Emergency Yeast: How To Make Bread Yeast From Just Flour & Water


Making your own bread yeast, also called “levain” or “starter,” is super easy. This yeast-making technique comes in handy in an emergency or if you want to make bread like a pro. All you need to do this is flour, water, and a jar with a cover. Natural yeasts in the air will start the process.

Homemade Yeast from flour and water. These bubbles are an indication the yeast is active.

How To Make Yeast: Step By Step Instructions

  1. Get a clean ball jar.
  2. Place 3 Tablespoons of flour in the jar.
  3. Add 2 Tablespoons of unchlorinated water. (chlorinated water will stop the process)
  4. Stir.
  5. Cover Lightly (you need some air circulation)
  6. Store in a cool dark place like a pantry
  7. Repeat steps 2 to 4 every 24 hours by adding an additional 3 Tablespoons of flour, 2 tablespoons of water, and stirring
  8. In 3 to 5 days, the yeast will start bubbling and smell pleasingly sweet with a hint of sour.
  9. Increase the amount of yeast starter by adding more flour to the mixture but keep it moist.

Five days is sufficient for pancakes. If you want to create a strong starter (for fluffy bread), continue to feed (steps 2-4) for a couple of weeks before use.

The first time you do this, you might be a little nervous, but don’t be. It’s a very forgiving process, and hey. If I can do it, anyone can.

Yeast-Tools For Bread Making

  1. Clean Container with a lid (I use a 32 oz Ball Jar)
  2. Water (distilled or filtered: Chlorine kills yeast. If all you have available is chlorinated water, boil it, and let it cool to dissipate chlorine.)
  3. Flour (any kind will do)
  4. Measuring Spoon
  5. Stirring Device (I use the back of a long-wooden spoon)

Yeast Maintenance: Keeping Bread Yeast Alive

Keep feeding your yeast or bread levain to keep it alive. Maintain yeast by adding a 1:1 ratio of water and flour every day if storing at room temperature. You can also keep your yeast in the refrigerator and feed it once per week. Keep the lid placed closely over the jar, and don’t worry too much if you miss a day or two.

I forgot about some established yeast starter in my cupboard for almost two weeks. After a good feeding of water and flour, it sprung back to life.

Baker’s Tip: The day before you bake, take the starter out of the fridge, feed and water it, and leave it in a cool dark place to give the yeast a chance to wake up.

Tip: Place your lid on loosely, enough for oxygen transfer; otherwise, 1. your yeast won’t start, or 2. it will explode.

Is My Yeast Starter Active: Signs Starter Is Alive

If you see bubbles, that indicates active yeast off-gassing Carbon Dioxide. Usually, by day 3 to 5, your yeast will start bubbling and become active. If you don’t see activity, make sure you used unchlorinated water.

A good healthy star will smell a little like sweet vinegar but won’t smell nasty. If the starter smells real off (you will know it,) throw it out and start over.

How Do I Make A Lot Of Yeast Starter?

  • To make a large batch of yeast starter, just weight equal parts of water and flour on a kitchen scale.
  • Before weighing the ingredients, zero the scale with the empty container on the scale.
  • After zeroing the scale you can weigh your ingredients.
  • After weighing, add the ingredients to the yeast starter in your container and mix it in.  
  • Let the mixture sit overnight before using it.

Removing Starter From The Jar: Waste

Removing 1/2 of the yeast starter when feeding an established yeast starter or levain is common among some professional bakers because it makes a more robust or active starter. It also reduces the sourdough taste of the bread. Some will throw the removed starter in the trash, not me.

I remove 1/2 of my starter when my jar is almost full and fry little pancakes in olive oil. I eat them with hummus or butter and jam.

If you decide to remove your dough, there are many recipes to use the excess dough.

What Is Yeast Starter: Emergency Bread Making

You are not really making yeast in this process. You’re cultivating the natural or wild yeast dormant on flour and in the environment to ferment a yeast leavening agent called poolish, levain, starter, or sourdough.

Scientifically speaking: sourdough starter occurs when natural yeast and lactic-acid-bacteria grow on a mixture of flour and water, fermenting into a yeast starter within 3 to 5 days.

What Is A Leavening Agent: Bread Starter

A leavening agent is a substance used in dough and batter that lightens, raises, and softens dough made from hard and soft grains. In the case of bread-making, flour isn’t a leavening agent. It’s the food for the yeast that creates the gas. The gas is the leavening agent.

Other Leavening Agents For Baked Goods:

  • Air
  • Steam
  • Baking Powder (sodium bicarbonate)
  • Baking Soda
  • Dry Yeast (regular-active-dry or instant)
  • Cream of Tartar

You don’t need a leavening agent. In an emergency, or if you choose to, you can make unleavened bread like johnnycakes, crackers, hardtack, or any number of other bread that fit the bill.

Story Behind Yeast Starter

Starter-Yeast-bread or leaving dates back to the Egyptians, it’s how our ancestors did it, and it’s how professional chefs and bread baking connoisseurs do it today.

One difference between home bread baking with yeast packets and the homemade yeast starter is the pros and connoisseurs measure ingredients by weight on a kitchen scale versus measuring everything with spoons and cups.

I don’t have a kitchen scale, and I need to make bread now! The stores are out! Don’t fret. I have a recipe down below that is made with measuring devices.

Yeast Starter: 5 Reasons To Use It For Breadmaking

  1. You don’t have commercial yeast, and it’s not available at the store
  2. Bread stores longer when you make your own yeast
  3. Flour is pre-digested by the natural fermentation process reducing gluten
  4. Different flavors and textures can be created
  5. Nutrients are more bio-available when you make your own

Yeast Starter Bread Recipe: Emergency Breadmaking

During a recent food shortage, I had a substantial pantry. More than enough flour to make bread to keep us going. One problem: I didn’t even think about yeast when planning my emergency pantry. The store was completely out of yeast and rationing flour, so I had no choice but to make my own.

Ok, let’s get started. The recipe below is basic and uses the levain we made above. It will allow you to make bread if you have or can’t get yeast, but you have flour and clean water. It’s easier than you think.

Bread Ingredients:

  • Flour 3 Cups
  • Salt 1.25 tsp
  • Water 3 Tbsp
  • Stiff Starter 1 CUP (Feed the day before and leave at room temperature)

If you find that you don’t have enough starter for a recipe, or for the number of loaves you want to cook, add the amount of flour and water you need to your starter jar on a 1:1 ration (by weight),  plus some extra to keep the starter going and wait 24 hours at room temperature.

Emergency Breadmaking In 5 Easy Steps

Step One: Mix Your Ingredients

  1. In a large bowl dissolve the starter into the 3 cups of water and add 1/4 tsp of salt
  2. Add 3 cups of white flour

Step 2: First Rise

  1. Cover the mixture with a tea-towel or plastic wrap
  2. Let it rise 3 to 4 hours at room temperature

Step 3: Shaping Your Dough

  1. Cover your work surface and hands in flour (don’t be stingy this helps keep things from getting sticky)
  2. Remove your dough from the bowl and gently shape into a round (you are not kneading you are shaping, so go easy)
  3. When you’re done shaping, place the dough in a well-floured bowl for the second rise (flour will keep the dough from sticking to the container)

Step 4: Second Rise

  1. Cover the dough with a tea-towel or plastic wrap
  2. Let the dough sit, at room temperature, an additional 2 to 3 Hours in the covered bowl

Step 5: Bake Your Bread

  1. Preheat Your Oven to 450° F
  2. Bake your bread on a greased cookie sheet, in a dutch oven, cloche, or on a baking stone.
  3. Bake at 450° F for 35 to 40 Minutes

Measure Baking Ingredients By Weight

  1. Turn on your kitchen scale
  2. Place you mixing bowl on your electric scale
  3. Push the “tare” or “zero” button (“z/t”). Your scale will show “0.0” (adjusting for and removing the weight of your mixing bowl or container)
  4. Add each baking ingredient until you reach the desired weight.

Remove Chlorine From Water: 2 Easy Methods

When making yeast or starter, you can’t use chlorinated water because it kills the microorganisms that make the magic happen. 

Method One: Boiling

Remove chlorine from your fermenting water by boiling it for 20 minutes and letting it cool to room temperature. Chlorine will naturally dissipate from water, but boiling the water speeds up the process.

Method Two: Campden Tablets 

Some municipalities treat drinking water with chloramine because it is more stable than regular chlorine. The problem is it’s harder to get rid of.

You can’t remove chloramine by boiling the water. Your best bet for removing chloramine is by using Campden Tablets, commonly used by brewers.

Campden tablets will remove chlorine and chloramine from yeast- starter-fermentation-water.

If you want to plan your emergency water storage check out the Ready Squirrel Article, Beginner’s guide to water storage, for a comprehensive discussion of prepping for clean water in case a disaster strikes.

Useful Links

Downloadable PDF of Easily Make Bread Yeast From Flour And Water Click Here

Ready Squirrel Videos: Long Term Wheat Storage (Wheat Berries)

Video Summary of Easily Make Bread Yeast From Flour And Water

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