I love working with yeast.
It seems a lot of you have a little bit of yeast-fear…and I totally get it. The idea of wasted ingredients and failed baking endeavors is always a bummer. Nothing gets under my bakers-skin like a failed mess of a recipe that either ends up being thrown angrily into the trash whilst swearing, or, ends up languishing in the refrigerator for weeks until I begrudgingly toss it into the trash–though with less anger, yet more resentment. It’s no fun.
I mean, I know yeast can be scary–sometimes it dead before you even begin, sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Will it rise, deflate and fall flat, come out dense and heavy and flavorless?
The thing is, working with yeast–as scary as it may seem–is incredibly rewarding. It’s where science and domesticity converge to create something amazing. For me, there is nothing like working with a smooth, elastic ball of dough…and not to get too weird, but I absolutely LOVE the way it feels in my hands (thats’s why you don’t see any bread-machine recipes here…not that there is anything wrong with a bread machine, promise!).
I just have to feel the dough–plus, it’s the best way, over time, to figure out exactly what you are looking for. At this point, I know exactly how sticky I want an unrisen dough to feel–and that, friends, feels like a major accomplishment. So, if my “I-wanna-touch-all-the-bread-dough-in-the-lands” didn’t freak you out, and maybe you want to do a little more yeasted baking, I have a few tips I’ve learned along the way.
Is it ALIVE?! Your yeast can die on you. If it’s been lounging in the pantry for who-knows-how-long, it could be inactive. Meaning, all your efforts are completely wasted ’cause those little dudes are D-E-A-D. You can avoid all that heartache by sprinkling a pinch of yeast into a cup of warm water–if it doesn’t start to foam, ever, it’s done-zo.
Bulk up–buying yeast in bulk is super economical If you like to bake yeasted goodies, it’s definitely the way to go. I buy yeast in bulk–like, Costco style. I keep it in a screw-cap jar in the refirgerator where it will last for daaaaaays. Like, well over a year. You can also freeze yeast and possibly even extend its life further.
Feed your yeast. If your recipe calls for some sugar–granulated, honey, etc.–add some to the liquid while you proof. It will feed the yeast and get it started a bit faster. Add your salt to the dry mix, don’t add it to the yeast as it will inhibit it from doing it’s thing and it may just die on you.
Perfect isn’t everything. Maybe you’re looking for the perfect artisan-whatever-bread. It’s probably not going to happen the first time. I worked as a baker, mostly cookies and cakes, but the bread baker was a pro. He’d been doing it for almost as long as I’ve been alive and would still phone his consultants and take classes. It’s a learning process and the more you do it the better you’ll get. Really though, few things beat warm, homemade bread–even if it is imperfect.
Anyway, what I am trying to say is, if you are a bit of a yeast-a-phobe–don’t be too scared. It’s only bread, don’t let it defeat you because it is SO worth the effort–even if only every once in a while. Plus, everyone you share your baking-spoils with will think you’re like a baking champion or something…which is totally worth mowing through the self-doubt and yeast-fear.
Apple Walnut Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from this recipe.
Yields , 9x5inch loaf
I added some whole wheat flour to this version, though it can certainly be made with just all-purpose. This bread is the very best the day it is made, still warm and slightly gooey. Make it when there are people around for sharing, as you might find yourself in a bread-coma, otherwise. The apples and walnuts make for a messy filling, if they fall out from between the layers, just tuck any stray bits in between the folds of dough after you have placed them into the pan. I streamlined the original steps in the recipe to make it a bit easier to pull together.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 envelope)
1/3 cup whole milk
4 Tablespoons (2 oz.) butter, unsalted
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, room temp, beaten lightly
1 large apple, peeled and diced small (I used a Honeycrisp)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons (2 oz.) unsalted butter, melted
3 Tablespoons butter, browned
1 cup powdered sugar
milk to thin
To make the dough, heat milk with butter in a small saucepan just until butter has melted. Add the water and sugar, set aside to cool for a minute–you want it to be just warm, not hot or the yeast will die. Once it has cooled (to about 120*F), stir in the yeast and set aside until foamy–about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flours and salt. Stir the beaten egg and vanilla into the yeast mixture and using the dough hook, or your strength and a sturdy spoon or bowl scraper, mix the wet into the dry until a dough forms. Knead–either with the mixer or by hand–until you get a fairly sticky and tacky, but well mixed dough.
Grease a large bowl (the one you mixed in is perfect), place the dough inside and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
While the dough rises, melt the butter for the filling, pour into a small dish and set aside. Brown the butter for the icing in a skillet–heat butter over medium until the solids turn deep brown and smell like nuts and toffee. Pour browned butter into a bowl and set aside. Add the diced apples to the skillet and sauté with a pinch of salt, until softened slightly–3-5 minutes. Set the apples aside to cool. In a small bowl mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the filling, set aside.
Deflate the dough (at this point you can recover and place in the refrigerator overnight and continue the next day).
On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough into roughly a 12 X 20 inch rectangle (erring on the side of smaller is okay here as the finished dough will rises considerably, filling in any gaps). Using a pastry brush spread all of the melted butter over the dough. Cut the dough North to South in strips (12X4 in pieces). Spread 1/5 of the cinnamon-sugar mixture onto a rectangle of dough followed by the apples and walnuts, stack another rectangle on top and repeat. You can reshape and maniupulate the dough as needed to make a nice stack.
Preheat the oven to 350F and place rack in the center. Lightly grease a 9X5 loaf pan.
Slice the stack through the five layers into 6 equal sections, about 2X4 inches. Fit the layered strip into the loaf pan, cut side down…as if it were a loaf of pre-sliced bread. Cover the pan in plastic and allow to rise another 45-50 minutes until nearly doubled in size. If you poke the dough and the indentation stays it is ready to bake.
Bake until the top is golden and brown and the insides are done (you can test this with a thermometer, it should read between 189-190*F). Check it after 30 minutes or so…this loaf took about 45 minutes to bake–if it starts to brown too much before the interior is done, tent the top with foil and continue baking.
Make the icing by stirring together the browned butter and powdered sugar, adding milk to thin to desired consistency.
Turn the baked bread out onto a cooling rack while it is still warm and glaze.