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No yeast for lock-down bread? Here's what you can do

Briana Warsing May 6, 2020
Banana bread

We’re in the middle of a yeast crisis. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Here’s how you can rise to the challenge.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve never spent as much time on social media than we have during this pandemic.

Scrolling down my tailor-made social feeds, not only am I seeing stories of good-will and street clapping – I’m also being fed images of beautiful, handmade loaves of bread.

Lots of them.

So, as a fellow quarantiner and passable baker always looking for a challenge, I figured I’d give it a try to pass the time.

(We also need something to eat with all of that delanga coffee we’ve been making, right?)

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Yeast crisis

Running down to my local shop, I was appalled to discover they had run out of what I needed most: yeast.

In the midst of toilet roll-gate, we were all unaware that yeast had also fallen victim to panic buying.

The store owner told me to come back tomorrow. But that was a whole month ago – possibly during mid-March or early April (there is no way of telling anymore).

He never received the promised yeast delivery.

And since then, I’ve checked my two local Co-ops, an Asda, three Tescos and every local store.

Multiples times. And still no yeast.

Yeast investigation

First, I had to ensure that people weren’t buying the yeast because they knew something I didn’t. So I looked it up.

It appeared panic had indeed swept the nation. But it was much more. It was a desire for control, and a penchant for doing stuff like baking bread when faced with having to stay at home indefinitely.

When faced with a lot of time at home (let’s be honest – something we are not familiar with) the projects we undertake are proportionate to the time we have.

My husband is learning a language. Others are doing large garden and home improvement projects.

It is the indefinite part that compels us to gain some control over what we can and find ways to become more self-sufficient.

We want to make sure we can maintain some sort of normality without relying too much on going out; and if we can suddenly make our favourite treats like doughnuts, breads, and other pizza dough, we have won quarantine.

But the UK isn’t the only nation succumbing to the yeast obsession.

USA Today reported that yeast sales jumped 410 percent year over year for the four-week period ending April 11.

Food & Wine also reported that yeast sales were up by 647 percent at the end of March, compared to the same week last year.

So, yeah, this yeast shortage isn’t just an issue in my little corner of the world – it’s for real.

And yeast being what it is, cannot be rushed. The cells reproduce at the pace they reproduce.

With no end in sight to the yeast shortage, I decided to out-quarantine the bread makers and not only bake my own bread, but make my own yeast too.

Unfortunately, the recipe I used didn’t work out (or maybe I ‘fed’ it too much or the temperature wasn’t right, or who knows what.)

But a lot of other people have had a ton of luck.

DIY baking

Yeast geneticist Sudeep Agarwala offered some instructions to us novice yeasters on Twitter. He recommends starting with a piece of unwashed or dried fruit and putting it into a jar with two-to-three tablespoons of water plus an equal amount of (any kind of) flour.

The next step is to wait: “You’ll want to keep this warm (but not hot). Hug it while you binge Netflix. Cuddle it while you yearn for human touch once again. Or put it on the counter while your dishwasher is running. Do it right and after 12 hours you’ll see bubbles. These will grow.”

He advises that the paste will loosen up within 24 -48 hours and to then take a tiny bit of the fruit/flour/water mix, and add it to 30-40ml of water, add flour, and repeat.

This time, it should come to life and those bubble should pop up much quicker.

Prior to finding Agarwala’s instructions, I complained about this failure to my aunt who recommended I order some from Freshly Fermented.

They have a bunch of different sourdough starters, as well as kefir, kombucha and ginger beer among others to chose from. A quick search also lists Shipton Mills Bakery and Ebay as other current sellers.

If you do get your hands on the yeasty stuff (kudos to those who make their own), I highly recommend you make this copycat Krispy Creme recipe for donuts, a basic white bread and pizza dough. Bagels are next.

Yeast-free recipes

If you don’t want to deal with procuring or making your own yeast, this Irish Soda Bread recipe has been making the rounds, as has this yeast-free Naan recipe that offers step by step instructions with photos.

Then there are the sweeter quick breads like banana bread and this pumpkin bread recipe that claims to be as good as the Starbucks variety (and has almost 10,000 ratings).

I also love this peanut butter bread with a thick smear of salted butter and a nice strawberry jam.

At this point, the consensus is to use whatever you can get your hands on, because it isn’t easy getting flour these days.

Otherwise, when circumstances change, get the flour your recipe calls for, like bread flour for bread and cake flour for cake. You know the drill.

And speaking of cake, this coffee cake is giving me life these days.

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Briana Warsing is a new Londoner by way of New York. Most recently she served as the editor and publisher of her local newspaper in New York City.