no bread yet… (how about crackers?)

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recipe: crackers made with sesame, poppy and flax seeds and left-over wild yeast after feeding

I began writing this post yesterday morning…

capturing wild yeast: part 5

(click on images for larger views and more photos)
natural starter Rats. Was that really me who said that capturing wild yeast was easy? (capturing wild yeast: part 2) Clearly I was deluded. I’m not sure but I think that I may be killing my starter.

I’m SO disappointed! But McKenna Grant did say that it may take longer in cooler weather so I’m going to give this one more shot. I have pushed everything back to the feeding stages. I used the left over sludge from the false buildup to make more crackers.

crackers At least these crackers were much more successful than the previous batch… I reduced the oven temperature from 450F to 350F and this time, the 20 minutes that McKenna Grant had recommended was about right. Here’s what I did:

based on a recipe in Piano Piano Pieno by Susan McKenna Grant
measurements are approximate

  • ½ c leftover sludge from capturing wild yeast*
  • ½ c whole wheat flour
  • ½ c unbleached all purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp coarsely ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp red chili pepper flakes
  • ¼ c sesame seeds
  • ¼ c poppy seeds
  • ½ c flax seeds
  • water
  • ¼ c extra virgin olive oil
  • more olive oil for brushing and coarse seasalt


  1. Mix all the ingredients (except the seasalt and olive oil for brushing) into a stiff ball. Let your hands be your friends. Add water if the dough seems too powdery. Cover and place in fridge for about an hour.
  2. Place the ball between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll the dough as thinly as possible.
  3. Peel off the top layer of paper and transfer the dough sheet and bottom piece of parchment to a cookie sheet.
  4. Turn oven to 350F.
  5. Pierce the dough all over with a fork. Use a ravioli cutter to mark out squares or rectangles. Brush with extra virgin olive oil. Let rest for a few minutes. Brush again. Sprinkle with coarse seasalt.
  6. Bake on the top shelf of the oven at 350F for 20-25 minutes. Watch for burning in the last few minutes of baking!
  7. Allow to cool. Break apart and store in a cookie tin. Eat the crackers sooner rather than later as flaxseeds will spoil.

* This sludge is largely made up of water and unbleached all-purpose flour. There is also a tiny bit of rye flour and the slightest trace of honey. I’m sure that more flour and water could be substituted and virtually the same crackers would result. I bet that oatmeal or cornmeal would also be good additions.

Sunday: A couple of hours after feeding it, I looked at the starter and there are definitely bubbles. Perhaps it isn’t dying! Hope on, hope ever, I may be making bread from it soon after all. While we wait, I guess I had better resort to using commercial yeast to make some sandwich bread. There’s only one loaf left in the freezer.

capturing wild yeast: abort

natural non-starter Monday morning: I give up. I feel certain that the starter is not supposed to look like whipping cream. And there is no yeasty smell either. It smells like nothing at all. I’m going to try this again when it’s hot. I’ve had it with trying to keep up to the Jones’s.

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll throw the whole thing out in a rage or if I’ll try making flatbread or biscuits out of it.

Next time I make the crackers (if there is a next time), I will add more salt to the dough and brush on more olive oil. The crackers are just a little too healthy tasting….

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13 responses to “no bread yet… (how about crackers?)

  1. CAM

    I love this blog because you report the unvarnished truth about what happens, even if it’s not a success. I hope the little yeast darlings don’t die next time!

  2. ejm Post author

    I thought the same thing, bing. I was so sad when the consistency suddenly changed overnight. I don’t know exactly what I did wrong but clearly I must have.

    I’m not positive that the yeast actually die, CAM. I just got too impatient waiting. Not to mention that having the oven basically out of bounds for an indefinite period of time was getting on our nerves.

  3. bing

    The oven is so you can have a small amount of heat, right? Instead of the oven, could you just put it into a closed box or maybe small closet along with a lamp turned on?

  4. ejm Post author

    I guess I could construct a proofing box, bing. (Now why didn’t I think of that?!) The only problem I can foresee is where to store such a thing. The only really convenient place I can think of is… um… the oven. :lalala: :whee:

  5. Susan McKenna Grant

    Hello, I just ran across your site and am sorry you are having trouble getting your starter going. Like many things in nature, wild yeast does not reproduce as fast in cold, dry weather. I’ve also found starters are much easier to get going in the country than in the city. It seems from your blog you are leaving the starter in the oven with the light on(?) and I wonder if this might be part of your problem. You need both warmth and humidity in your kitchen and the warm oven could be drying things out too much. What I do, in the winter is crank the heat up in my kitchen (77-78 degrees) and leave a large stock pot of water simmering on the stove to imitate a humid summer day.

    Also re: the crackers. You might try substituting water for the olive oil in the dough. The result is a crispier, lighter less “health foodie” cracker.

    In any case, I hope you don’t give up on your starter. It will come to life for you, and give you a lifetime of great bread under the right conditions. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions and good luck. Great website!


  6. ejm Post author

    I will try to get the starter going again, Susan, but I have decided to wait until the summer when warmth and humidity will abound. Alas it’s not really possible to crank the heat up in the kitchen alone (open concept main floor). We keep the house fairly cool during the winter. During the night the temperature drops down to around 14C and during the day it never really goes higher than 20C – even if there is stock simmering on the stove and the oven is cranked up for baking bread.

    As for the crackers, we were thinking that I hadn’t put enough olive oil in them. The first ones (the ones that burned…) had the amount of olive oil you had suggested. But the second time, we decided to try them with less olive oil. I’m thinking that next time I’ll add less whole wheat flour….

  7. Lisa (Homesick Texan)

    I’m enjoying this series of posts. I’ve tried making starters before in the winter, but they just exploded in my oven. But I’m hoping to try it again when it finally gets hot and humid here in NYC.

  8. ejm Post author

    I’m really glad to hear that, Lisa. (not that your starter exploded in the oven… but that you’re enjoying the posts)

    I gather that I might have been able to rescue the starter I was trying. My friend, “Mrs. Jones”, who got me started on this whole thing, says that her starter did that same liquifying thing but she made bread anyway. She said it was brilliant. Which is only encouraging…

    I’m thinking of not waiting til summer after all.

  9. Gailann

    Hello, I just noticed your comments on making starter. I made mine over a year ago and have been making wonderful whole grain bread ever since. I even sent some starter to my son in Spokane Washington and it took 5 days to get there and he was able to revive it so let me know if you are still having starter problems. It should be happy and bubbly and smell good.

    That’s very kind of you to offer, Gailann. I think our starter is doing okay. It’s the temperature that I have to pay attention to when I’m building it up! -Elizabeth

  10. Some yeast info from a vintner

    some yeast information:

    1: Yeast requires simple sugars to grow. The simple sugars we know as glucose and dextrose are the main sugars in honey. Cane sugar, or sucrose, must first be catabolised by yeast into glucose before it can use it for metabolism. Starch, found in our grains is also catabolised into simple sugars.

    2. Liquid honey (having been a beekeeper also): Is simply honey that has not crystallized and is out of the comb. Crystallized honey can be liquified by heating. Microwaves work well, but placing the honey jar in a hot water bath will work also.

    3. Wild yeast is indeed everywhere. Capturing it is extremely easy. Take some honey and add some water. Let it sit out in the open air. First, there are already wild yeast in the honey if it has not be “pasteurized”. Second wild yeast are common in all but sterile air. I have not tried this myself, as a vintner I endeavor to avoid wild yeast. Raising the water content of honey by only 2% is enough to start fermentation. Honey is hygroscopic, leave it exposed to air and it will absorb humidity and begin to ferment.

    4. Yeast longevity is a matter of the yeast’s tolerance for its own waste products. CO2 is the gas released by yeast metabolism and is the desireable reult for bread making. Alcohol is the other product of fermentation which is responsible for yeast death. The solution to this is volume, more water the alcohol is kept dilute. Cultured yeasts can tolerate between 8% to 22% alcohol by volume. Wild yeast has a much lower tolerance. Bread yeast, a cultured yeast, has a tolerance to alcohol somewhat less than 8% by volume. (Beer is typically 5 to 10% alc. Wine is typically 10 to 15% alc, and sherry is typically 22% alc)

    5. All this being said, I would suggest about 3 TBS “Raw” honey in 8 oz of warm water. Keep at room temperature. Adding starch need not be done until shortly ( a few hours to a day, such as in sourdough starter) before bread making. Adding the starch is mostly a method to incorporate the yeast mixture into the bread dough more evenly.

    I am also trying to make saltines. Alton Brown, of Good Eats (Food Network) says saltines are not “soda” crackers. Soda is added to conteract acidity, but yeast is the leaven in saltines. If baking soda is used, he recommends using “double acting” backing soda, “single acting” could be used as well, but be sure that either version has no alumina in it. Alton indicates that gluten development is not desireable. Gluten is developed by mechanical action on the grain flour. Kneading is the most common mechanical action. Rolling is another. So far the key to good texture in my experiments with crackers seems to be in the least mechanical action possible. I use a pasta machine to roll my dough. Thinner rolling is better. Thich rolling makes a tough cracker. Proofing time after rolling makes a puffier cracker.

    Someone commented about rolling layers. This sounds like the technigue used in filo dough. Filo dough is not a yeast dough. Its “rise” is captured air. Each layering of the dough has butter (or lard) spread before folding. I am wondering if the same technique can be imitated with crackers. Tonights experiment had the oil in my recipe expressing out during rolling. I think this adds to the layering I want in my crackers. It was accidental, and only the comments I read here made me even think of it.

  11. Some yeast info from a vintner

    Oops! Saltines ARE soda crackers. Here is the link to Good Eats on crackers

  12. zendog

    Here’s my foolproof method for getting a wild yeast starter. 1. Mix a half cup water, half cup whole wheat flour. 2. Pick some plant leaves and brush them off over the mixture. Oak leaves seem to work particularly well. 3. Put in a dark place with a wet dish towel over the starter. 4. Every few days, mix up the starter, then thow away 75%, and add back in 50% flour and 50% water to replace. Might take as long as a month before it is healthy enough to make good bread, but it always works. Don’t give up even if it’s looking really ugly, it usually seems to go through an ugly, smelly phase before the different strains of bacteria get in balance.

    Yes, this would probably work, Z, although wouldn’t it work without the oak leaves too? And you’re still going to have to throw away a considerable amount of flour before you can make bread. That’s why I accidentally on purpose murdered my starter. I just couldn’t bear to throw away all that expensive flour any more. -ejm


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