Leftover grains bread made with fresh yeast

Red Bhutan rice and green bamboo rice congee bread made with fresh yeast

Four days, twice frozen bread. One baked in a cast iron kettle, the other a traditional loaf pan. The results were amazing.

I got some fresh yeast at Fairway the other day. Its really cornstarch and yeast (the Fleischman brand). I think it’s a much better yeast to use with sweet or dairy or egg heavy breads and when making huge, fluffy sweet challahs. Restaurants and bakeries on the Lower East Side of New York used it a lot. In any case I think its the same distinction as between the red version of Saf-Instant yeast and the Gold Label Saf-Instant yeast. Most people will use the red version of the Saf-Instant which can turn out a very fast high rising bread. The Gold may take a little longer to rise but is the yeast I would use if baking anything sweet, breads with cheese or eggs.

We all know that sugar can actually really mess yeast up, right? So instead of listening to people (and professional bakers complain) say that it was taking forever for their sweet dairy based breads to rise the Gold Label Saf-Instant was released. Any yeast including either the Red or Gold can be left in the freezer or refrigerator until needed. You can order them online, including usually for far less through Amazon than King Arthur for example, than buying them in a store. I think that fresh yeast is a very special thing, however. It rarely over ferments or acts sluggish if you keep dough a little on the warm side (Use milk, water or any liquid at 110 or even a little hotter to start things off then add the eggs, farmers cheese, butter etc. when its already clearly active).

If you get jammed for time punch it down and throw in refrigerator or even freeze and the dough will come back slowly and really taste good. Its also great for making holiday related fermented drinks like meads, fermented fruit drinks or beers, etc which you could get away with doing because who knew you were doing anything other than baking? We’ll talk about making some really wildly flavored frozen vodkas with the stuff from leftover potato cooking water and solids, leftover buckwheat groats and a few other ingredients.

Before leaving Saturday night we’d throw some fresh yeast cakes and the potato water and leftover groats some fresh yeast cakes and a few handfuls of whole wheat flour together and put it into a 20 gallon stainless steel container with lid that the butchers liked to use. Then before anyone said something early Sunday morning we’d mix it together really well and put half under the dishwashers where it was always warm and mix the other half up with buckwheat flour, eggs and salt and just start cranking out hundreds of blinis. People either ate these pancakes with sour cream, different types of caviar, fresh dill and chopped onions or they ordered them with maple syrup or fresh fruit based things we had made.

One of the morning cooks would take a half glass of the stuff before we added anything and add some mashed fruits to it. In two hours she would start drinking the stuff and gladly cook non-stop for the next ten hours at L’Hermitage, an imperial Russian restaurant (food designed by Escoffier and Czar Peter) in Boston that I was the Executive Chef of for a few years. The pumpernickel bread was made outside and delivered in huge paper bags every Sunday morning as well. It was the best bread I had ever eaten. You could refrigerate those for at least a week and heat them in the bread warmer about an hour before needed and the bread would be even better.

Although when they delivered those one chef would stuff the driver with food and the rest of us would eat about a half pound of cold butter with a loaf or two. You can still buy Orwasher’s raisin pumpernickel in their New York City store. A slow ferment and the right freshly ground flours and oven (use a cast iron or enamel crock) and you can make it as well. It’s not a very sour bread either.

Next I’ll describe what a bakery that uses slow ferments does with fresh yeast and a two to three hour rise to oven every day. Great bakers typically will only use yeast when they are on a tight production schedule and then have to get stuff out there instead of going bankrupt.

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