Yeast Bread Chronicles: Lisa’s Kitchen

So how is it that I have been baking (cakes, cookies, quick breads) and writing recipes for the better part of 25 years and I’ve not had more than one or two attempts at working with yeast breads?  I was intimidated, plain and simple.  Turns out it’s not that scary.  After watching the James Beard Award winning Nancy Silverton’s episode of The Chef’s Table on Netflix I was instantly inspired to dive into the yeast bread game.

Here are a couple of interesting facts regarding the types of yeast to keep in mind before you get started:

Active Dry Yeast – This is a dormant form of yeast.  It needs to be rehydrated prior to use. Ideally, the yeast is dissolved in warm water that is approximately 110 degrees F.  Tip: a pinch of sugar helps with the activation of the yeast.  Look for the yeast/water/sugar mixture to bubble and foam after a few minutes.  I used active dry yeast in both of the recipes presented in this blog post.

Instant Yeast: There is no need to dissolve in water prior to use in a recipe.  The yeast granules are smaller that those in active dry yeast.

Both varieties of yeast can be frozen in a covered container. The yeast can be used right from the freezer, there is no need to bring it to room temperature prior to incorporating it.  I bought the yeast used in my recipes in packets but it is available in bulk at many grocers, big box stores and online at amazon.com.

I suspect that engaging with yeast breads and kneading dough must be to a baker like working with your hands in the dirt is to a gardener.  Working the dough, pulling in small amounts of flour as necessary to decrease the stickiness and finally arriving at a beautiful round, ball of dough gave me a true sense of accomplishment.  There was a huge sense of relief when I could see that the dough was rising like it should.  I dreaded getting all the way to the proofing stage only to find that something was amiss.

Below are the two recipes that I started with.  I am reprinting them with the permission of one of my favorite food sites allrecipes.com.

Find the recipe for the King Cakes here

This recipe yields two king cakes.  I was making desserts for a large party so I did not cut the recipe in half as I would have if I was baking for a small group.  The filling was fantastic, cinnamon roll like in its flavor.  There are many different opinions out there on the best King Cake fillings, several reviewers mentioned cream cheese as a preferred filling.  I followed this recipe except I omitted the raisins and the result was well received.  I did add the proverbial plastic baby but made sure to let my guests know to watch for it so as not to have anyone crack a tooth or choke.  Tradition states that whoever finds the baby in their slice is king or queen for the day and has to provided the king cake for the next years celebration. I pushed the baby into the bottom of the cake after baking and before icing.

king-cake-dough
King cake dough, after rising and before baking
two-king-cakes
King cakes on display before cutting and serving

Find the recipe for the French bread pictured below here

This was a marvelous choice for my first foray into yeast bread baking.  The recipe was easy to follow.  I did make a few modifications based on other reviewers experiences.  The biggest alteration being that I made the diagonal cuts in the dough before the second rise rather than after.  This prevents the dough from falling in or collapsing while it rises.  I used a whole egg wash rather than egg white and water prior to baking.  The visible result was an inviting gloss and crunchy exterior.  The interior of the bread was light and airy.  This recipe yields two loaves of bread.  I cut the recipe in half as I was only baking for two.  I found such gratification in being able to serve a loaf of bread that I made with my own two hands.  The bonus: My kitchen smelled amazing while it was baking.

kneading-dough
Kneading the dough (action shot)
proofing-french-bread
French bread loaf before the second rise

My takeaway after watching Nancy’s episode of The Chef’s Table and my own experience is to practice, practice, practice… Nancy perfected her breads, pizza crusts, etc.. after numerous attempts using different ingredients and methods.  Proving that even the James Beard award-winning chefs don’t get it right the first time or often times the second or third.  That’s what makes them great, their intrinsic drive and passion to perfect something regardless of the amount of time it takes.

I plan to keep working with yeast dough and will be sharing my experiences with pizza crusts soon.  Stay tuned….

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