Savory pastries: A delicious introduction to yeast baking

08/21/2012 5:00 AM

08/22/2012 5:50 AM

You don’t have to be a baking expert to enjoy making yeast-raised breads and pastries. A foolproof dough with plenty of room for creativity and a few basics are all that’s needed to get started.

If you’ve shied away from yeast baking, this is the perfect dough for getting started. It’s easy to make and use. Combine it with savory fillings for spectacular results that even the corner bakery can’t match.

Don’t be tempted to use refrigerated bread dough or crescent rolls. One’s too tough and chewy for the filling, and the other is too soft.

The fat and eggs in this recipe create a dough that’s tender yet sturdy enough to handle the filling. They’re also in a proportion that makes the dough manageable. A dough heavy in eggs and fat, while tender and flavorful, becomes unmanageable with extended handling. The sugar in this recipe adds a hint of sweetness that’s a perfect foil for the savory fillings.

“Having success with yeast-raised breads and pastries is all about controlling the temperature,” according to Vinnie DeAngelo, owner of Bella Luna in Merced, Calif., which specializes in Italian breads and pastries, plus sandwiches and soups.

“Activate dry yeast in water at about 85-90 degrees. Let sit about three to five minutes. … This will ensure that your yeast is working. For beginners, it’s a must.” The yeast will activate and take on a creamy sauce-like consistency.

Cream the wet ingredients and stir in the fermented yeast and then the flour until the dough just comes together. Let the warmth of summer do the rest. As the yeast ferments, it feeds off sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. During baking, these gases are released and baked goods rise.

A long knead is a misconception, as is dough being time-consuming.

Those “best for bread” gluten-heavy flours, combined with refrigerating the dough overnight, allow the flavors to develop without the need for endless kneading. And a chilled dough is easier to roll out and shape.

If you find that the dough is ready and you’re not, punch it down and put it back in the refrigerator. The dough will hold in the refrigerator for a day or two or even three.

This recipe will accommodate a sweet filling, though it tastes best paired with a savory partner. Roll out the dough and spread heavily with apricot jam or marmalade, or mix 2 tablespoons jam with 1 cup ricotta, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons flour. Roll up and bake as directed on the dough.

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