Friday Bread Basket: 10/30/20
Welcome to this week’s bread basket, a round up of interesting bread-related links and tidbits.
Heads up: I’ll be sending out another subscriber-only/sneak preview recipe later today, this one for my own recipe for pan de muerto (of which there is a photograph below). It’s nearly ready for prime time, but given how close we are to November 1, I’m decided to save it for 2021, so that I can get it into everyone’s hands well in advance of the Day of the Dead holiday.
But I figured maybe some of you would like to try it out this weekend and am happy to share it as a work-in-progress (fair warning: the dough itself is in good shape, but the recipe’s got a ways to go, instruction-wise.) If you aren’t a subscriber yet, and want to give it a try, you know what to do:
Kellogg’s pan de muerto cereal
Just in time for Halloween and Día de Muertos—Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday, celebrated on November 1-2—Kellogg’s has released a “pan de muerto” cereal in Mexico. In case you aren’t familiar with Día de Muertos, it’s one of the largest celebrations in the Mexican calendar. It’s associated with the Catholic tradition of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, though the Mexican tradition has native, pre-hispanic roots as well.
During this time, people gather together to remember and celebrate friends and loved ones who have died. People build “ofrendas”, home altars decorated with objects and favorite foods associated with the deceased person. They also leave possessions and food offerings at the graves of the deceased.
Another tradition connected to Día de Muertos is pan de muerto, a brioche-like sweet bread eaten during the months leading up to the holiday. The round loaves or buns—flavored with anise and/or orange blossom water and coated with granulated sugar—are decorated with criss-crossed, bumpy strands of dough meant to represent the bones of the dead, and topped with a single round “teardrop” of dough that represents the Aztec goddess Chīmalmā's tears for the living.
The pan de muerto cereal—which is one of several Kellogg’s “panaderia” (bakery) cereals including rollos de canela (cinnamon rolls) and churros—doesn’t look much like the classic bread should, but it apparently does contain orange blossom as a flavoring. I think I’ll stick to the real thing.
Yes, your sourdough is special
[Photo credit: Elizabeth Landis]
This article—on Heated, Mark Bittman’s Medium-based food magazine—would have you believe that the yeasts in your lovely, hardworking sourdough culture are nothing more than baker’s yeast that’s hitched a ride, and that your starter therefore “isn’t special”:
Those little packages of baker’s yeast at the grocery store? They contain S[accharomyces] cerevisiae. If you’ve ever used commercial yeast in your home, it’s possible, even likely, that the “wild” yeast in your sourdough originated from one of those packets, having established itself in your kitchen and later inoculating your starter.
Her argument is that because Saccharomyces cerevisiae is commonly found in sourdough starters, it’s likely the case that it got there because it was already resident in your kitchen from having baked with commercial yeast before. The author cites several recent studies that examined the microbial makeup of sourdough starters, including the Global Sourdough Project done at Rob Dunn’s lab at NC State.
While it is true that studies—Dunn’s among them—have found that the most common species of yeast in sourdough starters is indeed Saccharomyces cerevisiae, there’s yet no evidence that the strains in question—of which Dunn’s team found 2—are identical to those in baker’s yeast. (To be sure, I reached out to two separate researchers involved in the Dunn study, both of whom confirmed my take on this story.) Such evidence would require precise genetic testing that hasn’t been performed yet; moreover, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the “baker’s yeast” strains of S. cerevisiae are not particularly fond of the low-pH environment in a sourdough starter.
All we know for sure so far is that S. cerevisiae is a very common yeast, found the world over. Until someone proves without a doubt that the sourdough and baker’s yeast strains of S. cerevisiae are one and the same, you can carry on thinking that your starter is as special (because it is).
That’s it for this week’s bread basket, see you next week. Have yourselves a lovely weekend, be sure to vote, and let’s hope things go the way we want next week, or bread might be the least of our worries.