Questions about "Living Bread" (Dan Leader's book)

Hi, everyone.

I recently purchased a copy of Dan Leader’s book Living Bread. When I began looking through his sections that contain sourdough formulas, I was struck (and honestly, a bit disappointed) by how many of the sourdough options include dry yeast in addition to sourdough starter.

How important should someone view this element of pre-packaged yeast in his book? Would you be comfortable simply skipping it? Also, if we leave out the packaged stuff, what kind of difference might it make in the fermentation time?

My guess is that maybe a loaf’s crumb could be a bit softer with this combo of starter and dry yeast. But unless someone intends to produce these loaves on an industrial scale, I fail to see a really persuasive reason to adopt this approach. Do you think differently?

1 Like

@eric asked Dan about the tiny percentage of instant yeast in many of the recipes – we were curious about it too! Dan said that legally in France, a very very small % of instant yeast is allowed and the bread can still be called sourdough/naturally leavened. It’s included in these recipes because that’s the traditional method, but it can absolutely be skipped.

I haven’t tested the time difference and am curious too. I know the yeast no-knead bread recipe uses a pinch of instant yeast and has similar timing to 1/4 cup starter…but I don’t know whether essentially doubling the leavening power (pinch of yeast + starter) halves the leavening time. Or the reverse.

Similarly, I detect crumb differences in 100% yeast leavened hokkaido buns vs 100% sourdough, but would there be much of a difference in pinch of yeast and sourdough vs. all sourdough? My guess is no, but that’s a guess.

1 Like

I come across “sourdough” recipes with some commercial yeast in the recipe and just skip it (the Rye Baker is one source I use that does this). Timing [for me, anyway] is never exact or entirely predictable and I think @homebreadbaker has shown enough loaves that have gorgeous crumb and crust with very small amounts of starter (unfed at that!), i.e. less leaven might/will translate to longer fermentation times as will lower ambient temperature and a host of other factors.

The fact that it is legal in France (or anywhere), to call it natural leavened bread with a small amount of commercial yeast and that it is “traditional” in French artisanal breads is something that I did not know and seems odd.

FWIW, I did not buy the book: I have only looked at what recipes are previewed in the Amazon listing which are not all sourdough/natural leavened. I understand from the description and reviews that there is a sourdough section but commercial yeast recipes are in other parts of the book.

@homebreadbaker results are in comments for Challenging Sourdough Starter Convention

***edited … further thoughts :slight_smile: @phillip, I think you “hit the nail on the head” with “unless someone intends to produce these loaves on an industrial scale”. Many of the popular bread books are written by bakers who DO bake on an industrial scale or at least in a commercial bakery. As such they need to turn out volume of consistent loaves of bread and so their approach will be different than the home baker. I think there are lots of things to be learned from commercial bakers and I enjoy reading and thinking about each baker’s approach and taking what makes sense to me for my own process, but I also think it is good to question the entirety of their processes … in this case, maybe the use of commercial (dry or instant) yeast.

1 Like

The OP does not refer to the flours used in the recipes for his question.

I have read the Rye Baker and also Reinhardt’s books and they both use instant yeast to “spike” the dough. Is it necessary in wheat doughs??? Probably not unless baking commercially.

But Rye is another animal. It has little gluten structure to hold it up by itself and the sourdough culture when very mature is mostly LAB activity at a pH of 4. Because of this I NEVER was able to get the rise out of my rye and even tried @eric no-knead rye many times with poor results. I think @Eric has some kind of no-knead gift :smiley: Reinhard does not get into an explanation of spiking with rye but Ginsberg does well worth picking up the book and re-reading.

My Limpa Rye comes out every time with good rise and flavor. My starter (whole grain 100% hydration) sits for at least 24 hours at room temperature until it reaches < 4.2pH, at that point it is airy and stringy (but has had little rise.) I then mix my doughs also spike with a small amount of instant yeast. If I don’t and I have tried without the commercial yeast the crumb is more dense. It is not bad and very soft but I LIKE the crumb to be a little more airy and the IY does this every time.

The biggest thing is the bulk ferment timing and final rise with rye. Bulk ferment does not seem to be so critical but the timing of final rise is as apparently it has a small window (few minutes.)

Ginsberg waits for cracks to appear across the top of the dough when final rise is complete. Still trying to get that right.


Look at the ingredients on many types of ‘sourdough’ bread in your local grocery store. When I see commercial yeast, vinegar, flavorings, and a multitude of things I cannot pronounce, I just put it back and shake my head. IMO, real sourdough bread is made the way it was before there was commercial yeast, with just water, flour and salt. Anything else added should be natural.

1 Like

Sorry for my delayed response! It’s been a crazy week.

I’m glad that Eric posed this question during the interview. I was late to log in, so I must have missed that part. Let me know if and when you do a comparative bake to get a handle on the time difference. I’d be interested to hear.

1 Like

Thanks for your response! I keep wanting to try out a loaf with non-refreshed starter to see how mine performs.

What you mention about a traditional combination of sourdough plus commercial yeast in France sounds familiar. In Switzerland, they seem to prefer no commercial yeast in loaves marked as sourdough – but the only place to find that kind of a distinction is at the more “serious” bakeries, not in the grocery stores.

I hope to try one of these loaves in Dan Leader’s book soon. I’ll check back in with the results.

I learned about the art of sourdough baking from our local Master Baker Lionel Vatinet. In his book “A Passion for Bread” he includes recipes for all types of bread, but when it comes to sourdough he is a French purist and only uses a natural starter, Levain. After his recipes to bake many types of sourdough breads, I too just don’t understand why a baker would add a store bought yeast to a mix that already contains a natural yeast starter. Unless their starter is weak and they have an urgent need to bake, and not wait for their starter to properly develop.

Thanks for your comment, @svstankosr. Yes, I’m sure that there are still a good number of French loaves made with only natural leavening – which is the approach that I favor for several reasons.

As @easummers and I discussed, the motivation for adding prepackaged yeast is the industrialization of food. The production of bread in mass quantities – even if those “mass quantities” are for, say, one city’s population – puts a tremendous deal of pressure on bakers to pump out loaves quickly, which is definitely possible through the addition of packaged yeast. The upside is that these bakers are then able to compete with other producers: for instance, Dan Leader’s bakery versus others. The downside is that the whole context and process are very, very unfriendly toward traditional, slow-fermented breads and their chemical benefits. For instance, bakers who run big operations don’t necessarily have time or space to put everything through a 24 or 48 hour cold proof. There’s a real tension here between the demands of quantity and quality.

It’s no coincidence that our modern industrialized arrangement is the context that nearly led to the death of sourdough as a method – and also generated the misconception that sourdough is simply a “flavor.”

“…the misconception that sourdough is simply a flavor”. Another great observation!! I try to convert myself to say naturally leavened but longer to type and doesn’t roll trippingly off the tongue :). When I have given or served my breads they mostly get some comment like “Where did you get this bread !!! But one recipient said “It doesn’t taste much like sourdough” … this person was from Seattle area and also a grocery store bread buyer and was expecting a “flavor”. My breads typically do not have much “tang” unless I store the dough for several days. And there are many discussions on this forum on the topic of more or less “sour” flavor.

1 Like

Haha, I’ve gotten the same reaction from our neighbors when I’ve given them bread! They say the same thing: “But it’s not sour…” :laughing:

1 Like

Sourdough is a bit of a misnomer. Naturally Leavened Bread or Wild Yeast Bread is more correct. "Sour"dough is more about the process rather than taste. Yes, it can be tangy but it doesn’t have to be. In fact while some chase the tang others have the opinion that it shouldn’t be tangy.

I’ve skipped the yeast in several of the recipes in the book already. The head notes clearly explain the reasoning behind it and that it’s optional. I think if you were a home baker concerned about timing or wanted a reliable schedule in a commercial setting it makes sense. I’d say try it both ways and see what you prefer.

I haven’t read this book, but have seen a number of recipes that add dry yeast to speed up the prep time and I also replace dry yeast with sourdough starter (only) in several breads I make. As you know, sourdough works pretty slow and sometimes the rise time can vary significantly and unpredictably in cold weather so the dry yeast speeds up the time and is predictable. This fast process does reduce the flavor somewhat of the bread, so when I make a recipe with dry yeast like this, I just leave out the yeast and plan on an overnight rise from the sourdough. If the recipe only uses dry yeast and you want to ‘convert it’ to sourdough; you will need to adjust the water added to account for the moisture in the sourdough starter and, of course, plan on a slow rise. Hope this helps.

@Phillip, I get the same reaction to people I give bread to.

“It’s not sour! I thought it was ‘sourdough’.”

My sourdough, Cyril, is not a strong tangy-tasting sourdough. He’s simply raises my bread dough. So far, everyone I’ve given breads to seem to really enjoy them, maybe because they’re NOT especially sour. When I tell people I bake sourdough a comment I sometimes get is “I don’t like sour bread.” When I go on to explain how Cyril acts to raise the bread and how he tastes I will get a more positive response from those who don’t like “sour” bread. Admittedly, I have yet to let one of my batches of dough stay in the refrigerator long enough to develop a real sour flavor. I love the mild taste of my loaves.

Bake on!

Phllip, I’ve been baking for a long time, and keep two active starters. Molly, a white rye, and Morgan, a chocolate (amazing in my rye beer bagels).

Just as I add some starter to many items besides bread (cookies, coffee cake, banana bread, etc) because of what they add in flavor and keeping qualities - so, too I will add a smidge of yeast to certain breads to arrive at my desired finished product. Enriched breads mostly, like Tangzhong pullman (made with evaporated milk) and brioche, etc. They help the starter lift the heavy eggs, butter and sometimes sugar.

After half a century of cooking and baking I’ve learned a few things (like round NOT being the optimal shape for bagels!) - the most important of which is: there’s no one right way of doing anything. It seems like the one way - until someone comes along with a better way.