Yeast dough is considered one of the most basic but complicated of the dough family. Just think of the first cakes you made – I’m almost sure they weren’t yeast cakes.
But mine were!
As a girl I really had no inkling about “kitchen stuff” until I noticed something interesting. Twice a year my mother would make a cookie and cake Kiddush for our shul to mark the yahrtzeits of my father’s parents who were killed in the Holocaust.
Those cake platters were laden with all sorts of baked goodies – melt-in-your-mouth cakes alongside mouthwatering cookies, professionally made and gone almost as soon as they hit the table. But although Mom prepared quite a variety, I noticed something missing from her overflowing plates. There were none of the fluffy, yeasty kokosh and moon cakes that I especially loved.
“Why don’t you ever make yeast cakes, Mommy?” I wondered aloud.
“Oh, that’s not for me! My yeast dough never seems to rise to my expectations. I’ll just stick to cookie dough.”
Then and there I decided: “Come next Kiddush, there’ll be fantastic, fluffy kokosh cakes on my mother’s cookie platters and I’ll make them!”
So, I practiced that summer on my friends in camp. I was counselor in a small Canadian camp that bunked 120 campers in all. On the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, when there were no meals served, the cook had the day off and I got the kitchen key!
I was in full reign, preparing bowls of dough rising, waiting to be turned into sizzly cheesy pizzas, chocolaty sweet kokosh cakes and soft, supple onion pitas to “break the fast” on.
Judging from how quickly everything disappeared, I knew I was pretty good at making yeast dough and more importantly, the dough was good to me – it rose to every occasion and never disappointed me.
True to my decision, that year my yeast cakes found a place of honor on mother’s Kiddush platters.
Until today, there’s nothing more gratifying for me than kneading yeast dough. As it rises on my counter, I feel an elation rise within me too. The cakes release their yeasty aroma as they bake, expanding in the heat and in my heart.
To date, I’ve baked tens of thousands challahs, rolls and yeast cakes in hundreds of shapes, sizes and flavors at home, for simchas and in my workshops. Which is good news for those of you suffering from Yeast Dough Phobia. Because over time, I’ve collected quite a few tips for a successful experience in preparing yeast dough.
Of course you could always just run out to your preferred bakery and buy their kokosh cake but in my opinion, nothing can beat the heavenly scent of your yeast cake baking in your kitchen!
All you “knead” to know is a few simple rules like correct temperature, mixing, rising and rolling. Besides, the more you make yeast dough, the better you get the feel for it and the better it will “behave” for you. Hands-on experience is the best teacher around!
For starters, how does your dough grow?
There are two methods for yeast dough rising. 1. The warm method which is most commonly used and 2. The cold method which chefs sometimes prefer.
Here’s how the cold method works:
After the dough is ready, put it into a large plastic bag and tie loosely on top. Refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. After a few hours, the bag will resemble a blown up balloon. This means the fermentation gases are doing their job (even though they were “left in the cold”).
A few hours before you’re ready to make your yeast cake or rolls, remove the bag of dough from the refrigerator and leave in the bag on your counter until the dough reaches room temperature. Proceed as the recipe instructs.
Here’s a question I received from Sarah about kokosh cake filling:
Q: “Do you have a good chocolate filling for my kokosh cake. Somehow mine always sinks into the dough till it seems as if there’s no filling at all. Do you have a recipe for the “store bought” kind?”
A: The chocolate filling I use for my kokosh cake is easy to make and since it’s made with dry ingredients, easy to “spread.” It imitates the store bought filling in that it’s oozy without oozing out of the roll or into the dough.