch because I’m afraid of those tiny micro-organisms called yeast. They’re alive, in case you didn’t know, and I just don’t understand them or know what they want from me. Until now…
Enter The Bread Geek (a.k.a. Melissa Richardson) who I met at a blogger conference earlier this year. We started talking and when I found out she blogs about baking bread (and a bunch of other yummy stuff) with natural yeast, I confessed my deepest fears. She listened sympathetically and told me I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. She’s very convincing so I bought her first book, The Art Of Baking With Natural Yeast, and read it cover to cover. Yes, it really is that good. When she recently told me she was looking for some bloggers to review her second book, Beyond Basics With Natural Yeast, I jumped at the chance.
I will point out that, while I recommend owning both of Melissa’s books, it is not required. Her first book goes into a lot more detail about starting, growing and using a “starter” but she doesn’t leave you stranded in this second book. There’s a great “starter” summary that will even get a novice bread baker off to a great start. And if all doesn’t go as planned there’s a helpful trouble-shooting section in the back.
So why should you bake bread with natural yeast when it’s going to take more time and effort? Because grocery store yeast, also known as quick yeast, rapid-rise yeast or instant yeast, is not a naturally occurring substance. Say what??? Since 1984 almost all commercially available yeast is man-made in a laboratory. Sure, using commercial “instant” yeast significantly cuts down the time it takes to make bread, both for the bread industry and for the home baker, but at what cost? This genetically engineered yeast is completely foreign to our digestive systems and the dramatic rise of gluten intolerance may be telling us something is wrong.
According to Melissa Richardson (from her first book) here are some of the reasons.
Benefits of Natural Yeast:
1. Natural yeast breaks down the harmful enzymes in grains.
2. Natural yeast takes the nutrition in grains–the vitamins and minerals our bodies crave–and makes them easily digestible.
3. Natural yeast converts dough into a digestible food source that will not spike your body’s defenses. It predigests sugars for diabetics, breaks down gluten for the intolerant, and turns calcium-leaching phytic acid into a cancer-fighting antioxidant.
Hmmm, maybe your ancestors were on to something.
All you need to get started is a copy of this book, some flour, some water and some natural yeast starter which Melissa kindly tells you how to get for free. Learning how to maintain a starter takes a little practice but it’s not hard. And the good news is that once you learn how to keep your natural yeast start alive, you’ll never have to buy synthetic commercial yeast again. It’s a little Frankenstein-ish but in a good way.
One of the reasons I love this book is the beautiful and inspiring pictures. They truly jump off the page and make me want to plan my week around what I’m going to bake next. I like to consider myself a cookbook connoisseur (I certainly have enough of them) and this is one of the few I’ve read from cover to cover. Melissa doesn’t just gives you a bunch of recipes. She really makes you feel like you are in her kitchen getting a private lesson. The book is written in a way that feels engaging, inspiring and encouraging all at the same time. I may not be a Bread Geek yet but this book definitely makes me feel like the Bread Geek’s apprentice.
Another reason I love this book is because, while it is about natural yeast, it is not just about bread. I had no idea you could make so many things with yeast starter. There are recipes for crackers, waffles, pancakes, muffins, crepes, pasta, naan, pita, cookies, cakes, stuffing and even gravy. Oh, and lots of delicious bread too.
Just for the record, I got a free copy of this book in exchange for doing this review. But honestly, I would have bought it anyway and I recommend that you do too. Whether you’re a long-time bread maker or completely afraid of yeast (that was me), whether you struggle with gluten-intolerance or you’re just wanting to eat a more all-natural diet (that’s me too), whether you’re addicted to bread (guilty again) or gave it up years ago, Beyond Basics With Natural Yeast is the book for you.
Get Beyond Basics With Natural Yeast HERE.
Get Melissa’s first book HERE.
Check out Melissa’s blog THE BREAD GEEK.
Check out Melissa on YouTube HERE.