The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Yeast in sourdough breads

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PaddyL's picture

Yeast in sourdough breads

Linda Collister, in her book, "bread, from sourdough to rye", speaks glowingly about "never having to buy yeast again" but the recipes she then gives for sourdough bread have commercial yeast in them, albeit very small portion, but commercial nonetheless.  I've looked up other recipes for sourdough bread, and most of them have small amounts of commercial yeast in them.  Is it not possible to make bread relying on the starter alone to raise it?

colinwhipple's picture

I don't use yeast in any of my sourdough.  Most of the recipes I use are from this web site, or Hamelman's book.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

In general, if a cookbook author uses sourdough and commercial bakers yeast they don't really understand sourdough.  They don't have a good starter, or trust their starter.


Rye is the exception.  For about 100 years, the common practice in Germany was to use an over-acidified sourdough starter to acidify rye flour and then add yeast to the dough to get it to rise.  It works, and has been the base of many classic German rye breads.  However, many German bakers are re-examining how they handle rye and sourdough and are moving away from using commercial yeast.


Commercial yeast not only isn't necessary, it speeds the rise to the point where most of the sourdough characteristics one is looking for by using sourdough don't have time to develop.




drmillsjr's picture

The attached photo was the first sourdough I ever made unsing a Ferment (starter) with no commercial yeast. I just made a Desem whole wheat bread this weekend (after 2 weeks of feeding the starter) with no commercial yeast. I've mage rye and spelt breads as well without commercial yeast and they all came out great.Sourdough - No Commercial YeastSourdough - No Commercial Yeast

PaddyL's picture

Inspiring!  I've got my little bit of starter, flour and water, sitting on top of my fridge where the temperature is an average 72 F.  It's Day 1.  I'll let you know how my little as-yet-unnamed starter gets on, and try to post some results.  My buttermilk starter is named "Brigid" after St. Brigid of Ireland, patron saint of dairy maids.

Marni's picture

I've only been making sourdough loaves for about a month, but they all have risen just fine, no commercial yeast added.  It just takes patience, sourdough is a slower rise.



caryn's picture

I just want to add that commercial or packaged yeast in a sourdough bread is specified even in Hammelman's book for some of his non rye bread formulas. It is true that commercial yeast is not absolutely necessary, but from my experience, it does not detract from the overall quality of the bread. I have made both types of formulas with success. In fact, one of my best results was with Hammelman's 5 grain sourdough where his formula includes a small amount of yeast. He does note that you can leave the commercial yeast out, but I thought the consistency and taste was excellent with the added yeast, plus it took a much shorter time to complete the bread making process.

PaddyL's picture

I've just been reading R.L. Beranbaum on sourdough and Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery and their viewpoints are quite different.  Rose stresses that yeast, all yeast, is natural, whereas Nancy refers to "sourdough being contaminated by commercial yeast", and I think the latter is a bit over the top.  My yeastless starter, called Elsie (after Linda Collister) in Day 3 is now quite bubbly having been stirred by me this morning, but I do still love my Brigid (buttermilk starter) with her bit of commercial yeast; she's uber-healthy, growing all the time, and smelling wonderful.  I had asked if the commercial yeast dissipated, or died, in an established starter, and according to what I've read, it cannot survive the acidity growing in a starter, so unless more commercial yeast is added to the mix for the actual bread, it would be a true sourdough.  I do add a little when making my buttermilk sourdough bread which is the softest and tastiest bread I've eaten in years, but I hope to be making something a little chewier and holier once Elsie has matured somewhat.  Thank you, caryn, for your input in favour of yeast.