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En español | It seems like everyone's baking bread these days. Facebook pages are awash with pictures of homemade crusty boules, neighbors are giving each other soft sandwich loaves, and bread machines are being pulled from the back of appliance cabinets and getting a workout.
But as quarantine bread baking has exploded in popularity, yeast, the key ingredient, has become a scarce commodity. It may be hard to find on grocery shelves, and ordering yeast online — if you can find it — may mean paying double or triple the normal price for uncertain quality.
But even without yeast, you can satisfy the urge to indulge in something crusty, floury and warm from the oven. Cookbook author Marah Stets says there are several bready items that can be baked without yeast.
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Stets has cowritten numerous celebrity cookbooks, including Magnolia Table, from home-improvement designer and entrepreneur Joanna Gaines; Guy Fieri Family Food, from the restaurateur and ubiquitous food-show host; and Eva's Kitchen, with actor Eva Longoria. Stets is also the coeditor of the latest edition of the Joy of Cooking.
She recommends searching online for recipes for these baked goods and experimenting with different techniques. Above all, “have faith that whatever comes out of the oven is going to taste good,” she says.
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Sourdough bread, which is fueled by an organic, living starter, is all the rage. No yeast needed, it tastes amazing and bakes beautifully. People are trading starters, feeding them and even naming them. Stets calls hers Cora and talks about it like a coddled pet. You can find a plethora of information about starters online, but Stets says her go-to spot for information and inspiration is the King Arthur Flour website and the Joy of Cooking. Make your own starter, or get one from a friend; then feed it regularly with a flour-and-water mixture if you plan on using it often, or stick it in your refrigerator, with occasional feeding, until you are ready to use it. “It's a cool science experiment,” Stets says. “Approach it with calm and a sense of adventure, rather than trying to learn an encyclopedia's worth of information."
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This is a very quick, savory option, with a taste that gets close to yeast-fueled bread. It's flavored, of course, by the yeast in the beer that you use. Stets says you can use any type of beer on hand, from standard cans to small-batch craft bottles. The bread works well for sandwiches and makes a nice accompaniment to stews. “It gives you that satisfaction of a yeast bread but without spending a day and a half on it,” she notes.
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"There have been miles of text written about how to make perfectly fluffy or flaky or buttery biscuits,” Stets says. The debate rages on about what type of flour works best. But don't overthink it, she says. The key is patience and practice, working quickly, and using very cold butter or fat. “Work fast, and don't stress. You might get hockey pucks, but they'll still taste good with butter and strawberry jam."
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Irish soda bread
This loaf gets its rise from baking soda. Traditional soda bread is pretty spare, but modern American versions are “more like a tea cake,” Stets says, sweeter and often with additions like raisins. Best on the first day it's made, this bread is especially tasty topped with butter and honey.
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OK, so tortillas aren't all that bready. But they're easy and a lot of fun to make. You can create the flour or corn version and use a rolling pin, heavy pan or pie plate to press it. But a tortilla press is the most satisfying, Stets says. An inexpensive press, which can be found at local Hispanic markets, is just as good as one that costs more. No fancy bells and whistles needed, and they're a lot of fun to use with children or grandchildren. Just be sure to let the dough rest before flattening it; that gives the flour or cornmeal enough time to absorb the liquid and to relax enough for pressing.