Monday, September 11, 2006

Yeast reflection

Here's a little story about eating local.

I ran out of SAF-instant yeast a few months ago. And I decided to wait before replacing it because:

1. To my knowledge, SAF instant yeast isn't sold in any grocery store in Milwaukee.

2. The shipping charge when ordering it from the Baker's Catalog, $5.50, is equal to the price of the item itself.

3. I thought that I would wait until I had something else to buy from the Baker's Catalog so as to maximize the value my shipping dollar. In the meantime I would use whatever yeast one can find at the supermarket.

That was a mistake. As I found out the hard way, the kind of yeast you buy in the supermarket that comes in what Jamie Oliver calls sachets (i.e., packets) is not a good product. The pizza dough made from the sachet yeast (I haven't baked bread with it in years and don't intend to) is harder to work with, not as supple, more likely to tear. The crust turns out less flavorful, less crisp on bottom and less airy in the middle. All in all, sachet pizza is a pretty dull date. I would never have thought that the kind of yeast you use makes a bit of difference when baking pizza but it does. And it is worth spending $11/lb. on good yeast, since that is still much cheaper by the pound than buying the sachets. The only problem is if you are only baking with yeast once or twice a year. Then a pound of yeast is a waste and you have a real problem.

Where does SAF-instant yeast come from? According to the package, it's made in Mexico for a company based in...wait for it...Milwaukee, Wisconsin. To get their product, though, I have to order it from Vermont. Whatevs.

There is one more nice thing about buying saf-instant in the 1-lb. brick: the sound of the vacuum-sealed package taking a breath when you snip it open.


I keep coming across recipes for pizza dough that demand a minimum 24-hr rise. Maybe it depends on the yeast, and a long fermentation is the way to go with sachet yeast. If you're using instant yeast, a two hour fermentation (i.e., rise) is fine. I can't believe it could taste better.

Pizza dough
3 cups AP flour
1 tsp saf-instant yeast
1.5 tsp kosher salt
1 tbs sugar
1 tbs olive oil
1 cup body-temperature water
semolina for dusting

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes. It should still be a bit sticky but it will come together as a smooth ball. Leave to rise in a greased, covered bowl for about an hour and a half, or until doubled in bulk. Deflate and divide in two, shape these into balls and cover on the countertop.

Heat the oven to 500 with a stone inside. I like to preheat at least half an hour before baking. Flatten the first dough ball with your fingertips pressing in an exaggerated charade of piano playing, stretch it over your fists, toss it in the air, pull the edges out and make it into a circle. Spread it on a baking peel dusted with semolina and top with whatever you like. Jarred spaghetti sauce and supermarket mozzarella are surprisingly good if the crust is excellent. Bake 10-12 minutes, until the edges are dark brown. Then bake the second pie while you eat the first.

Depending on how filling your toppings are and how much other food you serve, this should feed three or more adults. Last evening we had it with a watermelon and feta cheese salad with red wine vinegar, shallots and olive oil. Danny Meyer says this has been the year for "watermelon as a replacement for tomato," but I've been making this salad for at least a couple of years, so there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is really interesting about the difference you've noticed in the yeast. I have been using the sachets lately myself because with just the 3 of us home I'm not baking so much and as you said, the large quantity lasts so long.

I, too, balk at paying as much to ship a product as the product itself costs (my son recently wanted to buy some "Aesop Rocks" shoelaces online and the same thing applied). KAF makes a big deal about their shipping prices being "fair" because they are based on weight and not what a product costs, but all their shipping prices are high, IMO. Did you try contacting the yeast company directly? Maybe you can just go there.

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got a large packet of SAF yeast in my fridge since some bread-baking I did last year, but my problem is that I can't seem to find many recipes that call for instant yeast over the active dried yeast. And I'm too chicken to substitute. Hmm...

11:58 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

Rebecca, by the time I run out of this stash I will probably have forgotten that the company is based in Milwaukee. But although the shipping price is high, the price of a pound of sachet yeast is higher.

Luisa, if you're looking for instant yeast recipes, King Arthur's Flour Baking Companion is an excellent source.

12:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The King Arthur flour website has lots of great recipes, too; I'm sure including some using the instant yeast.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just purchased 2-one pound packages of the saf-instant yeast from a web site called They only cost $3.50 each. Hope that helps.

6:40 PM  
Blogger sandra said...

I'm from Barcelona (Spain) and I have the same problem. Can't find SAF-INSTANT yeast anywhere ! It's crazy... if I find some web-site, the shipping cost doubles the cost of the yeast itself... Keep looking, but if you know some place or some european source I'll appreciate it a lot !

2:19 AM  

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