Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Yeast: We're Still Getting to Know Each Other

"Have low expectations of each experiment but high expectations of yourself to keep at it."

I'll be honest. I'm no gourmet cook. But, in another life, I would be a master baker. I would dive into culinary classes, learn the art of cream puffs and petit fours, tease my friends and family with a loaf of freshly baked bread that I whipped up, on the fly.

Yeast would be my friend.

But, I studied literature in college; I rarely thought about baking. The closest I came to rising dough was during my junior year, when I worked behind the counter at a bakery shop. It was only after I married and had kids (i.e., two finicky eaters, one of whom is allergic to eggs) that I dreamed of making everything from scratch and discovered that baking, like writing, is a mixture of chemistry and art.

Especially when it comes to yeast.

Talk about finicky.

I've made Easy Bread Dough from my Betty Crocker cookbook, attempted a more difficult recipe for Whole Wheat Molasses Bread, and subjected my family to several experiments in pizza crusts. What I've learned is that "easy" is a relative term, whole wheat bread can rise like a boulder (and weigh the same in the end), and pizza dough can taste like cardboard.

But, I keep at it. Working with yeast is like writing for me.  Victoria said it well in her post here last week, when she paired crafting a story with the art of the pastry:
...[R]ewriting and reworking a recipe is the same thing--it comes from the desire to make something good and finding out you need more practice, more poetry books, and a lower oven temp.
Practice. And, persistence. After I read her post, I donned my apron, pulled out my most recent pizza dough recipe, and then approached a sack of flour and a handful of yeast with determination.

The early work of measuring and mixing went well and yielded a pretty ball of dough.

I covered it and let it rise, knowing that Yeast doesn't like me to hover. Later, I rolled out the dough and created a near picture-perfect crust. Look at that, I thought.

I celebrated by loading up the pizza with extra cheese.


Into the oven.
And, pray.

I won't lie. It wasn't the best-ever, but this crust was better than the last. And, that's all that matters.

Do you have a special brand of yeast that works every time? I need to know.


  1. I have to confess; I'm afraid of yeast. Baking with it that is. I've done it a few times but always wait in trepidation for the results.

    I know that some people swear by yeast cakes that you have to keep in the fridge as opposed to the little packets of Fleishman's.

    My German aunts used to bake all their own bread, and my mom makes bread and rolls. I just can't seem to get over my fear. Yeast for me is like deboning Julia Child's duck. :-)

  2. Christine,

    Waiting with trepidation, that's me too. I haven't tried yeast cakes. Where do you even find those? In the refrigerated section of the store?

    And deboning a duck?... Lordy, that's fodder for a post of its own!

  3. My lack of knowledge about yeast is rather appalling, so I won't dare to chime in about that, but I love Yuvi's quote and this great idea for a blog!

    I've been thinking a lot about writing and food because my annual writing retreat is coming up. The challenge is to pack seven days of ingredients that I can turn into one-person meals all week. I find on this particular retreat, I get some of the best thinking done while cooking.

  4. Laura,
    Your retreat sounds wonderful! I'd love to see what meals you come up with. And, of course, I hope your days are filled with lots of writing. Have fun!