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Dax Tran-Caffee
Level 4: 608 points
Alltime Score: 4123 points
Last Logged In: July 7th, 2014
BADGE: Journey To The End Of The Night Organizer TEAM: Team Shplank TEAM: CGØ TEAM: Real Name TEAM: Public Library Zero TEAM: League of Human Hybrids TEAM: Bike Society For Nihilistic Intent And Disruptive Efforts Rank 1: Anti


55 + 245 points

Wild Yeast by Dax Tran-Caffee, Terpsichore

April 1st, 2008 8:55 PM

INSTRUCTIONS: Capture Wild Yeast.

Extra points for capturing the elusive "original" San Francisco Sourdough yeast (Candida Humilis with Lactobacillus Sanfrancisco).


- smaller



Everything I need to capture the Wild Yeast.

Flour, water, and sugar... the traps are surprisingly easy to concoct (in retrospect, this should not have been a level 3 task). Airborn yeast spores, which can be found nearly anywhere, will supposedly fall into the traps and begin devouring the bait, fermenting it and transforming it into Starter.

After manufacture, each Wild Yeast Live Trap is sealed immediately, labeled with its future location, and stored in the cooling tank until it is ready to be dropped off.

Chapter 2: RED HEN BREAD

 Chapter 2:  RED HEN BREAD

Enter the object of desire: this here is a fine specimen of artisan sourdough, purchased from the Red Hen bakery for an exorbitant amount of "dough."

Red Hen bread is the tastiest bread in Chicagø!

1623 N Milwaukee Ave

1623 N Milwaukee Ave

Red Hen Bread - location #1. A trap is set just around the corner from the front door, ready to pounce.

500 W Division Pkwy

500 W Division Pkwy

Red Hen Bread - location #2. This trap is nestled in a dark alcove beneath the bakery's rear window, certain to tempt a wayward Red Hen Yeast.

At the designated pickup time, approximately 2 days after the drop-off, the Diversey trap is nowhere to be seen! What had happened? Had the Dept. of Homeland Security been here, or did a pack of WIld Yeast abscond with the bait AND the trap?

Fortunately, I had placed the Milwaukee trap in paper bag at the last minute before leaving the first drop-off location - and lo and behold, the trap remains... through wind, cold, dead of night, and a brief afternoon blizzard.

But have I capture any yeast? This remains to be seen... I take it home, feed it more flour & sugar, then wait and watch for activity.

After a day, the Milwaukee trap begins emitting a foul odor. I have not captured Yeast at all, but one of the billions of other species of microbe that flourish in Chicagø... So what went wrong? How could I have failed? Where was the Yeast?



As it turns out, Red Hen Bread does not bake the bread at either of their two retail locations. The once-helpful saleswoman at 1623 Milkwaukee refuses to tell me where the bread is coming from... but with a little bit of gumshoeing, Google Maps spills the beans.

250 N Western proves to be a small, unmarked building in a shady part of town. There is no suggestion that this is a bakery at all - or even an occupied space.

But in the alley are two dumpsters. And in this one, there is BREAD.

I set a trap underneath a convenient crate, directly beneath this enormous vent, spewing hot air... which smells deliciously like baking bread. While making the drop-off, an unmarked white van pulls into a facing parking lot, and the driver bespies me poking around by the wheels of this luxury automobile (presumably the bakery manager's). I snap this picture and make a speedy getaway.

2 days later, I return to my suspicious little trap. To my surprise, it has remained... I am sure to have captured Yeast this time! I take the specimen home, feed it, and wait...

But by the end of the day, this trap too becomes foul to smell. No yeast, but colonies and colonies of common mold.

But no worries. I had the presence of mind to set a FOURTH TRAP in my own kitchen, which by now had captured a significant amount of truly Wild Yeast that had been hanging out in my very own home. At this point, I had been feeding the home-captured Yeast for two days, and had cultivated a lively, deliciously smelling Starter. Who knew it could be so easy?

Chapter 4: TAKE IT TO TASK

Chapter 4: TAKE IT TO TASK

But the question of whether I had caught a viable baker's yeast still remains. The only way to know: bake a loaf of sourdough. This would be my first attempt ever to make bread out of dough, and I would be doing it without knowing if my yeast would even rise. But the web is a saving grace when it comes to instructions... first, I must overfeed the the Starter, which transforms it into Sponge (shown above).

After the Sponge becomes active, I must remember to set some aside to become the next batch's Starter.

Baking ingredients need to be added to the Sponge: minuscule amounts of salt, sugar, and oil - then flour is stirred slowly in until the batter becomes dough.

The dough must be kneaded by hand.

Terpsichore confirms the rich smell of Yeast.

Then comes the first rise, a moment of uncertainty: some yeasts can "double" the dough within an hour, while others can take upwards of 6 hours. How will my yeast perform? Only the poke test can determine that.

2 hours later, the poke test is successful. Punch that shit down.

Now the dough must be kneaded again. Terpsichore kneads this time.

The bread must be shaped, then baked. The oven cannot be preheated, or the yeast will be killed before the dough can rise again.

And the result? A tiny lump of bread that weighs more than when we put it in the oven. In baking terms, a Brick. But I am not deterred - everyone must bake a Brick before they can bake a Bread... sometimes several. I try again, postulating the following mistakes: 1) the Starter was not given enough time to transform into Sponge, 2) the Sponge was given too much flour, making it into a stiff putty, not a tacky dough, 3) the room was of insufficient temperature to promote proper rising, 4) the second kneading was too long, destroying the gases trapped by the first rise, 5) we completely forgot to give the loaf a second rise (!), 6) your first loaf must always be a Brick, and that's the rules.

Chapter 5: BREAD

 Chapter 5:  BREAD

On my second attempt, I have this. Not as fluffy as I desired, and with a very thin crust, but definitely edible. The taste is still sketchy, but that's what you get when you're using low-brow yeast.



For my victory lap, I feed my first successful loaf of bread to my coworkers. This is a big deal, as three of said coworkers are in fact breadmakers, including my mentor, Blair Thomas (not pictured), who demands to know my process. Curiously, puppets and bread baking are often linked, which is largely due to the legacy of Peter Schumann and the venerable Bread & Puppet Theater ( My first loaf of Sourdough is, as it were, a significant checkpoint in my Apprenticeship at Blair Thomas & Co.


Meredith doesn't even mind the heavy taste of the Wild Yeast.


49 vote(s)

Favorite of:


bread, cooking

22 comment(s)

posted by Dax Tran-Caffee on April 1st, 2008 9:16 PM

While writing up the task, I baked two loaves. Much better results.


(no subject)
posted by JTony Loves Brains on April 1st, 2008 9:20 PM

You're making me hungry, Dax and Terpsichore! And I live in sourdoughtown!

(no subject)
posted by Loki on April 1st, 2008 9:23 PM

Very nice!

And, it leads me to wonder if such espionage exists in the world of professional baking.

punch that shit down!
posted by Julian Muffinbot on April 1st, 2008 9:34 PM

Not only is this completion awesome, but it is so very true about Red Hen bread being the best bread in chicag0land! I am sad that your attempts to capture the elusive Red Hen yeast were defeated by the legions of inferior microbes, but it is pretty awesome that you captured the yeast that was trying to hide in your very home, under your very nose.

Yeast is the best microbe ever (well, after slime molds).
posted by susy derkins on April 1st, 2008 9:49 PM

Exciting and inspiring and pleasing for all senses (I am thinking about the sound of the last loaves vs the first glorious brick). And a gift for friends. And detective work.
Fantastic. As always. Thanks.

(no subject)
posted by teucer on April 1st, 2008 10:45 PM

Damn, I started a starter a while ago that I find produces lovely results, and then forgot that was a task.

Props for doing it, and now I'm going to absolutely have to turn my favorite wild brewing yeast into a reproduceable and distributable strain - something I've been meaning to do anyway and this task has reminded me of.

(no subject)
posted by susy derkins on April 1st, 2008 11:26 PM

Yes, freeze dry it and send it all over the globe, so that 100+ SF0 players bake and distribute the same awesome bread at the same time! Saccharomyces sp. (DokHarmonii strain), for SFØ Bread day!

Dumpsters and baking.
posted by Herbie Hatman on April 1st, 2008 11:32 PM

As a culinary enthusiast who is intimidated by baking... this was a delight.

As a regular to the local bread dumpster... this was a delight.

(no subject)
posted by Dax Tran-Caffee on April 2nd, 2008 9:02 AM

Kombucha you say...

(no subject)
posted by teucer on April 2nd, 2008 12:51 PM

Dax and Terpsichore - I'd be interested in comparing flavors of starters from different places. If you'd be interested as well, I'll bring a bit of mine and we can trade starter samples at Journey.

(no subject)
posted by Dax Tran-Caffee on April 2nd, 2008 2:06 PM

I'd just like to warn everyone that the flavor of the starter I caught here in my kitchen is... well, it's not premium. It tastes quite a bit like my downstairs neighbor smells.

But it does make bread!

(no subject)
posted by teucer on April 2nd, 2008 2:16 PM


In that case I'm definitely bringing you a sample of mine.

(no subject)
posted by Ink Tea on April 2nd, 2008 2:38 PM

Oh man, I've been wanting to do this since reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (My mother is a fanTAStic breadmaker, and I've been known to make a great oliveoil rosemary bread), AND I love Bread and Puppet Theatre (Politics + Puppets = awesome, emphasis on the awe). You kids rock. This captures my happy little heart.

(no subject)
posted by zer0gee on April 2nd, 2008 4:36 PM

Yay! You survived! :D

(no subject)
posted by Zhee Meatss Needz Cheffing on April 2nd, 2008 4:47 PM

cheeffffff iets meets boot he-a leekes yuoor breed tuu.

(no subject)
posted by Secret Agent on April 2nd, 2008 6:01 PM

This is beautiful and I'm so jealous. I've been wanting to build a starter for years, but my complete inability to be in the same place at the same time on a regular basis makes it sort of futile. One day I'll settle enough to do it though, and make Apple Sourdough Muffins like my mum did once (if you want the recipe for them I'll see if I can prod her for it).

(no subject)
posted by Dax Tran-Caffee on April 3rd, 2008 6:03 PM

Apple Sourdough Muffins sounds wonderful! Recipe Please.

(no subject)
posted by Secret Agent on April 4th, 2008 2:10 AM

Mum's on the case. Delving into her thorough but inscrutable (to me) recipe filing system. Will post the result up here.

(no subject)
posted by meredithian on April 7th, 2008 11:33 AM

impressive! my few attempts at breadmaking have yielded bricks, too. but capturing yeast and using it to produce something edible! wow. the time/effort/knowledge of yeast exemplified in this task indicates that your progress with bread is sure to skyrocket.

(no subject)
posted by Dax Tran-Caffee on April 7th, 2008 4:40 PM

I baked my first white-flour sourdough last night, and it came out splendid. Turns out that most of the bitter flavor I was tasting earlier was due to the whole wheat flour.

The Wild Yeast I have, by today's appraisal, is in reality quite mild in flavor. Oh well.

(no subject)
posted by teucer on April 7th, 2008 5:31 PM

Mine's pretty bland too. It yields something that tastes like fine bread, but doesn't taste much like a classic "sourdough". Perhaps the midwestern lactobacilli just suck?

If you want something with a more classic taste, you should probably either ask one of our resident San Franciscans, or try getting some of these guys' starter.

(no subject)
posted by steve rules on July 5th, 2008 7:39 AM

who knew yeast could be so elusive. nice work catching it though!