Sunday, May 24, 2020

Adventures with yeast.

As you know, ever since mid-March, certain things have been difficult to find at the store. Toilet paper and paper towels are among them, of course; ditto for hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Around La Casa Cantwell, I've begun to see TP and paper towels returning to shelves, especially if I go fairly early in the day. (You have to actually go, I'm convinced; if you order it from a delivery service, you'll never get it.) I actually picked up a couple of bottles of no-name hand sanitizer at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. I brought one inside and left one in the care of Eli, my Kia Niro. Eli lives in an underground garage, so there's zero danger of the bottle spontaneously combusting in sunlight (and Snopes says it won't happen anyway).

But other things have disappeared from store shelves, too. Flour, for instance. And yeast. For a while at the beginning of the stay-home order, 100% whole wheat bread was another thing that was always out of stock. Apparently once everybody stocked up on TP, they decided to spend the next six or seven weeks of their time at home baking bread.

I used to have little envelopes of active dry yeast that I kept in the freezer. Alas, when I checked them about six months ago, they were long past their expiration date, so I threw them out. If only I'd known!

So I could only look at posts on social media about the delicious baked goods my friends had made, and sigh. But then I read an email from our local Great Harvest Bread outpost, saying if you asked, they would sell you some of their yeast. So I stopped in and asked, and they did! Except it didn't come in a little packet like I was used to.

*Fresh* yeast? Whut?
It turns out that real bakeries use fresh yeast. It comes in a big block, I guess, and you lop off however much you need for the number of loaves you're making. I'm told it's the same as the compressed yeast, or cake yeast, that I used to see in stores when I was a kid. I haven't seen it in a long time, though, and I've never baked with it. I always just bought the little packets.

Luckily I have friends in the UK, where grocers are not as squeamish about selling fresh yeast to home bakers, and they told me how to use it. It's mixed in at a different point in the process. Dry yeast is added to the liquids (water or milk, depending), and you have to be persnickety about the temperature of those liquids or you will kill your yeast. (I used to make all my own sandwich bread. I might have killed the yeast a few times.) Fresh yeast, or wet yeast, is added with the dry ingredients, and then you add your liquids, and the liquids don't have to be quite as warm. (Here is more info about liquid temperature rules for different types of yeast.)

The process didn't seem difficult -- I mean, people have been making things with yeast for hundreds of thousands of years, and it didn't always come in little packets -- so last weekend I gave it a whirl. I had a can of poppy seed filling and a powerful need to make a coffee cake. But after I talked up the project to Amy, I realized I'd have to make it gluten free. No worries -- we had measure-for-measure gluten free flour.

What I forgot was that baking with gluten free flour is a science unto itself. The coffee cake rose, but not much. It was very dense. And I also put too much butter in the streusel topping, so it ended up in big glops on top instead of little crumbles. The coffee cake tasted okay, mostly, but it was a far cry from what I had envisioned.

Major poppy seed coffee cake fail. Sadness!
I put the remainder of the yeast back in the fridge. Last night I remembered it was there, and I also remembered a friend mentioning they'd made raised waffles using sourdough starter. So there I was at 12:30 a.m., mixing yeast waffle batter with gluten free flour -- and there I was at 2:00 a.m., stirring it down and putting it in the fridge so I could make waffles this morning.

Which I did. And they were good.

Raised waffles. Yummers!
At this point you're probably expecting a recipe, so here is the one my mother gave me for raised waffles. Looks like she got it from a bag of Gold Medal flour. I made half the recipe (using two eggs instead of three) and got 10 waffles, so we each had three. Also, because I was using the wet yeast, I did it backwards: I mixed the flour, sugar, and salt together, crumbled the yeast on top, and then added the milk and the other stuff. It was fine.

2 cups lukewarm milk
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt

Crumble into mixture 1 cake compressed yeast or 1 package dry yeast. Stir until yeast is dissolved.

Beat in:
3 eggs
1/4 c. soft butter
2 c. flour (The recipe calls for Gold Medal "Kitchen Tested" Enriched Flour. I used Bob's Red Mill GF cup-for-cup to use it up. King Arthur's GF cup-for-cup is better. The recipe also calls for sifting the flour, but I was not interested in sifting flour at midnight.)

Cover, let rise at 85 degrees for about 90 minutes. Stir down, cover, and set in refrigerator overnight or until ready to use.

Stir down again. Pour onto hot waffle iron. Bake until brown and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes.

Fair warning: The recipe claims to make about eight 7" waffles, but my handwritten note says, "Hah! Made about 18 waffles..." Which is why I mixed up only a half batch last night. Thanks for the tip, past me!

These moments of adventurously yeasty blogginess have been provided, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Whether you're cooking or not, wash your hands!

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