I want to make Ethiopian injera bread at home, but the recipes I've seen are inconsistent about whether a bread starter is needed. Do I need to use a sourdough starter? Can I use baker's yeast, or perhaps make due without a starter?
The traditional Injera is made with wild yeast. Basically, you mix the ingredients and let it sit for 2-3 days to ferment. The wild yeast just finds it, and it works fine. However, the time it takes to ferment changes based on the average presence of yeast in the air and things like that, so it changes from batch to batch.
As a shortcut, and mostly for consistency of results, you can use a sourdough starter. In fact, once you've made your first batch, you can keep an Injera starter, so that you're still just using Teff flour.
To be fair, the biggest factor in fermentation time is usually the ambient temperature, rather than the source of the yeast.
With acknowledgement to the introduction of @franko's answer: I've made injera at home several times, with mixed results. I've tried:
- no added yeast or starter: just autolyse and whatever wild yeast happens to be in the teff flour or in the air. I did this twice (that I recall); both were basically successful although took a long time (~3 days) and were more sour than I wanted.
- my (wheat) sourdough starter: active, and enough quantity to ferment the flour in the amount of time I wanted (12 to 36 hours, or more perhaps). This was okay, but to get the leavening and flavor I wanted I had to use a lot of starter, so it diluted the teff more than I wanted.
- a small pinch of commercial yeast (a small number of grains of regular active dry yeast). The flavor was still sour (small amount of yeast yields more time for bacteria/sourness to develop) but had good leavening, 100% teff, and predictable (and predictable) rise time.
Personally, I preferred the results of the commercial yeast attempt, although this is likely the "least authentic" strategy. Likely the best strategy is to cultivate your own teff starter (as suggested by @Carmi), but you probably need to really like injera to maintain same.
Some thoughts for higher probability of success:
- Use the best teff flour you can find. Organic, fresh, and minimally processed will be better bets; these will be more likely to have higher amounts of nutrients and wild critters intact.
- If you bake a lot of bread (of any type) you've probably cultivated a kitchen (and techniques) that will foster good sourdough.
The injera I've had at restaurants seems "whiter" (and lighter and tastier ...) than what I have been able to produce. I use a flour that is rather brown, which I assume is due to it being whole-meal. Might be worth trying refined (non-wholemeal) teff.
The rest depends on your approach and goals: Make this all the time, or one-off? Do you make lots of other sourdough or breads?