Monday, September 27, 2010

Experiments in applied zymurgy.

We had our Pear Tree removed right before the High Holidays, and the arborist left the fruit for us on tarps, and so, on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, some friends came over, and helped us grind and press the fruit. We pasteurized the raw cider, because the fruit was not in perfect shape, and we cooled it, transferred it to to a fermenter and pitched some English Cider Yeast. We left the fermenter - a three gallon carboy with an airlock - in a cool, dark closet until the day of Erev Sukkot, at which point we bottled directly from the fermenter.

The Cider was good; but that's not what this story is about.

This story is about what happened when the baker in me saw all that yeast at the bottom of the fermenter. The thought that it would be a shame to let it go to waste occurred simultaneously with the thought to which, according to Terry Pratchett, most human made disasters can be attributed: "I wonder what happens if I do this?"

"This," in this case, was to use the yeast that was in the fermenter to make bread.

The wife was skeptical. Cider yeast is not bread yeast, she warned me. The results might not taste good, or might be explosive, or it might not rise at all. Nonetheless, I transferred the yeast into a small jar, fed it a bit of flour, sugar and water, and stuck it in the fridge, and then sanitized and put away the fermenting tools.

When I made my Challah, I used the last of my bread yeast, and I still wanted to bake for a sukkah party we were having. And there was my jar of English cider yeast, waiting patiently in the unemployment line for their next project after having fermented our Sukkot Cider (5771). I told the wife that the worst case scenario is that we end up picking up something at Breadsmith for the party guests, and proceeded to run a batch of something I call "simple bread" in the bread machine using the dough cycle. I looked in on it, and it was far too sticky, so I added flour and re-ran the mixing/kneading cycle, and let it complete.

The dough was still stickier than I wanted to work with, but this was attributable to my failure to consider the liquid that came in with the yeast as part of the total liquid. I sucked it up and shaped the stuff into two boules and a tasting roll, gave it a second rise, and popped it in the oven.

18 minutes later it came out, and apart from a few painful mishaps getting it to the cooling racks, all went well. The tasting roll met with my wife's approval - though I was afraid I was allergic to it. My lips were swelling. Could I be allergic to the cider yeast? Would I be allergic to both the bread and the Cider.

I then rubbed my eye and realized, painfully, that it was not the bread I was reacting to - I had merely forgotten to wash up between seeding a hot pepper for dinner and splitting the roll. Wife had gotten the half that had not been in the pepper hand.

When I served the Boules, they were greeted enthusiastically. It had a crumb similar to most sour dough boules I tasted, but tasted like . . . . cider. It's olive oil mopping powers were widely acclaimed, and of course it paired very well with the cider which had been fermented by the same yeast.

The jar of yeast lives in my fridge, I expect it will slowly develop a sour over the generations, as wild yeast join the colony, but I would call this a success.

The challenge now, as with any chance discovery, is to achieve repeatability.