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My New Relationship With Yeast by Kelly Sears

After the cork pops, the ball drops, and all the decorations are put away, it’s time for the resolutions; the promises.  The time when we vow to turn the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s from the past year into motion in the new one.

The New Year to me is a clean sheet of white paper and a box of ten new pencils.  I love pencils, they allow forgiveness; a quick erase and the to-do list of twenty can become fifteen with just a flip upside down and a couple of sturdy set of swipes from left to right. Pencils allow for breathing room, edits, scratch outs and drafts.  Pen is permanent and seems super strict. For those of you under 25, a pencil is made of wood, has a strip of graphite running down the middle, starts sharp, after a series of bright ideas and big plans, whittles down to dull, can be sharpened again and you hold it in your hand and write on paper. Genius!

With the clean sheet of paper and the sharp new pencil, I write a list of things I would like to learn in the new year. My list rarely includes quitting a bad habit, losing pounds, or starting some new system.  These seem like processes to me; adjustments that require life changes to be successful, and a completely different blog post!

Some years the list includes things I fear, some years it includes things I haven’t made time for, in other years, on the list is something I think I should know, and yet others, that list includes something that seems really cool to know. In 2017 among other things, my list included learning to knit (epic fail), trying bungee Pilates (the comedic value alone was worth the effort), make a really good pie (satisfying), and baking a better loaf of bread (yes!!).

I’m not sure how I could have a friendship that has withstood forty years and a marriage of nearly thirty, and I couldn’t figure out how to have a relationship with yeast.  Sometimes, getting better at something starts with one move, deciding to do so. Whatever material you built the wall from to mentally stop you from doing it, is usually not made of kryptonite and usually crumbles once you make the decision to take action. Even doing nothing is doing something.

Back to bread, I enrolled myself in a four day boot camp in Ann Arbor at Zingerman’s Bakehouse.  For four days I surrounded myself with all things yeast and dough, shut my mouth and opened my ears.  Life Changing!

I embraced this new skill with gusto.  Soon I was baking six or seven loaves of bread a week and had multiple varieties of sourdough starter feasting. I purchased proofing baskets, lames, linen couches, and cast iron loaf pans.  My countertops continually had something rising at different stages and I asked my husband if he could build me a proofing box.  It was at this point, I got the look.  The look you get after nearly thirty years of marriage, the one that requires no words.  This look, in my world, usually translates to “perhaps we are taking this bread thing a bit too far;” grab some reins, apply the brakes.

He’s usually right.  My new found skills tend to teeter on obsession.  In my quest to master, I forget time and space, I forget the real reason I began the journey to begin with.  Learning a skill is all about empowerment; education + knowledge = power.  Once you learn how to do something you didn’t know how to do before, you no longer have to rely on others to do something for you.  Intrepidation is stifling. Remove hesitation and the results are unharnessed creativity and freedom.

As with most things one fears, once you face it, it’s never that scary, and the lessons learned transcend just bread making and baking.  On the journey to soft rolls, French loaves, cinnamon swirl breakfast bread, multigrain sandwich loaf, sourdough boules, crusty peasant bread, and warm brioche, this is what happened…..

Patience– like good conversation, friendship, wine, and marriage, a really good loaf of bread takes time

Renewed commitment – sourdough starter, when ignored for too long dies, if you feed it a little everyday it flourishes.  It only takes a little energy every day to keep the fire burning, without it, the light will go out.

Trust your instincts – even if the instructions say one thing, listen, smell, taste, adjust; follow your gut

Create a good environment – goodness thrives in a happy place

Recycle – stale bread = croutons, toast, and bread crumbs, heals are the best part of the loaf and make the best mop to sop of the bottom of the bowl, mistakes still taste good even if they don’t look good, save some of the dough to create the next loaf, old dough makes new dough taste better

Close your mouth and open your ears – it’s amazing what you can hear when you turn your voice off and your ears on!

Share – most recipes yield two loaves for a reason; eat one, share one.  They taste better that way.

Whatever your paper and pencil have in store for you this New Year, embrace the results.  Even with epic fails, you never stop learning. Keep tweaking; adjusting, trying new things, you just might learn something completely different along the way.

 

Warm Dinner Rolls
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Ingredients
  1. 12.5 ounces water (room temperature)
  2. .375 ounces instant yeast
  3. 21 ounces bread flour
  4. 2 teaspoons salt
  5. 1 ounce sugar
  6. .5 ounce non-fat milk solids
  7. 2 ounces butter, softened
  8. Egg wash: one egg, one tablespoon milk
  9. Sea salt for sprinkling on top
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl combine the water, yeast and half the bread flour. Stir together until the mixture is shaggy. Add the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Using a bench scraper, spin the bowl as you scoop around the outside of the bowl, tossing the dough towards the middle of the bowl with each turn. Once the dough comes together in a rough ball, spill the dough out onto the counter (no flour!). Work the dough together into a tighter ball and then knead until the dough is soft and smooth. Press the inside of your wrist against the dough, if it doesn’t stick, the dough is ready to rest. (this process should take about five minutes or a little less if you put a little muscle into it)
  3. Place dough in an lightly oiled ball, cover and proof until double in size- about an hour in the right conditions – around 80-85 degrees.
  4. Scale the dough into 1 oz. size; Make up rolls into desired shapes. Place rolls 2 inches apart on paper-lined baking sheets. Proof until double in size (about 30-45 minutes).
  5. Egg wash; dust with salt, bake at 400 degrees until brown – about 20 minutes.
Marcel's Culinary Experience https://www.marcelsculinaryexperience.com/

 

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