How to bake bread without yeast

Louis Feiereisen 30 Jun 2020

In times of the COVID-19 Pandemic, there has been an increased demand of cost-effective starchy products, such as rice, pasta and obviously bread. With a lot of people only being able to leave their homes for a limited amount of time, making bread at home has become very popular, because store bought bread has a very short shelf life. If you can make the bread yourself, you can make the bread whenever you want from pantry ingredients and therefore enjoy it fresh every time.

This new trend has led to an increased demand in yeast that is an essential part of the bread making process. However, this huge demand couldn’t be matched in a lot of countries, and it was a tough task to find yeast, especially the fresh kind. Luckily, there are many other options to make good bread, most of which only demand ingredients that most people already have at home.

One of these options would be using a “preferment” containing beer. A preferment is a sort of dough that undergoes an initial fermentation before being mixed into the final dough. This dough can then be used in the same way that an active sourdough starter or fresh yeast would be used.

In order to understand why such a preferment would work, we first need to take a look at the way in which beer is brewed. Beer is generally a fermented beverage made from malt, water, hop and finally brewer’s yeast. This is a special strain of yeast that is also known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae which is not only used for brewing beer but also to bake bread. In fact, it is the exact same strain of yeast that we would find in the yeast packages in our grocery store.

During the brewing process of beer, the starches in the malt are broken down into maltose by enzymes that are activated during the sprouting phase of the malt. This enzyme, called amylase, functions like a pair of scissors that cuts starch, which is a long chain of sugar molecules, into maltose, which is a chain containing only two sugar molecules. This chain can be digested by the yeast in a process called fermentation, which then creates ethanol (the alcohol in beer) and carbon dioxide, the gas that makes beer fizzy.

This process also takes place in the dough when you make bread: the starch from the flour is fermented which creates ethanol, which then later evaporates during the baking process, and carbon dioxide, which causes the bread to rise in the oven, creating the characteristic crumb structure. Therefore, we can use beer to make bread, since both of these products are made from the same fermentation process.

The actual preferment would be made by mixing equal parts of flour, beer and a pinch of sugar to kick start the fermentation. The weight of the preferment should correspond to 30 % percent of the flour that is used in the final dough. If we want to make dough from one kilogram of flour, we would use 300 grams of preferment which would mean 150 grams of flour and 150 grams of beer. The ingredients of the preferment would be mixed and left for 4-6 hours to ferment at room temperature. It should increase significantly in volume. After this time is up, it can be added to the rest of the dough and be left for a second fermentation for a few hours at room temperature or in the fridge overnight. The dough should then be ready to be baked into bread loafs.

In theory, this alternative baking procedure seems very easy. But what if the preferment didn’t rise in the first place? This means that your preferment isn’t active, and therefore it will not make good bread since the yeast didn’t proliferate enough. Reasons for this could be that the beer that you are using isn’t containing living yeast cells and no fermentation will take place. In this case there are a few solutions.

The first one is to simply use another type of beer. Not all beers contain living yeast, try a few available alternatives in small batches of preferment and observe their rise and gas production. The one with the most increase in volume would be suited best for this procedure, since its yeast proved to be very active.

The second option would be to “spike” the preferment with a very small amount of commercialized yeast. This will boost the fermentation but sadly also defy the purpose of this whole procedure, which is to not use commercialized yeast.

The last option to fix this problem would be to treat the preferment like an actual sourdough. This means feeding it for a few days with equal parts of beer and flour, because chances are that there haven’t been enough living yeast cells in the initial preferment. By feeding the preferment day by day, slowly but surely a stable yeast culture will have formed and it should have produced a lot of gas, which means that it is ready to be baked with.

Baking, like all good things in life, takes time and practice. But understanding these principles of how baking works and what actually happens inside the dough will help you find alternative ways of baking bread, which you can then adjust to your own liking in order to bake the bread that you crave, even in those tough times of a pandemic.


Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Edited by Pol Scholtes Last modified on 27-03-2023

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