Fleishmann’s fresh yeast in the refrigerator section of my grocery store has always intrigued me. I find their 1950s comic packaging quite appealing (Fresh Yeast! Active! Bam! Pow! Wow!), but that’s not the reason. Neither is it because I find refrigerated microorganisms intriguing (though I admit I kind of do, but please don’t tell anyone …). It’s more because of its humble and unassuming yet enduring presence in the age wherein most people, I assume, bake with the more user-friendly and less expensive active dry yeast. Apparently, there are people who bake with fresh yeast. But who are these people and where do they live? Is there a secret society of fresh yeast users?
Then I found out last week that my friend JM was a card-carrying member. While JM considers the use of fresh yeast optional when it comes to country or whole grain breads, he insists on using exclusively fresh yeast when it comes to buttery, eggy white bread such as brioche or challah. “The fresh yeast creates an almost cake-like texture which you don’t get from dry yeast,” he said.
I was always afraid of fresh yeast. The fact that it needs to be refrigerated at all times gave me an impression that it needed to be handled with utmost care lest it perish. When I was a kid, little guppies under my care tended to die prematurely, so I made up my mind that there must have been something about me that was hazardous to small living beings, including fresh yeast. But JM’s comment piqued my interest. I bought my very first cake of fresh yeast the very next day and proceeded to make my favorite brioche replacing dry active yeast with this innocent-looking, but stinky, little thing.
The result was quite good. JM was right in saying that the texture of the bread made with fresh yeast would be more “cakey.” There’s no change in flavor, but the texture is finer and a little more dense and less springy … if that makes any sense. I like it a lot.
- One 2-ounce cake of Fleishmann’s fresh yeast
- 1¼ cups lukewarm water
- ⅔ cup sugar, plus a teaspoon
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- ⅓ cup melted butter
- Approximately 6-7 cups of bread flour
- 2 large eggs and 2 egg yolks, beaten
- Glaze: 1 whole egg, beaten
- Sesame or poppy seeds
- Two 9″x5″ loaf pans
- Put the water into a large mixing bowl. Crumble the yeast into the water along with a teaspoon of sugar. Let the mixture stand for a couple of minutes to let the yeast dissolve.
- Add the sugar, butter, salt, and beaten eggs to the yeast mixture. Stir in flour, one cup at a time, until the dough forms a thick, wet mass. Let the dough rest 10 minutes.
- Dump the content of the mixing bowl onto the kitchen counter or a marble slab. Knead the dough for 10 to 12 minutes, adding in more flour as needed. The dough should be elastic, smooth, and satiny.
- Place the dough in an oiled mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for one hour in a warm spot.
- After one hour, take the dough out and divide it into two equal portions. Cut each portion into thirds and form each piece into a smooth ball. Place three balls side by side in a greased loaf pan.
- Brush the tops of the dough balls with the egg wash. Sprinkle the seeds on top. Give the dough with another coat of eggwash to seal in the seeds.
- Cover the two loaf pans with kitchen towels and let the dough rise for the second time in a warm spot for 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake the bread for 45 minutes. Let the finished bread rest for 10 minutes before removing it from the pan. Let the bread cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.