Friday, May 21, 2010

Much Ado About Yeast

When we were preparing to take on this challenge, I read Plenty: Eating Locally on the 100 Mile Diet, and essentially cursed myself with bad bread karma because I laughed at what I thought was the absurdity of a loving relationship between two people being in jeopardy because they don’t have bread.  Now, don’t get me wrong, our relationship is as healthy as ever, but anyone who knows me and has had to be around me talking about food for more than 5 minutes knows that I am going through some serious bread drama.  Unlike the couple in the 100 mile diet, we have access to a wide variety of flour (although none of it is my much loved, white all purpose standby), but something they neglect to talk about in the book and in fact something that Barbara Kingsolver neglects to talk about (as she talks about how easy it is to have your local, made from scratch pizza crust every Friday) is what makes the bread light and fluffy…YEAST!!!!  Going into this challenge, I didn’t realize the effect that these little microbes can have on my diet, but apparently the United States is not a fountain of yeast production.  Once I had searched for some time for a company that even sources their yeast in the United States and failed to find one, I decided to take a look at history.  Surely yeast comes from somewhere and the folks way back when couldn’t just run down to the local Kroger for a package of Instant Dry Yeast.  What did they do?  They made sourdough starters (I know there are other starters that can be made, but they are a bit complicated for me right now, especially after you see the issues I have with this most common variety). 

First, I tried to make my own, which involves mixing flour and water in a jar and having it sit out for some wild yeasties to land in.  Unfortunately, after quite some time passed and my starter did not bubble at all (in fact it became like a disgusting lab experiment gone wrong), I came to see that my kitchen is not a hub for these microbes.  I searched high and low calling local bakeries asking for a bit of their sourdough starters, but believe it or not, a LOT of the bakeries in the area import their ingredients like that.  However, after a while, I hunted down two generous bakers that provided me with a starter each.  Your starter is kind of like a weird pet that, like a cat or a dog, can make your house stink if you make it angry.  You have to feed it the right proportions of warm water and flour and these amounts vary depending on whether you are planning to use it or not.  Your starter can keep indefinitely and goes into a kind of hibernation mode in the refrigerator where you just feed it once a week or so.  I did not treat my starters very well because I kept forgetting them, but I got one nice and frothy and made a loaf of bread.  The bread wasn’t bad (it rose over the pan I had it in) although it was a little heartier than I would like (aka I want fluffier bread).  I let the yeast build back up for a while (it stunk up the kitchen pretty well since it is SOURdough).  During the clip_image002next round, I tried to make two smaller loaves which, as you can see, managed to not rise at all and turned out more like biscotti (Jacob quite liked them but it’s not my ideal).  Shortly after that, I tried another recipe and got one that rose a little more but was still pretty tough and flat.  To make matters worse, my most active starter got infected with mold, so down the drain it went.  Now I have one in hibernation in the refrigerator, and frankly, I’m not sure if it even has any yeasties in it any more…I’m wondering what the heck these people who wrote books about eating local did about yeast, because they don’t mention it at all and it seems to be a huge issue with me!!!  If anyone knows of any yeast produced in the United States (ideally Ohio but if not, we’ll make do), please tell me who they are and where to get it!!!  I finally caved and bought a package of ‘organic’ dry active yeast from Germany (insert guilty face here) because I just want a little edible bread that doesn’t resemble the consistency of a brick.  Give me some advice Barbara Kingsolver, because I want some Friday pizza too!

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