As an over-the-edge foodie, I am always trying various dishes and techniques, and sometimes they turn out so beautifully I fear I can’t live without them. The phrase, “the best thing since sliced bread”, may describe a lot of things, but once I became the mistress, and tamed the little yeast critters, purchased bread just doesn’t cut it anymore.
There is nothing like the aroma of baking bread. When my great aunts (sisters who married my grandmother’s two brothers) came over from Germany as young women, they brought with them little pots of yeast their mother gave them for their new homes. The family kept that yeast going for years until my mother’s generation when, through lack of interest given the availability of store-bought bread, they let it die and tossed it. More’s the pity, it was heavenly. I could honestly smell it when I stepped off the school bus as a kid when my mother had spent the day making bread. I knew there would be bread, buns, and sinfully rich doughnuts all made from that miraculous dough, some put into the freezer for a later day and the remainder just waiting to be gobbled up.
I have made my own yeast using potatoes and hops on occasion, using a recipe from my book, Victoria’s Home Companion; Or, The Whole Art of Cooking but inevitably I’ll be away when it needs to be fed and it will die just like that my aunts brought from Germany. Luckily, if I want a period loaf the Victorians prepared a sponge which rarely sat over 24 hours before it was used in baking, and I can manage that if I want more than packaged yeast.
I’ve also made and kept sourdough starter, but alas, it too can be demanding when it wants to be fed and replenished.
The loaves in the photo below were made from purchased yeast, with potato in the dough, which makes a really nice bread.
The difference between hard rectangles or rounds of dough akin to what Ellie Mae Clampet might have turned out, and a soft loaf with beautiful crust is allowing the yeast to grow and mature without rushing through the process, and to give it a warm but not hot environment in which to produce gases which in turn make the bread rise. Another mistake I used to make was using water that was too warm in which to bloom the yeast. Warm is good, hot is bad.
My favorites are a loaf I make from rye, whole wheat, and a little white bread flour, buttermilk bread, oatmeal bread, Anadama, and Sally Lunn. There’s something rewarding about seeing the dough rise and then there’s the sheer pleasure of eating it fresh from the oven.
Blissful Meals, yall, The Historic Foodie