Mastering yeast-leavened dough is nuts and bolts of Slovak cuisine. We use yeast in all our breads and plenty of cakes, whether it be sweet or savoury. It’s an essential ingredient for much-loved doughnuts, as well as our bread-like dumplings, which are served either on their own or to go with meat.
When talking about yeast, I almost exclusively mean fresh yeast. It is cheap and easy to get in all Slovak groceries and supermarkets. I guess the same results can be achieved with the instant or dried alternative, but fresh yeast is much more preferred in my country.
I learned to make yeast-leavened dough quite a few years ago from my Mum, and hopefully I’ll be able to pass the knowledge not only to my daughters.
Here’s what fresh yeast looks like:
To make a nice, frothy dough, you need:
- warm milk
- a pinch of sugar
- a pinch of salt
- flour (in most recipes I combine plain wheat with wholemeal)
- some oil
- a little patience
The exact measurements will depend on the kind of dough you are making. Some recipes call for a thicker dough, others will require a looser one, so always follow the recipe for the amounts of ingredients. Once you get more skilled, you’ll be able to make your dough by eye.
As far as I know, Slovak housewives use warm milk to dissolve yeast, although I have seen a few food blogs in English that suggest warm water. I remember trying the water when I was younger, but the dough didn’t have the same feel and taste, so I have stuck with milk since then and never revisited the other option.
I pour the milk in a heatproof mug and warm it on a cooker over a low heat. Then I transfer a third or half of the warm milk (depending on the amount of the yeast used) to a small glass and crumble the yeast into it.
It’s important to keep the right milk-yeast ratio at this stage. If you use too much milk, you’ll drown the yeast and the fermentation will take much longer to start, if at all. To facilitate the fermentation process, I always add a pinch of sugar and a pinch of plain wheat flour to the warm milk. I stir the yeast well until it dissolves. Then I cover the glass and leave it in a warm place. Depending on the room temperature, the yeast will take 2 – 7 minutes to rise.
To make the dough, put the flour in a large mixing bowl and add a pinch of salt. Remember to stir it well into the flour so that the yeast doesn’t get in direct contact with the salt. Pour in the fermented yeast, as well as the remaining warm/lukewarm milk. A tablespoon or two of oil will add elasticity and shine to your dough. When all the ingredients are in there, combine them well to obtain a smooth dough. Add some warm water, if needed, to achieve the right consistency of the dough, as specified by the recipe.
I know there are all sorts of machines to help knead the dough, but I still prefer to do it the old-fashioned way. First, I like the feeling of dough moving in between my fingers. Second, it helps me better assess its consistency.
The only time I use my hand mixer is when I’m making a loose dough for dolki. When I am happy with the result, I cover the dough with a dish-towel and leave it in a warm place for about an hour.
By that time, the dough will have doubled in volume, and can be used to make shishki , steamed dumplings, and a wealth of cakes. Give it a try and drop me a line to say how it goes with your dough. Good luck and happy kneading!