Quarantine Chronicles Day 60: A bread recipe you can’t mess up? Here, hold my beer

Here’s something to add to my ever-growing list of things I know nothing about: Yeast. What is it? What’s the difference, besides level of activity, between active yeast and non-active yeast? I suppose my dogs might be a good example. Annie can practically climb over our back fence, while her littermate Jasper can’t hop onto the couch. But how that translates to yeast, again, I don’t know.

I know that yeast is enjoying a newfound popularity these days, thanks to COVID and the international stay-home mandate it caused, spurring a huge number of people deciding to use the down time to bake.

And baking is my latest passion, if rage and frustration can be considered a passion.

My coworkers at the Post, alarmed at the prospect of my returning to the office, have decided to take it upon themselves to come up with ideas with which to occupy myself at home and No. 1 on their list is “Have Tim Bake Some Bread.”

And I’m in the process of doing that now and if the first step of my bread-baking is any indication, this is going to end in tears.

My editor Melissa, who is not merely willowy but an expert baker as well, told me she had a ridiculously simple recipe for bread, and “ridiculously simple” describes the upper limit of the sort of recipe I might feel vaguely comfortable with. All I’ll need, she assured me, was flour, active yeast, salt and water.

You won’t be surprised that I didn’t have all those things, so my daughter and I made a rare foray into the world as we used to know it to Ralphs to buy some active yeast. But, with baking being all the rage these days, Ralphs was out of active yeast. Maybe it just sprinted off somewhere, but the shelf where it was supposed to be was bare.

I’m not going to lie. A huge slab of the pie-chart representing my feelings was given over to a sense of relief. No yeast, no having to bake bread. I could go home and write about nothing again.

But a thin slice of pie told me I should at least make something, so Hannah suggested we pick up a package of Krusteaz Meyer Lemon Bar mix.

And, back in the car, another part of my conscience scolded me to not quit and try Stater Bros. So we drove off to that store and, tragically, they had two jars left. So now I was back in the bread-baking business.

Melissa’s recipe called for tossing in three cups of flour, a quarter teaspoon of active dry yeast and mix that up, so I dumped the ingredients into my $500 Bosch mixer and then added, per instructions, a cup and two-thirds of (“this is important!”) water between 120-130 degrees, so I poured that in the mixer and let it mix for a couple of minutes.

Apparently, expert bakers will already know how badly I was screwing things up. I called Melissa for advice: Do I just dump the dough on the counter and let it sit, or what?

“Is it in the bowl?” she asked.

“No. I just put it on the counter.”

“Did you mix it in the bowl?”

“No, I mixed it in the mixer.”

“You used the Bosch to mix it?!,” she yelped as if I’d flushed an expensive tropical fish down the toilet instead of putting it in the aquarium.

“Yeah, it’s a mixer. The recipe said to mix it so I mixed it in the mixer.”

I could envision her burying her face in her hands. “You’re just supposed to mix it in a bowl with a wooden spoon for a few seconds,” she said, which made me wonder why the salespeople at Bosch didn’t try to talk me out of spending $500 and just advise me that all I needed was a bowl and a wooden spoon, which they could sell me for $3.50.

“How long did you have it mixing?” she asked.

“I don’t know, a couple of minutes.”

Face buried in hands again. “You’re working with GLUTEN!” she said, which didn’t explain anything. Why are people yelling at me? “You don’t want to excite the gluten!”

Active yeast, excited gluten. I was throwing a Gymboree party for fungus and wheat.

Melissa was resigned. “Just put it in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for a couple of hours,” she said, with the weary disappointment of a surgeon telling a rookie doctor who had just totally botched a surgery, “Well, sew him back up and we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

And that’s where I am as I wrap up today’s episode of “Have Tim Bake Some Bread.” It’s a real cliff-hanger. The dough has been sitting for a couple of hours and the yeast is being about as active as Jasper on a bad day.

Tomorrow, if all goes well (and, really, how could it not?), I’ll show you how to make a delicious sandwich using my special homemade bread that’s so easy it’s virtually impossible to mess up.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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