Ailin Quinlan: Dough! My yeast baking effort was just a recipe for disaster

As lockdown three fatigue sets in, Ailin Quinlan decides to give yeast baking a go.
Ailin Quinlan: Dough! My yeast baking effort was just a recipe for disaster

Áilín Quinlan decided to give yeast baking a go during lockdown — but it didn’t go well at all. Picture: Stock

I SHOULD have just stuck to the Lockdown One Banana Bread recipe.

Or Lockdown Two’s Barm Brack, or even the Going-into-Lockdown-Three Ginger Cake, which actually turned out very well, especially with the lemon icing drizzled all over it.

But I just had to strike out into farther realms, now that it’s more or less a matter of record that Level 5 restrictions will continue for the foreseeable future and that restrictions of some kind will be in place until at least the end of this year.

And let’s not forget the prospect of a possible fourth lockdown next winter, not to mention the growing fears about the sinister effects of Long Covid.

None of this comes as any great surprise if you have a decent pair of eyes and two working ears, but somehow the Tanaiste talking about it makes it worse; you have to do something to stop yourself tearing your hair out and getting yourself arrested for running down main street breaking all the windows with a cudgel.

It does one no good at all to ponder too deeply on his comments, which ran next to a picture of a smiling Leo in an informal open-necked shirt, and which included a prediction that by the time we get out of this hole, we’ll have borrowed some €50 billion. Gulp.

And another that the longer this crisis goes on, the closer we get to the point where “fiscal constraints” emerge again.

Oh God. We all know what that means.

I had to do something to take my mind off Leo’s weird cheerfulness. I finally gave in on the topic of the yeast cherry buns.

Years ago, when I worked in the city on Saturdays, I used to bring home a big bag of giant glazed brown yeast cherry buns from a beautiful bakery shop behind Patrick Street. They were a huge treat.

But then one Saturday the cherry buns didn’t come home because the cafe simply stopped making them. This resulted in a deep period of mourning, with constant queries over subsequent years as to whether the café was making the buns again. (Not that I could see.)

So the Great Fiasco began, humbly enough, with the purchase of a box of yeast sachets.

I’d decided to give yeast baking a go.

Armed with a tiny silver sachet (I’m not quite at the stage of making my own mother yet) and a recipe from the internet with quantities based on American cups — something that should have been a massive red flag from the beginning — I began my journey.

There was a cup of this and a cup of that; God, it sounded like a total doddle. I pulled a mug out of the press and got going.

The resultant seriously malformed lumps were tasteless, unattractive, and featured a delightful concrete interior.

“There are so many steps in this stupid recipe,” I whined, after realising, on a re-reading of the recipe that I had somehow missed at least one or two of them.

The next time I tried the buns, I did a bit of internet research first into how many ounces and grams went into an American cup, which I carefully noted.

In my experience, things usually emerge from the oven as expected, giving an excellent return for some relatively small and painless investment.

Yeast is, I was starting to realise, quite a different kettle of fish entirely.

It’s time-consuming, laborious and, worst of all, skilled.

Actually it’s a bit of a pain.

I have a suspicion that the dough intuited my negativity, naivety and strong sense of irritation, all of which were profound.

Well, you know, there’s all this kneading that has to go on.

And then you have to sit the dough in a covered, greased bowl somewhere warm for an hour while it doubles in size and not, like, forget about it or anything while you go off and do something else. After this it is supposed to have doubled in size. Next you have to punch it and let it sit for another 40 minutes or so, during which it is supposed to double in size again. It was all, I felt, quite laborious and thankless.

The first time I tried, I forgot to both grease or cover the bowl along with maybe one or two other small things. So what went into the oven was exactly the same size as it had been when it was sent off to sit, and what came back out of the oven was smaller, embarrassingly hard, inedible and unattractive.

The second time I obediently covered and greased the bowl and sat it somewhere warm to let it doubled. And yes this time it did increase in size. A bit.

I remembered to take off the cover, give the yeast a bit of a punch, break it up into lumps for the buns — but I forgot to let it sit again. The buns came out of the oven a bit better this time, but we were definitely still not quite there.

The third time, I did every single thing right. To my amazement, they turned out okay.

The fourth time, I was confident. I followed all the steps and did everything right, but when I looked at the dough after it had sat, covered and greased, for a total of one hour, it had ungratefully refused to rise. Then, following the requisite punch, 45 minutes in a warm place, it didn’t rise either. Not even a tiny bit.

Sighing, I bunged it into the oven anyway.

When it was time to take them out again I tried to cut one open and found it almost impossible; they were rock-hard on the outside and utterly tasteless and managed to be both dry and doughy inside.

“Forget the cherry bun dream,” I told my husband furiously. “It’s not happening. Those things are off the menu forever.”

That night, my four-year-old grandson, a fan of my banana bread, barm-brack and ginger cake, and a dab hand himself at making queen cakes and pancakes with his Mammy, heard the dire saga of the cherry buns from a very disloyal little bird.

He phoned. Would I bring one down to him to taste, he asked.

I explained that they hadn’t turned out right.

“No, granny, you have to bring me one of your buns,” he insisted, “I gave you one of my queen cakes the last time!”

Sighing, I sanitized my hands, retrieved the plate of lava-like lumps from the kitchen counter, sawed the smallest one open, buttered it, and delivered it to the small fella’s door (they live close by.)

Why do I do this to myself, I thought, as he sauntered out, giving the bun an assessing look.

“It looks nice,” he said, giving it a covert squeeze.

He took a very small bite and looked a bit taken aback.

“It’s a bit hard,” he reported.

I sighed.

He broke off another miniscule piece and chewed reflectively, before taking the bit of bun out of his mouth and, yes, handing it back to me.

“That’s just rotten,” he said, “and it could be bad for children’s teeth.”

He gave me, the killer-bun-granny, a disapproving look.

“If you want to make buns any more, I’ll come up to your house after the Coronavirus and help you. I’m a better baker than you.”

And so say all of us.

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