I spent the first 25 years of my life entirely afraid of yeast. I wasn’t fearful of bread, mind you. It was scared of yeast as an ingredient. I heard it was very easy to kill and I lived in terror that if I took even the smallest misstep with a recipe, I’d ruin the whole thing and wind up with a bowl of flaccid pancake batter in place of a batch of bread dough.
And so I stayed away. I learned to make quick breads, scones and biscuits, and kept my distance from yeast. That is, until the no-knead bread craze swept the scene about six years ago. It was such a novel and approachable concept that I tried it. I ended up with a beautiful loaf of bread and was entirely infatuated with the process. It opened me up to yeast and we’ve been friends ever since.
These days, I bake some form of bread at least once every other week and have become so smitten that I even have a sourdough starter that I carefully tend to. Still, yeast is my first bread baking love and there’s nothing like it for a reliably light loaf for sandwiches and toast.
The most recent yeasty recipe I took for a spin was the Focaccia recipe from Anne Burrell. It’s a blessedly simple version, with just six ingredients (and that includes the water). For those of you who still harbor a bit of yeast anxiety, it’s just the thing to help you over that hump. And on a Sunday afternoon, there’s nothing nicer than having a bit of warm, tender bread to dip into a bowl of soup. Just the thing for The Weekender.
Before you start kneading, here are a few things you should know.
– Anne calls for you to add the yeast to warm water. For the very best results, shoot for something between 110 degrees F and 115 degrees F.
– When it’s time to knead, don’t be afraid to be generous with the extra flour. I add two generous fistfuls to make the dough smooth enough to handle.
– Because it’s February, my kitchen is quite chilly. To keep the dough warm and out of any drafts during its rising times, I popped it in the oven with the light switched on.
– If a plain loaf doesn’t sound appealing, you can sprinkle the top with chopped rosemary or a bit of crushed garlic just before baking.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, also called Food in Jars, will be published by Running Press in spring 2012.