Lessons 26 & 27 — Learning to Bake with Yeast

Module 2 promised to be quite different from module 1 in that I felt like this was when the program was really starting. Module 1 was created as an introduction to techniques and ingredients, but by module 2 we were expected to already understand all of that and be ready to dig in and create some breads.

I come from a family line of bakers, but this did nothing to diminish my fear of making bread. Lesson 26 began and I found myself lost in a discussion of yeast, gluten and proofing.

My first recipe, Semolina Bread, had directions that went as follows:

  1. Straight dough mixing method, by hand.
  2. Ferment.
  3. Deflate.
  4. Divide into 3 pieces
  5. Shape into oval or braided loaves
  6. Proof, wash with water and strew with sesame seeds.
  7. Bake at 450 degrees with steam.

Hu? What on earth could they be talking about? It seemed like another language. But as class went on it all started to make sense.

Almost every bread recipe starts with a similar step of needing to dissolve the yeast in a warm liquid. The tricky part is that yeast dies at 140 degrees. If the water is much too hot, the yeast will die. If the water is a little too warm, the yeast will be too active which will lead to a shorter fermentation time and therefore less flavor in the final product. Yeast has two main functions in the baked goods it is used in: flavor and rising. If you don’t give it the proper temperature liquid to be dissolved in, it cannot fulfill these functions – so in short it is quite a temperamental ingredient!

The semolina bread we made was pretty bland which was mostly due to the method we used to make it – which was the one step method. In lesson 27 we were introduced to a more flavorful method of baking bread which is the two step method. For the two step method you need to a sponge, essentially a preferment which gives the yeast time to develop better flavor before being killed in the oven. Using this method we were able to bake up some delicious black and olive bread.

To end class, we began working on a sour-dough starter. Some restaurants have their starters from when the restaurant was first opened. The longer a starter has been sitting around the more flavor it’s got in it. Creating a starter was very simple, all you need is some water and flour. Mix the two together in a clean container and keep it in a warm area (possible on top of the fridge). On the second through forth days, keep adding flour and water. By day four, you should start to see the starter bubbling in the container. On day five, discard half of your starter and add more flour and water. After one week, you no longer need to maintain the starter daily. Discarding half and “feeding” it once a week should be sufficient. That’s it!

Next up baguettes!

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