Fresh bread from some really old yeast

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls

Story by Amy K. Stewart
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Oct 29, 2012
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Two local authors and bread enthusiasts are rising to the top with their cookbook on a little-known topic: natural yeast.

“The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast,” by Caleb Warnock and Melissa Richardson, has been “selling like hotcakes — natural yeast hotcakes, that is,” said Chloe Curtis, marketing publicist for Cedar Fort, Inc., which published the book.

Besides including enticing recipes — accompanied by an abundance of vivid, colorful photographs — the cookbook details the benefits of consuming whole grains and offers information on the upside of natural yeast. There are also directions on creating a starter, how to grind grain, and the art of kneading the dough.

Warnock, 39, said he believes this is the first natural yeast cookbook to be published in the United States over the last 60 years. The book, released in August, is available in most retail stores for $18.99, $12 on and at Costco. The authors say people will love the book if they are out to improve their health and diet — or simply to try something new.

The book includes a wide variety of simple recipes.

“You don’t just have to bake bread,” Warnock said. “There are a lot of quick and easy recipes — starting with pancakes and waffles and scones and pizza dough — and a recipe for bread-making machines.”

The Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls recipe is a favorite for readers.

“The Cinnamon Rolls are not only delicious, but they will make your entire house smell like heaven, and they are amazing with or without the frosting,” Curtis said.

What is yeast?

Yeast is a living organism — it is a single-cell fungus, and the first-ever domesticated living creature, according to Warnock. Natural yeast has been used to bake bread for 6,000 years, and there are more than 1,000 varieties existing in nature.

“Some are used for making whiskey, beer, lager — and some are fantastic at making sourdough bread, or bread that is not sour at all,” Warnock said.

The yeast purchased in grocery stores became synthetic in 1984. It was genetically modified to become rapid-rising. Such synthetic yeast no longer predigests the gluten naturally found in flour.

Natural yeast, by contrast, breaks down harmful enzymes in grains, makes vitamins and minerals more easily available for digestion, and converts dough into a nutritious food source that won’t spike the body’s defenses, according to Curtis.

Co-author Melissa Richardson is a mother of three who is addicted to bread — researching it, studying it, baking it. As a college student, she taught herself to bake as a way to pinch pennies on her food budget. Her publicist reveals that at any given time of day, flour can be found somewhere on Richardson’s shoes, clothes, hands or children. She and her husband, Troy, live in Sandy.

Warnock, who lives in Alpine with his wife, Charmayne, is also the author of the national best-seller “The Forgotten Skills of Self-Sufficiency Used by the Mormon Pioneers.” A full-time journalist, Warnock teaches writing in addition to selling pure, non-hybrid seed raised in his garden and teaching his popular “Forgotten Skills” classes.

Rising to the top

The two bakers teamed up to become a bread duo a few years ago. Richardson was a student in Warnock’s writing class, and “I encourage all my students to bring me treats,” he said with a laugh. “So one day Melissa showed up in my class with a warm loaf of natural yeast bread and butter and fed it to us and it was absolutely fantastic. She said it was made from ‘pioneer yeast’ and I said, ‘What the heck is pioneer yeast?’ ”

Melissa quips in their book: “Not only did everyone love the bread, but I found it was a lot harder for my teacher to criticize my writing when his mouth was stuffed full of garlic rosemary sourdough.”

Warnock said he had long wondered how people baked bread before the invention of commercial yeast, but he had never been able to find any information on the subject. Richardson gave him some natural yeast the next week and “I’ve never bought yeast again,” he said.

Warnock said Richardson “had already been working on recipes for crepes and I had been doing scones and we had both been doing pizza dough and she got interested in doing cakes and muffins and we started doing breadsticks.”

At first, they just put together a little booklet they were selling for $10 at their classes. Then they thought, “Why not create a book on natural yeast and include the history, why it matters and the health benefits?”

Warnock and Richardson have spent hundreds of hours researching natural yeast and experimenting with recipes. The book has taken two years to produce.

The Best of bread

Richardson said getting the book published is “both exciting and terrifying at the same time” and she likens it to her first day of junior high — since putting her “heart and soul and hard work out there for millions of people to see” is a bit disconcerting.

Richardson markets the book mainly through her cooking classes.

Julie Peterson, 41, of Riverton, said she bought the book after taking a class from Richardson.

“I’ve been to just about all of her classes on how to take care of the yeast, how to use it, different recipes,” Peterson said. “Any time we can refrain from putting chemicals in our body, it’s a good thing.”

Peterson’s favorite recipe is the cinnamon rolls.

“You think wheat cinnamon rolls would be a heavy treat but they aren’t — they are really light,” she said.

There is a great difference between natural yeast and grocery store yeast, according to Warnock. Natural yeast completely predigests the gluten naturally found in wheat, and it turns troublesome phytic acid into a cancer-fighting antioxidant, he said.

Studies show natural yeast bread won’t spike a person’s glycemic index, which makes it great for those with diabetes.

“There are just a lot of health benefits associated with natural yeast,” Warnock said. “Natural yeast bread also controls heartburn and acid reflux.”

Synthetic yeast has been sold in groceries stores since 1984, he said, and since then there has been an enormous increase in Celiac disease, gluten intolerance and wheat allergies.

Folks come to the classes and say it’s the first time they’ve been able to eat wheat bread in 20 years, Warnock said.

“People just cry they are so grateful,” he said.

Warnock says he used to have acid reflux disease, which led to an esophageal ulcer, but since he has started eating natural-yeast bread he hasn’t taken any of his medications.

Forgotten Skills

Warnock says his first book, “The Forgotten Skills,” sold 17,000 copies and hit the national best-seller list in August 2011. That book includes a chapter on natural yeast, and people began asking for more information.

“There was just a huge demand,” he said. “We were being inundated with requests to teach and to do speaking engagements about natural yeast.”

In his “Skills” book, Warnock documents that 93 percent of seeds available in garden catalogs in 1903 are now extinct, having been replaced by hybrid seeds, which are self-suiciding. In the old days, people planted in their backyard gardens and were, with a bit of skill, able to save their own seeds. Now, growers are forced by these companies to buy new seeds each year, he said.

Warnock’s “Skills” book teaches how to save pure seeds from the garden. It also details the difference between open-pollinated and hybrid seeds, and why it matters; how to have a fresh winter garden in Utah without any artificial heat or electricity, like the pioneers used to do; cellaring vegetables without a root cellar; backyard eggs; and forgotten recipes.

“There are all kinds of things people used to do to feed themselves self-sufficiently before the time of the modern grocery store,” Warnock said.

“My wife and I grew up doing this. This is how we live everyday,” he said. “We used to be the ‘weird neighbors’ before the economy collapsed — but since 2008, all of a sudden people became interested in self-sufficiency.”

For a free sample of natural yeast, contact Caleb Warnock at, or read more at

For questions about yeast, Richardson can be reached at


Honey Molasses Sandwich Bread

1/2 cup start (stir before measuring)

2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup molasses

7-8 cups whole wheat bread flour

At least 10 hours before baking, combine start, water, salt, honey, and molasses in mixer. Add 7 cups of flour, then continue adding flour until dough “cleans” the sides of your mixer bowl. (There may be residual bits near the top, and here and there along the sides, but the lower half of the bowl should be clean.) Once the sides have been cleaned, allow the dough to knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough can pass the windowpane test. Dampen a large work surface with water and pull the dough out of the mixer bowl onto your work surface. You want just enough water to keep the dough from sticking, but not enough to waterlog your dough. Wet your hands with water, and knead the dough a few times, until the texture is uniform. Place dough smooth-side up into a pregreased bowl or container. Remember to choose a container that allows your dough room to double in size. You can also split your dough and use two smaller bowls. Cover your bowl with greased plastic wrap or with a thick, damp kitchen towel (thin towels dry out too quickly and stick to the dough). Place on countertop to rise for 6 to 12 hours.

After a minimum of 6 hours, turn dough out of bowl onto wet work surface. Wet hands and use dough scraper or sharp serrated bread knife to cut the dough into 2 equal pieces. Set pieces aside on a damp surface and grease your pans. (This gives your dough time to “relax” before shaping.) Take one dough section and pat it out on your damp work surface. Shape each piece individually into sandwich loaves, artisan boules, or rolls. Allow the loaves to rise in a warm place for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the dough slowly returns a gentle fingerprint. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the bottom of the loaf reads at least 180 degrees. Remove from pans and allow to cool completely before cutting.

Grammy’s Bread

1/2 cup start (stir before measuring)

2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon coconut oil

5-6 cups whole wheat bread flour

At least 10 hours before baking, combine start, water, salt, and coconut oil in mixer. Add 5 cups of flour, then follow the same directions as the Honey Molasses Sandwich Bread above.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls

One medium potato (peeled and boiled)

3/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tablespoons vanilla

1/2 cup starter

4-5 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

Filling ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

Nuts or raisins for garnish (optional)

Boil the potato, then mash it with buttermilk until smooth. In a separate bowl, use a hand mixer or Danish dough whisk to cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add mashed potato, vanilla, and starter, and mix until well-combined. Pour wet ingredients into bread mixer bowl, then add flour and salt. Knead for 

10 minutes, or until the dough can pass the windowpane test. 

The dough will be soft and somewhat sticky, so don’t get carried away with adding extra flour. When in doubt, use the windowpane test. Place the dough into a large bowl, cover, and let rise for 6 to 14 hours.

Gently pull dough from bowl onto your work surface. Divide the dough into two pieces and place one aside, leaving one on the work surface. Roll or pat the dough into a rectangle of dough no thinner than 1/4 inch. Spread 2 tablespoons of softened butter over the rectangle, leaving a small margin unbuttered along all sides of the dough. Combine your sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture over buttered dough. Try to sprinkle as evenly as possible. Sprinkle nuts, raisins or other garnish across the buttered, sugared dough. Starting on one of the long sides of the rectangle, roll the dough up into one long tube of dough. Using a sharp knife or unflavored dental floss, slice dough into 1 1/2- to 2-inch cinnamon rolls. 

Transfer the cut cinnamon rolls into a greased 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. Cover rolls and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours (or until dough has doubled). 

After the rolls have doubled in size, bake them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until rolls are lightly browned. Be careful not to let them get too brown, or they will harden after cooling. For frosting, combine 3 tablespoons softened cream cheese, 3 tablespoons milk and 1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar. After the rolls have cooled slightly, but while they are still warm, pour and spread frosting over the top.


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