It’s time for a confession.
I consider myself a more than competent bread baker. I’ve been baking bread at home since I was in my pre-teens, at university and even on a 72-foot gaff ketch across the Bay of Biscay (think less kneading, more holding on for dear life as the boat pitched and surged down the waves), and I managed to produce what I consider to be a remarkably respectable 8-stranded plaited loaf
But, (whisper) I’d never used fresh yeast.
Various brands of instant yeast certainly, several recipes for beer bread, and even a few attempts at sourdough but never fresh yeast.
The book buying binge by my lovely Christmas Elves included not one but two Paul Hollywood books, including 100 Great Breads
and all of the recipes that include yeast refer to fresh yeast. As I’m generally a good girl who does what she’s told, at least on the first pass over any recipe, (quiet down all the giggling in the back), I went in search of the friendliest and most approachable looking baker in the Sainsbury’s fresh bread section to enquire about a smidgen of fresh yeast.
And for 20p, 50g of a rather bizarre looking substance was mine, neatly wrapped in a patisserie bag, not to be confused with the fresh croissant that fell into the shopping trolley at the same time.
It’s a pale beige lump of what I can only describe as a squeaky dry pate. If you told me it was some sort of explosive for making really big fireworks or cracking a safe I’d believe you sooner than think you should cook with it.
The test-bake was the nice plain white loaf recipe, and it’s a testament to my dedication to an accurate replication of the recipe that I even broke out my fibre scales from the spinning stash to ensure precision measurements.
But what next? My flour sat fluffily in the bottom of the mixing bowl with a mini salt mountain at one side and a lump of this culinary gelignite on the other under the strict instructions that they should not start to get to know one another until I gave the word, but clearly if I just started stirring all we’d end up with would be some salty flour and a slightly coated lump of yeast, which might have produced some rather odd effects when left to prove.
I’m sure there’s a very excellent and professional way to do it (and if you know it, please shout out) but I just rubbed the yeast into a little of the flour, added the oil and water and set to kneading with vigour.
Several hours, two proves and 35 minutes in the oven produced a dome of fresh white bread with a proper crackly crust (you could actually hear it cracking after we took it out of the oven), and it’s been rapidly disappearing under very un-January levels of butter and summer fruit jam which is a clear mark of family approval.
For a true test I suppose I should have baked a load with dry yeast for a comparison, but there’s only so much bread our little family can get through so that will have to wait for another time so it’s over to you – my fellow bakers, have you used fresh yeast? and is it worth the effort of going to get some as opposed to a nice little foil packet that sits in the cupboard until you need it?
An in the meantime just please talk me down from the ledge that says “one down, ninety-nine to go”!
PS: ninety eight: Cheese and Onion Soda Bread – it was delicious!