Home » How to make yeast for bread (levain)

How to make yeast for bread (levain)

Making your 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.

Lets’s take a look at the tools you need to start making yeast.

How to make yeast for bread: tools

  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)
bubbling yeast starter
These bubbles are an indication the yeast is active.

It’s time to make some yeast.

How to make yeast for bread in 10 easy steps

Ready, set, go! Learn how to make yeast for bread with just flour and water. Especially helpful knowledge to have during a food shortage or emergency when you can’t buy yeast. if you have wheat or flour but no store-bought yeast. This article will take you through making homemade bread with flour and water, including a recipe at the end. Let’s learn how to make sourdough yeast called levain.

Step #1 Ball Jar

Get a clean ball jar or a large cup you will use for your levain container. Next, get your flour ready.

Step #2 Flour

Place 3 Tablespoons of wheat flour in the ball jar or whatever container you are using.

Step #3 Water

Add 2 Tablespoons of unchlorinated water to the flour. Don’t use chlorinated water because the yeast won’t grow.

Step #4 Stir

Stir the mixture of flour and unchlorinated water until it is well mixed.

Step #5 Cover

Cover the jar lightly to leave room for air circulation. I use a tea towel.

Step #6 Cool & Dark

Store the flour and water mixture in a cool dark place like a pantry and prepare for tomorrow.

Step #7 Repeat Steps

Every day, repeat steps 2 to 4 (every 24 hours) by adding 3 Tablespoons of flour and two tablespoons of water to the starter mixture and stirring. Cover the mixture up and put it back in a cool dark location.

Step #8 Waiting

It will take 3 to 5 days for natural yeast to start bubbling. Expect the starter to smell pleasingly sweet with a hint of sourness. This is your starter.

Step #9 Increase Starter

Increase the amount of yeast starter by adding more flour to the mixture but keep it moist.

Step #10 Bulk Starter

Five days of fermentation 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.

You might be a little nervous the first time you do this, but don’t be. It’s a very forgiving process, and it’s cool. You are making bread as they did 1000 years ago; if I can do it, anyone can.

Now that the yeast is made let’s learn how to keep it alive.

Levain in a ball jar

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 stored at room temperature. You can also keep your yeast in the refrigerator and feed it once weekly. 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 starters in my cupboard for almost two weeks. After a good feeding of water and flour.

Baker’s Tip: The day before you bake, take the starter out of the fridge, feed it, 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.

Next up, how can you tell your yeast starter is alive?

homemade yeast

Is my yeast 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 use unchlorinated water.

An excellent healthy star will smell like sweet vinegar but won’t smell nasty. If the starter smells really off (you will know it,) throw it out and start over.

Growing your own yeast is an excellent survival skill to pair with long-term wheat storage. First, mill bulk wheat into flour and then grow yeast to provide your survival group with leavened bread. Get started now, check out the Ready Squirrel article, Best Wheat Berries For Long Term Storage

Scott, Ready Squirrel

I usually only make a couple of loaves of bread at a time but what if you want to make bulk bread? Let’s take a look at how to make a large batch of yeast starter.

How to make large amounts of yeast for bread

  1. To make a large batch of yeast starter, weigh equal parts of water and flour on a kitchen scale.
  2. Before weighing the ingredients, zero the scale with the empty container on the scale.
  3. After zeroing the scale, you can weigh your ingredients.
  4. After weighing, add the ingredients to the yeast starter in your container and mix it in.  
  5. Let the mixture start bubbling before you use it.

Up next, getting your starter out of the jar.

mixing flour and water for yeast starter

Removing starter dough from the jar

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, but not me.

When my jar is complete, I remove 1/2 of my starter 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.

So, what is yeast starter?

What is yeast starter: emergency bread making

You are not 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.

Next up, what is a leavening agent?

What is a leavening agent?

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 breadmaking, flour isn’t a leavening agent. It’s the food for the yeast that creates the gas. The gas is the leavening agent.

6 Other Leavening Agents

  1. Air
  2. Steam
  3. Baking Powder (sodium bicarbonate)
  4. Baking Soda
  5. Dry Yeast (regular-active-dry or instant)
  6. 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 other bread that fits the bill.

The 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, but 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.

5 reasons to use homemade yeast (how to make yeast for bread)

#1 Always available

You don’t have commercial yeast, and it isn’t available at the store

#2 Freshness

The bread stays fresh longer when made with homemade yeast.

#3 Easier to digest

Flour is pre-digested by the natural fermentation process reducing gluten

#4 Higher quality

Making bread from scratch allows for different flavors and textures, and a better-tasting bread.

#5 Nutrition

Nutrients are more bio-available when you make your own

Ok, let’s bake some bread!

4 Ingredients for homemade bread

  1. Flour 3 Cups
  2. Salt 1.25 tsp
  3. Water 3 Tbsp
  4. 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 ratio (by weight),  plus some extra to keep the starter going and wait 24 hours at room temperature.

Emergency Bread Recipe In 5 Easy Steps

During a recent food shortage, I had a substantial pantry with 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 out of yeast so I had no choice but to make my own. That is when I found out about Levain or yeast starters.

The recipe below is basic and uses the yeast starter described in this article. It will allow you to make bread if you can’t get yeast but have flour and clean water. Let’s get to it!

#1 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

#2 First Rise

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

#3 Shaping Your Dough

  1. Cover your work surface and hands in flour. This helps keep things from getting sticky. Don’t be stingy.
  2. Remove your dough from the bowl and gently shape it 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)

#4 Second Rise

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

#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 baking stone.
  3. Bake at 450° F for 35 to 40 Minutes

How To Measure Baking Ingredients By Weight

  1. Turn on your kitchen scale
  2. Place your 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.

How to remove chlorine from water: 2 easy methods

You can’t use chlorinated water when making yeast or bread starter because it kills the microorganisms that cause the magic to happen.  If you don’t have unchlorinated water there are two methods use can use to remove chlorine, boiling water or treating it with Campden tablets used by brewers.

#1 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.

#2 Campden Tablets 

Some municipalities treat drinking water with chloramine because it is more stable than regular chlorine, but it is harder to get rid of. To remove chloramine use Campden Tablets, because boiling doesn’t work.

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, a Beginner’s guide to water storage, for a comprehensive discussion of prepping for clean water in case a disaster strikes.

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

Thanks for stopping by Ready Squirrel! If you have any thoughts please leave them in the comments section.

Keep on prepping.

Kind Regards, Scott

Leave a Comment