Q: We tried to make an old family recipe of stollen for the holidays, but with rapid rise yeast instead of regular. This time the dough was coarse and tough, it hardly rose at all. Why did a different yeast make such a big difference in the dough? How can I convert the old recipe to new ingredients?
Answer: In general, the only changes that are necessary for rapid rise or instant yeast instead of regular dry yeast is that the yeast can be mixed dry into the flour, and then the warm milk or water is added to the flour. You made that change correctly. But your recipe is a very rich recipe, more like a brioche than a plain yeast dough. It has a full cup of butter in the dough, plus more for brushing on top later.
Unless a recipe specifically calls for melted butter, the temperature of the butter will make a big difference in the texture of the final baked product. It seems that the more likely cause of the coarse, flat stollen was butter that was much too soft. Room temperature butter for creaming into the sugar as your recipe calls for should be just soft enough that you can press on it and leave a fingerprint. If it’s too soft, it will soak into the flour. That makes it difficult for the gluten to develop properly. The dough gets greasy instead of silky and stretchy, and rises poorly.
So use room temperature, not warm, butter. A suggestion that I found in “Baking Illustrated,” from the Cooks Illustrated publishers, is to chill the mixing bowl so that the butter doesn’t get too soft during mixing. Another is that a rich dough such as yours often will have a better texture and flavor if it is allowed to rise in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 10 hours. Then it can be shaped, filled if necessary, and given the second rise until it’s doubled in bulk before baking.
Q: We were given some fresh eggs, straight from the farm recently. I noticed that in several of them the clear stuff around the yolk wasn’t clear. It was cloudy, almost milky white. They smelled OK, but I wasn’t sure, so I threw those away. The friend who gave them to us didn’t know what caused it, either. Do you think they were safe? Should she get her chickens checked?
Answer: Actually, what you describe is good evidence that they were fresh eggs, super-really-fresh eggs! When eggs are first laid, the albumin (that’s the clear runny gel that will turn white when they’re cooked) is cloudy. As the egg ages some, it turns clear. The cause is that there is carbon dioxide inside fresh eggs. As the egg sits, this gradually leaks out through the pores in the shell. As the carbon dioxide leaves, the albumin becomes clearer, what we consider the “natural” color. Your eggs were just so fresh that the carbon dioxide hadn’t had time to escape yet. Had you kept them a couple of more days, you never would have noticed anything different.
This whiteness is different from the stringy white cords in the eggs. These are called chalazae, and are there basically to anchor the egg yolk in place inside the eggs. They keep the yolk from ending up on one side or down in the bottom of the egg after it’s been sitting on end in the carton for a couple of days. It too is perfectly natural and is safe to eat. Don’t bother trying to pick or pull it out, just cook the eggs.
Mary A. Keith, a licensed dietitian and health agent at Hillsborough County Extension, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.