The Miracle of A Little Critter with a Big Name: Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Enjoy this contribution from Mike Yanksoki as he explores the question, “Where do you find joy?” 

Here in the West we’re obsessed with grandeur: profits that soar into the billions, books that sell millions of copies, sports arenas that seat hundreds of thousands. As a child of Western culture, I admit that the grandiose exerts a definite pull on me too—by no means am I immune. But just yesterday I was baking two loaves of whole wheat bread and found myself—for once—astonished not at the gargantuan, but instead at the miniscule miracle going beneath (and between) my fingers.

The miracle Saccharomyces cerevisiae

It sounds strange to say it but I’m flat-out impressed with the tiny and often taken-for-granted single-celled critter saccharomyces cerevisiae. Sans Latin, it’s known as “Baker’s Yeast.” This is the organism that makes possible all our favourite forms of fermentation, and so gives us the great gifts of bread and beer. (Without which one has to wonder if human civilization would have been possible at all!)

Thanks to the guidance of a fabulous book—Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day—I ground 5 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, combined it with 2 cups of white, 1/4 cup wheat gluten, a tablespoon of salt, four cups of warm water and of course, two tablespoons of rehydrated saccharomyces cerevisiae. With the Healthy Bread method, you don’t even need to knead; just combine and let the whole sticky mess perch in a warm place for two to four hours so saccharomyces cerevisiae can work its magic.

During those 240 minutes some 140 billion saccharomyces cerevisiae were hard at work, munching on the sugars in the wheat and leaving behind traces of alcohol, organic acids, and carbon dioxide. The alcohol and acids are what give bread it’s unique and varied flavors, while the carbon dioxide is what makes the bread rise, and so creates all those delicious miniature caves in the bread structure itself that are perfect for cupping melted butter.

Then, I shaped the dough into loaves, let it rest for another 45 minutes, and baked it on a preheated breadstone at 450 for approximately 30-35 minutes. There’s really no reason to let the bread cool once you pull it out, and besides, hot bread straight out of the oven is one of life’s most sacred delicacies.

Many thanks to the 140 billion or so tiny saccharomyces cerevisiae that made such a gift possible.

Mike and Danae Yanksoki currently reside in Vancouver, BC. To learn more about their work please visit yankoski.com and undertheoverpass.com