Yeast Beast


The Artisan Baker, by Brett Humphries

As my “About” page explains, I’m the type of person who shies away from being described as a certain type of person. I also don’t have a definitive job title, though I’ve been answering to “Mom” for a very long time. Still, “baker” is a title that would make sense on the short list; I’ve slid many things into and out of ovens over several decades, and have gathered a fair amount of praise from those eating the results. I’m not past being surprised, though, as I was last night. I had a run-in with the Yeast Beast.

Last year’s Valencian apartment was ovenless, which meant that we looked for creative alternatives. This year we made sure to choose a place with an oven. The controls are entirely bare of markings to indicate temperature, but with a few batches of banana muffins I worked out some rough calibrations. It seemed time to bake some bread.

Entirely enigmatic. The muffins did fine when I turned the dimple to 7 o'clock, a useful rule of thumb.

Enigmatic, as you can see.† The muffins did fine when I turned the dimple to 7 o’clock, so at least we’ve got that.

I’ve used a method in the past that calls for a small amount of yeast, a little more salt, a bunch of flour, and a comparatively large amount of water, all left until bubbly and then baked hot. This was my plan yesterday, and so I put together a mix leavened with just 1/4 teaspoon of yeast, and set it on the counter for about 8 hours. Once the batter was nicely bubbly, I whacked up the heat* and got ready to bake.

For this sort of bread I would ordinarily use an enameled roasting pan, but my supplies and equipment are mostly on a different continent, so I make do. I might also have tried a mound on a baking sheet, but the dough seemed destined to be a puddle instead of a boule, so I opted to pour it into a silicone loaf pan.

The measurements were improvised on the spot, but the end result had only about 50 grams more flour than the normal loaf I make. And it was powered by a mere 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. I didn’t think much about the way it filled the loaf pan as I tucked it into the oven and went off for some bonding time with Ninja.


Long before the timer rang I went in to peek, and found a very unlikely sight: a flat dark panel of crust looking a great deal like a crab shell on top, and a volcano of batter spewing out over the side and glopping onto the oven floor. It looked a little like someone losing lunch over the railing, and a lot like those drawings of the north wind out to get somebody.

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken. Bok 1 - Kapitel 9 - Om nödvändigheten af vindkännedom. Utgivningsår 1555.

From Historia om de nordiska folken, 1555.

El Guapo was off having a photo shoot with students, so was unavailable for our impromptu shoot here, which left Ninja and me and a pocket camera. But I think you’ll get the idea.


You can see a hint of crab shell in the brown top, but there’s also some pig snout, isn’t there?


IMG_0008 2

We could add some ominous music and sinister lighting, and we’d have the beginnings of a monster movie.

Having met the Yeast Beast, I can draw a couple of conclusions: first, never underestimate the power of a quarter teaspoon of yeast. Next, for my next venture I’d better try either a half recipe in the loaf pan, or else opt for pouring the dough into a baking sheet, and hope that the puddle doesn’t turn into an uncontrollable lava flow.

In the end, bread isn’t just about looks. I’m happy to report that though the form might be characterized as “exploded,” the flavor, according to el Guapo, was excellent. He obligingly polished off about half the loaf.

This is an easy overnight bread, recipe for which will follow at some point.

This loaf from our first year in Spain is more what I had in mind yesterday morning: artistic eruptions, kept within certain bounds.

*My sister Robbyn’s recipe for a tasty stew includes the direction to “whack up the heat,” and it sounds so decisive that I try to do it every chance I get.

†We did an online search of the oven’s model number to try to find a manual; the manufacturer denies that such a model ever existed. Hmmm. More ominous music and sinister lighting.

[images:,, yours truly, el Guapo]

2 thoughts on “Yeast Beast

  1. This is so funny Lori, and inspiring that you always seem up for more foreign adventures! I would feel very intimidated by an oven with no markings (even more so an oven of dubious origins). The inside looks positively gooey though–how was it still edible?

    • I’m glad you asked. 🙂 It involved a complicated prioritization process–once I saw that my bread had become other-worldly, the first job was to take a photo so I’d be able to include it in a post. Next was to work on edibility: I took it out of the silicone pan and just put in onto the baking rack, where it continued to dribble for a little while. Third and last priority was cleaning up all the mess in the oven, which turned out not to be as hard as I expected. So it all worked out in the end, though the eruption scene was a bit touch-and-go.

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