Rise Up, SAF Yeast!

loaf of brdI’m nothing if not curious and tight-fisted.

For a couple of years at the start of my cooking career, I made mediocre bread from Mollie Katzen’s book, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It starts with a sponge, which is a mixture of yeast, water and flour that bubbles into a puffy foam. Then you mix that puffy foam with 1 cup of liquid and 3 cups of flour and the other ingredients, like flour, sugar, eggs or butter and it puffs up the whole mixture.

    Sponge is an old-world way to bake, and presumes you’re skimping on yeast. It just takes a little yeast, less than a spoonful, to make a sponge. The yeast cells multiply in the flour-water mixture, creating more yeast and a greater volume. You can save a little of the sponge from one baking session to another so you always have yeast on hand. Bread was raised that way for hundreds of years until someone figured out how to make active dry yeast.

Unfortunately, it makes dry bread. To me, anyway. Since I didn’t know there was a way to fix that problem, I just kept making dry bread. After all, that’s what butter and cheese are for — making dry bread edible. Katzen came through town on a tour to promote the 20th anniversary of the Moosewood Cookbook, I told  her about my dry results. She said I wasn’t the first person to tell her that.

    • Looking back, it’s possible that any number of other things were going wrong — sorry Mollie! — but when I switched cookbooks, the breads undeniably turned out better.  The

Joy of Cooking

    •  has good basic bread recipes, and James Beard’s bread recipes are just about my favorite. When I want to make something Southern or colonial, I use

Bill Neal’s

Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie

It’s the book I used for making the anadama bread.

The English muffins were made from Beatrice Ojakangas’s Great Whole Grain Breads, about which I’ve gushed many times. Nearly every recipe in it gives great results, which is really kind of a feat, since she’s working with dozens of cultures and dozens of different flours, bread shapes, rising and baking techniques.The book has been in and out of print twice, and is now back in print. If you’ve ever published a book, you knowhow easy it is to get lost in the crowd, and how good the book has to be to get back into print, twice.

    But I digress. Some time between the anadama bread and the English muffins, the kilo bag of SAF Instant yeast sort of lost its fizz. I never pay attention to expiration dates, especially on yeast. Because archaeologists, like, find yeast in the pharoahs’ tombs that can still be used to make beer. So I didn’t hesitate to buy the kilo of yeast in mid-2006. I really like SAFG yeast — it powers dough mightily upward, smells better than other yeasts and gives that nice smell to the bread.

Then the amount of baking in my house slowed greatly for work and dietary reasons.

    When I cracked open the yeast again for English muffins in the fall of 2008, Inoticed that most of it didn’t “bloom” in warm water. So I tried again, using warmer water and setting the bowl on a warm stove. A little more bloomed. But then the dough didn’t rise well — after 3 hours it still hadn’t doubled. I used it for English muffins, so that worked well.

stacked Eng muffns

But I’m still left with about a pound of lame yeast. WTF? What to do with lame yeast? Anyone else ever have this problem?