I don’t really understand *why* there’s a yeast shortage because it like… just grows. I assume this is probably something to do with supply chains and maybe manufacturing the non-yeasty parts (jars?). If you want to bake yeasty things and your grocery store has been out, this post is for you. (Now, if your concern is the flour shortage, we just got 50lbs from nuts.com and wandering scientist just bought 25lb from central milling.)
If you have SOME yeast left
Make a starter and put it in your fridge. Feed it every time you make bread and occasionally (at least once every two weeks) if you don’t make bread. My quick google search on this is not at all helpful– everyone wants you to make a sourdough levain, which is a type of starter, but not the best choice if you have any active yeast in your house. (I will explain later.) So let me dig up one of my bread books and get more detailed instructions for you.
- In a glass jar (or quart/gallon ziploc if you don’t have a suitable jar) that you can keep in the fridge that will hold at least 3 cups of flour, put yeast (either one packet or the equivalent) and half a cup of warm (warm to the touch, not too hot) water. Let it sit until the yeast dissolves. Then stir in 2-3 cups of flour. It doesn’t have to be exact. You don’t have to have any specific kind of flour so long as it’s some kind of gluteny flour. So all purpose flour or whole wheat flour are great. Rye is fine if that’s what you’ve got, but it may limit what you use the starter for. Then let it sit at room temperature for 2 days before using, or put it in the refrigerator for two weeks (you want it to have some room temperature time for flavors).
- Every time you make bread, use one cup of the starter in place of water/yeast/one cup of flour. Replace what you’ve taken out with a heaping cup of flour and half a cup of water, give or take. In theory you should let it sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours before putting it back in the fridge, but unless you’re making bread every day or two you can ease up on this.
- If two weeks have passed and you haven’t made bread yet, go make bread and go back to step two. Otherwise throw out a cup of starter and add in a cup of flour and half a cup of water. This is called feeding your starter. You will need to feed your starter every two weeks if you don’t make bread. In theory you should let it sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours, but unless you’re making bread the next day you can just stick it back in the fridge.
IIRC, if you leave it a long time, sometimes some of the liquid separates. This is normal. You can either stir this back in or pour some of it out, whatever. The starter itself should be liquidy but thick… gloppy I think is a good description.
The starter will generally not be a sourdough if you use this method so it will be fine for brioches and other light sweet breads. It will gain flavor over the months (and years) you use it. We’ve found the flavor to be more of a warm yeasty almost beery flavor as it matures, but it may be that there are different iterations… we’ve done this a finite number of times.
Make bread dough as you normally would. After the first rise (or second if you forget), grab some dough (or just don’t make the bread and keep the entire dough). Wrap it in wax paper and then in tin foil (and if you want to be really fancy, you can put it in a ziploc). This will keep in the refrigerator for 2 days or you can freeze it. Whenever you want to make bread, thaw some dough (“walnut size”), let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours, and then incorporate it with the new bread dough as you mix it. When you start running out, repeat the process of grabbing dough (or grab some for freezing each time you make bread).
If you have NO yeast
Bread without yeast
Discover the joys of quick breads. There are many Irish Soda Breads well worth making. Try different varieties.
Does your grocery store carry pizza dough or frozen dough?
Instead of using (all of) it to bake, save some for the “old dough” method above.
Make a levain
A levain is a sourdough starter made with ambient yeast. DH has tried this at several points in our life and only the most recent one, using the technique from Flour Water Salt Yeast was successful. This is what we currently have in our refrigerator. AS A WARNING: Getting this started WASTES flour. Maybe waste is the wrong word, but when you thought you’d stocked up on flour before the stay-at-home order and all of a sudden you’re facing a flour shortage, it is easy to give this levain a side-eye. I had to put a stop to it and we converted the levain to a starter by using the “put your levain to sleep” method and then treating it like a regular starter (see above). I suspect that you still need to throw out a ton of flour at the beginning, but once it has settled down to regular use you should just be able to use the starter and replace with flour and water as above. At least, that’s been working for us so far. ANOTHER WARNING: Some of the smells early in the process are TERRIBLE. Awful vinegary awfulness. But that’s the way they’re supposed to smell? One of the nice things about the book is that he tells you what it’s supposed to smell like at each step. So you’re like, why yes, this is supposed to smell terrible.
One of the interesting things in the book was how it talked about that even though there are different ambient strains of yeast across the country and there are different ways people start these (there’s a grape skin version in Baking with Julia), none of it really matters because it’s the same yeast that survive no matter where you are in the lower 48 in the US. We’d always thought this hadn’t worked when we lived on the east coast because their yeast sucked. But no.
The process is too lengthy to type out here and there’s probably copyright infringement, but here’s someone’s blogpost about living through making the levain. There are a lot of other levain/sourdough starter recipes out there, but be aware that they might not work out.
This levain starter is a sourdough and has a pleasant lightly sour flavor. It is great for making no-knead breads.
Maybe you can try this Oregon trail yeast?
We still have a little of this free Oregon Trail yeast in our freezer. We made a starter with it maybe a decade ago and it was amazing until it got too sour even for DH and we sadly let it go (knowing we still had some in the freezer). But it’s a high quality yeast. It’s free with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope, though it sounds like it might take up to six weeks to get to you.
Borrow in a social distancing safe manner from a friend who is rich in yeast
And then make a starter! Or old dough.
What are you guys doing for yeast? Do you have any left? Does your grocery store? What would you do with 25lb of whole wheat flour and 25lb of durum flour?