The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

using mother starter in historic recipes

cen's picture

using mother starter in historic recipes

I am in charge of a 150th anniversary celebration of a church cookbook that includes several "light biscuit" and "roll" recipes using a yeast starter. The recipe for starter given in the cookbook involves hops (difficult for me to find). I'm wondering if I could use the mother starter (barm)  from Peter Reinhart's BBA that I keep on hand in place of the "yeast" called for in the two recipes below:

"Light Biscuit"

1 quart warm milk

3/4 c lard and butter mixed

3/4 c yeast

2 T sugar

1 t salt

flour to make a soft dough

The dough sits overnight and is then rolled, cut, and risen again before baking.


Pint scalded and cooled milk

1/2 c yeast or 1/3 cake compressed yeast (Anyone have an idea how many ounces a 19th century yeast cake had?)

1 T sugar

a little salt

butter the size of an egg

1 quart flour

The dough "stands until light" and then is kneaded with additional flour (for half an hour!). It rises again, is rolled, cut into rounds that are folded into halves (sounds a bit like Parker House rolls).

Many thanks for any advice!



DerekL's picture

Why are hops difficult to get? They should be available mail order if not at your local homebrew place.  (Assuming you have a local homebrew place.)

nbicomputers's picture

am i reading this right 3/4 cups yeast (6 ounces) in one small formula

and 1/2 cup (4 ounces) in the second formula with only 1 quart flour

i would recheck that and if it is right i would tear thouse pages out of the book. 

cen's picture

I don't have time to mail order hops, get the starter going, and get the bread made in time for the celebration.

I believe by "yeast," the recipes mean a yeast starter as I indicated in my original query. And tearing out pages of an 1884 cookbook is just not going to happen here even if they don't make sense to us.

subfuscpersona's picture

When I looked at the recipes for yeast in historic cookbooks of the mid to late 1800s (available on line at Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project), it looked to me like the authors were giving instructions for a food base to which the baker added purchased yeast (probably brewer's yeast ??). The mixture was allowed to ferment and then was used immediately for bread or it could be bottled and lightly corked for future use. This gave the baker a supply of yeast starter for bread baking. Hops was not always called for.

This is from The Good Housekeeper published in 1839 (it is on the Historic Cookbooks site)

Take... flour, put it into a kneading trough or earthen pan ... Make a deep, round hole in the centre of the flour, and pour into it half a pint of brewer's yeast, or the thick sediment from home-brewed beer--the last if good, is to be preferred. In either case the yeast must be mixed with a pint of milk-warm water, and well stirred before it is poured in. Then with a spoon stir into this liquid, gradually, so much of the surrounding flour as will make it like thin batter; sprinkle this over with dry flour, till it is covered entirely. Then cover the trough or pan with a warm cloth, and set it by the fire in winter, and where the sun is shining in summer. This process is called "setting the sponge." The object is to give strength and character to the ferment by communicating the quality of leaven to a small portion of the flour; which will then be easily extended to the whole.

If you have it on hand, I would think the closest substitute would be an active sourdough starter at about 100% hydration (eg: refreshed with equal parts flour and water by weight). If you have the sourdough starter, it looks like you could just use it in the volume amounts called for in your recipes. Alternatively, maybe you could use instant dry yeast and make a poolish (equal amounts flour and water by weight plus a small amount of instant yeast).

cen's picture

Thanks so much, that's interesting and very helpful. i'll give it try with the starter I have on hand which is a pretty hydrated one.

MommaT's picture


That method sounds a little like the desem in the Laurel Kitchen Bread Book.

Might want to check it out from your library.



subfuscpersona's picture

Found on the Feeding America - Historic Cookbooks site (link given previously).

This cookbook - La Cuisine Creole By Lafcadio Hearn - was published in 1885, which makes the date close to your church cookbook. Notice that fresh cake yeast can be used (or just "yeast" may be called for - this might be home made or brewers' yeast).

Mash six boiled potatoes, mix in half a coffeecup of flour, two teaspoonfuls of salt, and add hot water until it is a batter; beat all well together. When it is blood-warm add to it one-half cup of brewers' yeast, or a whole cup of home-brewed yeast. When this is light, put it in a bottle, and cork it tight for use. Keep it as cool as possible.

Boil and mash sufficient potatoes to fill a pint cup; add to them a pint of water, boil them together, stir in flour enough to form a thick batter, and when cool, add a yeast cake, or a cup of good yeast. Bottle and put away in a cool place.

Peel and boil eight large Irish potatoes. Boil a handful of hops in a little water, or in the water the potatoes were boiled in; mash the potatoes fine, and strain the water from the hops over them. Put in a cup of flour to the potatoes before the water is poured on, as it mixes better when dry; mix all together and beat it, then put in half a cup of good yeast, or a yeast cake. This will keep good for a week if kept cool.

While not relevant to your project, I was interested to find that none of the cookbooks from the 1800s I looked at had instructions for a true sourdough starter.

Best of luck with your project.

cen's picture

Thanks again. This is interesting. I might try the potato yeast recipe.