Bread in the Time of Corona
All sorrows are less with bread. - Cervantes
As the first stay-at-home orders started to fall, I started planning for long stretches between grocery runs. Bread was gone from the stores. Around here, no matter the calamity, people snatch up all the bread. Hurricane French Toast must be super popular, with all the milk, eggs, and bread that fly off the shelves.
No worries. I know how to make bread! I learned in high school home ec, which gives me 40+ years of experience. From Russian black loaves to brioche, all the breads danced in my head.
Then the yeast shortage hit. A major manufacturer was in China, and had been hit hard. With my carbotarian diet in jeopardy, I turned to homemade leaveners. I made a trade for some sourdough starter, but I also wanted to try making my own. After a bit of research, I decided to try yeast water made from dates.
I used this tutorial from King Arthur Flour. I highly recommend watching the video linked in that post. It’s entertaining, and cleared up several questions.
The only correct size bottle I had on hand was from ginger ale. The green color wasn’t ideal for watching the yeast grow, but it worked well enough. It was really cool to see the transformation. The dates ended up looking like apple slices as they lost color and sugar to the water.
Halfway through the process, I was getting bubbles powerful enough to spritz out after shaking.
After 10 days, it was time to make the leaven, or starter. I used 1 cup (227 g) yeast water (filtering out fruit bits), and 2 scant cups (227g) flour as the recipe said, to make a gloopy blob. That had to rest for 16 hours. Nothing about this is fast-paced or frantic, just perfect for the slow drag of quarantine.
I put the dough blob in the oven with the light on, from 6 pm to 10 am. It was covered with a tea towel, but a loose layer of plastic wrap would have kept the blob from getting crusty overnight.
Following this recipe, I started making the bread. The recipe says to add salt after mixing in flour and water and letting it rest. I did that, and had some trouble with the salt not being evenly distributed in the bread. Next time, I’ll add it to the flour first. My dough rose beautifully. I had none of the problems from the tutorial link. The bread came out of the oven around 7:30 pm. Waiting for it to cool was sheer torture! But, oh, so worth it. While the loaves didn’t have the large interior bubbles (the goal in this style loaf), it did have the perfect chewy, crusty texture. There is the slightest hint of sweetness to the bread, which I may enhance in future loaves with the addition of dates.
This would be a great process for kids. Watching the yeast develop is fascinating. It doesn’t require precision or skill, just patience and a bit of muscle for kneading. This bread took 10-12 minutes of kneading to produce the right smoothness and elasticity. If you practice affirmations, working with the dough is the perfect time with its repetitions. I find it very peaceful and satisfying.
I just ate the last of my loaf for lunch, so it’s time to start again. Give it a try yourself, and let me know how yours works out!