All mycophiles ought to try making their own bread and some of the most interesting and delicious rely on ‘wild’ yeasts. As with larger edible mushrooms, the concept is frightening to the modern mind because it requires you to abandon yourself to the randomness of natural decay. . .
Wild yeasts are everywhere – since you started to read this thousands of spores will have invaded your lungs. They do no harm, but when they land on damp carbohydrates they get to work. To harness them, take a couple of tablespoons of flour (wholemeal is good but spelt is even better). Whisk this into a rough batter with a half a glass of water. Then leave the milky liquid in a jar or bowl on the windowsill for a couple of days (cover with a bit of gauze or cloth if flies are a problem – the spores will get through).
When tiny bubbles begin to appear on the surface put the mix in a loosely-topped jar in the fridge and every couple of days throw away half and top up the remainder with fresh flour and water. Keep sniffing the mix – you should notice the smell changing from a slightly acrid, unpleasant, scent to something that is positively pleasant. The concoction is now effectively a nutrient soup, laden with wild yeasts. Certainly it is weaker than its normal, cultivated, version, but this is actually an advantage, not a problem. It works more slowly to produce a denser, nuttier, loaf.
To make a casic ciabbatta-type loaf:
300 ml Water (if you use electronic scales, 1ml is 1g)
40 g Oil/melted butter
2 tbspns Soughdough culture
Mix the ingredients together to make a distinctly sloppy dough. This can be difficult because it will be very sticky and this is where a bread-making machine on the ‘dough’ setting can be invaluable. If you are doing it by hand, you have to knead it for at least 10 minutes (this breaks down some of the longer starch molecules and is important to the final texture). Leave it to prove for at least six hours (overnight is ideal), then tip/pour it onto a floured baking tray and roll to cover with flour, but try not to bash it around too much. Cover with a clean tea towel and turn on the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 8. When the oven is up to speed (maybe 15 minutes?), pop in the loaf and bake for about 20 – 30 minutes depending on the shape and thickness. Experiment: try mixing a variety of flours (e.g. include a proportion of strong white flour if you like a lighter loaf).