Recap of the June 2011 "Taste-and-Tell," Focus: Something Sweet + Yeast Swap

This morning I sat down to one of the best breakfasts on record: a slice of A.R.'s Balthazar Chocolate Bread, followed by a wedge of G.D.'s panettone.

Such are the spoils from last evening's "Taste-and-Tell" with the Chicago Amateur Bread Bakers. Seven bakers and their loaves braved the 95F (35C) heat to attend our monthly meeting. (Quite a contrast with our first meeting back in February, to which seven hardy bakers trudged through the wind and wet of the year's coldest day to break bread together.) After a long Chicago winter, we are finally out of our coats. The corners of our meeting space are no longer stuffed with jackets, mitts, and scarves. We are on to a new phase, in which summer's elevated temperatures and humidity pose new challenges for us bakers and our dough.

Our focus topic this month is "something sweet." As always, focus topics are not requirements, but rather suggestions to inspire one's baking. Some of the breads we tasted:

In the center is husband's Bostonkakku (that's "Boston cake" in Finnish), a mildly sweet, rolled bread filled with cardamom, apples, and chopped almonds. Clockwise from upper left: My sesame egg bread, which turned out light, fluffy, and flavorful all at the same time--a first for me!; G.D.'s panettone "of the Americas," loving crafted from wild yeast and dried berries soaked in whiskey; L.P.'s flat bread topped with sea salt, rosemary, and parmesan; and A.R.'s beautifully shaped Balthazar Chocolate Bread, which would make a stunning gift loaf--if one can resist eating it before giving it away (not likely). Not shown: L.R.'s broa, a firm, substantial bread with a subtle crunch lent by cornmeal. And T.M.'s braided loaf filled with fresh peaches and cream cheese, a lightly sweet, wonderfully refreshing danish--perfect for a hot summer morning.

A yeast swap followed the bread tasting. G.D. brought a large jar of his 100%-hydration liquid culture, and gave a cup of it to each of us. Thank you, G.D.! This is a wild yeast (also known as sourdough) culture that needs to be "fed" once a week. Here are the instructions for maintaining the culture at home:

  1. As soon as possible upon arriving home with the culture, clean and sterilize a jar with a tight-fitting lid. 
  2. Empty the culture into the jar.
  3. Immediately add to the jar equal weights of flour and water.
  4. Allow the jar to remain at room temperature, lid off, until the mixture inside becomes bubbly. The warmer the ambient temperature, the more quickly bubbles will appear.
  5. As soon as bubbles appear, seal the jar with its lid, and place the jar in the refrigerator.
  6. One week later, take the jar out of the refrigerator. Leave it at room temperature for 1 hour, to take the chill off.
  7. Repeat steps 3 through 6.

I brought a special type of baker's yeast that works well in doughs with high sugar content. I used this yeast in my sesame egg bread:

The sesame egg bread contains 16% sugar (per baker's percentage). Dough with such high sugar content (i.e., greater or equal to 5% of the total flour weight) can pose a technical challenge: The water present in bread dough is essential input for yeast fermentation. Yet sugar molecules in the dough tend to attract moisture, robbing yeast of the water it needs. As the sugar content increases, the yeast has less and less access to water in the dough, and fermentation is stunted. The baker may observe this as dough that has difficulty rising. One solution is to use osmotolerant yeast, a special strain of instant dry yeast (also known as baker's yeast)--such as Instafirm Gold, shown above--that will successfully ferment dough, even when its sugar content is high. (Another technique is to use the same commercial yeast one would use for a savory bread, but use 30% more of it.)

This was a wonderfully satisfying event--as much for our brains as for our bellies--and we look forward to our encore "Taste-and-Tell" event on June 26, when we will repeat the focus: "Something Sweet + Yeast Swap." Are you an amateur bread baker living in Chicago? Please join us!

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Lastly, as requested, here is the formula and instructions for my sesame egg bread. Admittedly, I am forever tweaking the formula. Nevertheless, here is the version I used to bake last night's loaf:

          100   %          flour
            16   %          sugar
            28   %          water
              2   %          salt
              5   %          milk, whole
              7.5%          butter, salted
            19   %          eggs
              1.5%          yeast, osmotolerant, such as Instaferm Gold
            10   %          sour cream

  1. In a small saucepan, gently heat the the sugar, salt, and butter, until the sugar is dissolved and the butter is melted. Cool to 75F. 
  2. Whisk together the eggs, sour cream, and milk.
  3. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Knead vigorously for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Ferment the dough, covered. At 75F, fermentation should take approximately 2 hours, with one punch-down after the first hour. At warmer temperatures, expect the dough to ferment more quickly.
  5. To make a braided loaf of N strands, divide the dough into N pieces of equal weight. De-gas and shape each piece into a ball. Cover and allow the dough to relax.
  6. Roll each ball into a short strand. Again, cover the dough and allow it to relax. Repeat this process until strands are the desired length. 
  7. Braid the strands together as desired. Here is a braiding video recommended by Chicago Amateur Bread Baker S.J. The video shows how to make the 6-strand braid, which I brought to last night's "Taste-and-Tell." Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread provides step-by-step illustrations for how to make many different braids.
  8. Proof the loaf for anywhere between 30 minutes and 3 hours, depending on the ambient temperature. 
  9. Pre-heat the oven to 425F. 
  10. Make an egg wash by lightly beating the egg yolk with a pinch of salt and a few drops of water. 
  11. Just before popping the loaf into the oven, and using a pastry brush, lightly brush the egg wash over the loaf. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with sesame seeds, which will stick to the egg wash.
  12. Reduce the oven temperature to 380F. Bake bread for 25-35 minutes.
  13. Cool completely before slicing.


  1. Where did you buy the yeast, Instaferm Gold in Chicago?

  2. Hi! Thank you for your question.

    The Instaferm Gold was gifted to me by a professional baker here in Chicago. I'm not sure where to buy it.

    A similar osmotolerant yeast, SAF Gold, can be ordered from King Arthur Flour: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/saf-gold-instant-yeast-16-oz

    I haven't tried SAF, myself. Please let us know what you think of it!


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