Non-Doomsday Prepping: No Yeast? No Problem
Looking for the original Non-Doomsday Prepping series? Start here: Non-Doomsday Prepping: The Case for Being Prepared
I would say there is a crisis a-brewing, but the crisis is that NOTHING is a-brewing!
The world is out of YEAST. You wouldn’t think that some tiny microorganisms would matter so much to the mental well-being of humanity, but we’re talking about yeast here, the foundation of the staff of life, which as everyone who isn’t on the keto diet knows, is totally bread.
No yeast, no bread. No bread, no sandwiches. No sandwiches, no American Sandwich Project, and THAT we cannot have!
But I have some good news. You can make bread without having yeast. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. Not just yummy sweet dessert breads like banana and zucchini bread either. You can have bread to make a sandwich on, bread to go with a pot of soup, bread to throw a couple eggs on top of for an easy breakfast. No yeast required.
(c is cup, t is teaspoon, and T is tablespoon)
The easiest no-yeast bread of them all is the humble Drop Biscuit.
While you can make Drop Biscuits from pancake mix, they are terrible because they taste like pancakes, only grosser. Making them from scratch is only just barely more work.
2 c flour
1T baking powder
1 stick of butter OR 5 T butter, 3 T lard OR ½ cup Crisco
½ t salt (you might want to use a smidge more salt if using buttermilk, more like ¾ t)
¾ c milk OR ¾ c buttermilk OR ½ c milk and a whole egg (this makes a richer, dessert-y biscuit, suitable for strawberry shortcakes or for cobbler) You want these liquid ingredients to be very cold. Don’t pour them in advance and leave them out on the counter.
Optional: 3 T sugar (if you’re making shortcakes or cobbler)
Put all your dry ingredients into a big bowl and give em a mix.
If you have a pastry cutter you can use it to cut into the dry ingredients (including the sugar if you’re making a dessert biscuit). Others will say to use “two knives” but these people are masochists. It’s quite a challenge to chop up a stick of cold butter in a bowl of flour without making a mess, even if you chunk up the butter first. I do not have a pastry cutter for some inexplicable reason, so I have a different method. About an hour before you want to make biscuits, put your cheese grater, the bowl you want to grate into, and your butter into the freezer. After your components have gotten very cold take them out and quickly grate the butter into little pieces (put them back in the freezer for a minute or two after or even during grating if they’re melting badly). Then once your butter is grated, proceed with making your biscuits. Even if the butter shreds stick together a little bit (and they will) they’re still much easier to cut in with a sturdy fork. You can’t do this with shortening or lard, but they’re easier to cut in with a fork anyway.
Anyhoo, cut your fat till the mixture resembles cornmeal. Then add your milk, or your egg and milk if going that route, and stir till JUST combined. Don’t work out your aggression on that biscuit dough, it ruins the texture. It will look lumpy and doughy and that’s ok. I look lumpy and doughy too, probably because I ate too many drop biscuits. Body acceptance FTW.
Bake on a cookie sheet (some say grease it, some say don’t. I don’t usually, but I can see the benefit) at 400 degrees. Some say 425 or even 450, but I am absentminded and lack an oven timer, so I prefer a cooler oven. Bake for about 15 minutes but start checking them at about 8-10 minutes to be sure you don’t overcook them.
By the way, it is said you can make this dough in advance and leave it in your fridge overnight to cook the next day. I have some concerns about this scheme, especially if you’re using buttermilk, because I fear the chemical reaction that allows the biscuits to rise might have run its course by then, leading to underwhelming biscuits. So make ahead if you want, let me know how it goes, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Once cooked, these don’t exactly improve with age. Eat em fast.
Note about buttermilk – you can make faux buttermilk by combining ALMOST the whole amount of milk with a small amount of lemon juice, vinegar, cream of tartar (lemon juice, I find, gives the most authentic buttermilk-y flavor). Use about 1 T lemon juice or vinegar per cup of milk, or 1 ½ t cream of tartar per, and let stand 5 minutes before using. Just remember – your wet ingredients need to be COLD so don’t forget that and leave your fake buttermilk sitting out on the counter.
While you can technically use these for dumplings, I prefer my dumpling recipe that uses oil because it’s much less work and the finished product is more tender. Cooking them in boiling soup makes up for any lack of flavor that might come from not using butter. You can find that here: Broth and Stock – Truly Making Something From Nothing.
Once you know how to make these simple little drop biscuits you can do all kinds of things! For instance…
Good Old Fashioned Rolled Biscuits
Use the exact same recipe and mixing method suggested for drop biscuits, but once the dough has gotten to the lumpy stage, on a lightly floured surface, roll or pat them out. Don’t fondle them, there, Biden, you want to handle the dough as little as possible. After you’ve gotten them about 1 inch high, fold them in half and roll or pat them out to 1 inch thickness again. Then turn the dough 90 degrees and fold and roll again. You can do this folding and rolling anywhere from 3-6 times to create those fancy biscuit flakes that are so amazing to behold.
Or, you can do as I do and skip that folding entirely. They’re less flaky, but more tender, because the dough has been handled less. I have had very few complaints usually because everyone was too busy stuffing their faces.
You can cut out biscuit rounds with a glass dipped in flour, but I usually just cut them into squares (handle LESS). If you like the edges crispy cook them on a cookie sheet (possibly greased, I haven’t ever tried it with a greased cookie sheet, though) without letting their sides touch. If you like the edges soft, bake in a greased (this one does for sure need to be greased) cake pan or brownie tin all smooshed in there together and be sure to reserve the centermost one for yourself.
Again – they don’t improve with time. Biscuits are not something you make in advance.
While many people like to stir in things like cheese or herbs into their biscuits (if you want to, add them with the dry ingredients after you’ve cut in the fat) I never do. I figure that’s why mankind, or more likely womankind till some rock-n-roll spiky-haired barrel-chested chef dudes showed up to take credit for it, invented scones for.
Attack of the Scones
One time, back when I had only two children, zero jobs, and an exceptionally clean house, I did this big elaborate Christmas gift for my entire family called “Attack of the Scones” where I made several kinds of scones and homemade jam to go with them. One of the nicest things about scones is that unlike biscuits, they keep for a while without turning into desiccated hockey pucks, lending themselves to being sent through the mail in happier times when everything wasn’t coated with viruses, or at least they were viruses we already knew and loved.
2 c flour
½ c sugar (you can reduce this by a couple T if you prefer a less sweet bread, but y tho)
1 T baking powder OR 1 t baking soda and 2 t cream of tartar if you’re out of baking powder, and some people prefer scones this way.
½ t salt
½ c margarine or Butter-Flavored-Crisco, OR ¼ c margarine and ¼ c Butter-Flavored-Crisco
½ c whole milk, cream, or buttermilk (or slightly thinned out yogurt or sour cream)
Record scratch…What the actual eff?? Margarine or Crisco, instead of butter? Your eyes do not deceive you, Dear Readers. When I did my Attack of the Scones project I used margarine because buying enough butter to make scones for 50 people would have bankrupted me. And much to my surprise, I found I liked them better with margarine. They were softer and lasted longer before they dried out. No longer did my scones taste like biscuits with crap in them, they were their own thing entirely. And because you generally put a lot of other stuff into scones to flavor them, you don’t even notice the difference in taste. Butter is great, of course, and you go right ahead and sub it in if you like (or go halfsies) but considering that my husband just had to rochambeau an elderly woman for the last package of butter in Eastern Washington, it seems to me that a recipe involving margarine or shelf-stable Crisco may just be a nice addition to our arsenal in the Time of Corona.
Optional, added to the dry ingredients before cutting in the fat: Herbs (perhaps obviously, in a less-sweet scone), spices, citrus zest
Optional, added to the wet ingredients: Extracts like vanilla, almond, etc
Optional, added to the dry ingredients AFTER cutting in the fat but before adding the wet ingredients: chocolate chips, nuts, poppy seeds, berries, dried fruit, cheese, a SMALL amount of oats (go easy with this as a few oats go a long way in scones. You may need to add a smidge more liquid if you use them)
Optional, on top of the scones after you’ve cut them out and put them on your baking sheet: a light brush of milk or melted butter (no margarine for this part, it makes ur scones soggy) and/or a sprinkling of sugar, or maybe a few sliced or chopped nuts.
Optional, on top of the scones after baking: a confectioner’s sugar glaze or a drizzle of honey. (I find these also make the scones soggy, but if you’re eating them fast, why not)
You mix and bake your scones exactly like you do biscuits (but definitely use a greased sheet for this one as the sugar makes them stickier, and keep a close eye on them as the sugar and then whatever you mixed into them, also makes them burnier). The only difference is you dispense with all the folding and re-rolling (that you never did anyway if you are me) and pat the dough into a rough circle, and cut it like you would a pizza, yielding 6-8 pretty triangle scones. Unlike biscuits, they’ll last a couple days at room temp (provided they are not very moist, due to fresh berries or glazes; if they are, best to keep them in the fridge to prevent mold or bacterial growth) and a couple months wrapped in the freezer.
But maybe that all seems like a lot of work. Cutting fat into dry ingredients? Ain’t nobody got time for that. So let’s make muffins instead.
In order to make muffins you need one thing, though, and that is a muffin tin. If you have those little muffin papers, they’re handy, but not necessary. Just grease up that muffin tin like you’re preparing your children to spend 5 minutes outside before they get bored and come back in with their eyes stinging from all the sunscreen you smeared onto them. Slather that grease in every nook and cranny because muffins will stick even in the most non-stickiest of pans.
Everyday Muffins are everyday muffins because they aren’t those huge super sweet cakey muffins you can get at the bakery. They are more like a bread (even the sweet ones) and less like a dessert. I’ve never found a good recipe for the fancy bakery style muffins; if you have please let me know in the comments! This recipe will make 12 muffins.
2 c flour
½-⅔ c sugar (obvs if you like a sweeter muffin, use the greater amount of sugar)
1 T baking powder
½ t salt
1 egg and ⅔ c whole milk OR 2 eggs and ½ c whole milk (either works, you may like the texture better one way, or maybe you’re running low on eggs or have eggs to use up)
1 t vanilla if making a sweet muffin, otherwise you may skip this
½ c oil ONLY (no melted butter, coconut oil, or fat replacers)
Wait, what? Why oil only? Why not melted butter or coconut oil or applesauce to make them fat free? Well, firstly because we’re trying to think of things we can cook from our pantry, which typically has oil in it, and secondly, I just like muffins better when they’re made with oil. They’re more economical and easier with less cleanup, and I think they’re moister and have a better texture with oil. You of course can use melted butter or coconut oil instead, but for the love of God do not use applesauce or ground flaxseed or egg whites or whatever as a fat replacer. If the 1990’s taught us nothing, it is that fat cannot be replaced and trying to replace something irreplaceable simply makes us eat more sugar while wondering why we all hate our miserable pointless lives. Trust me you’re better off eating one delectable muffin with fat and being satiated than eating 4000 Snackwells Cookies and then being hungry 10 minutes later.
The way to make muffins is quite easy, way more so than biscuits. No screwing around cutting in your fat. Just mix together the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in another bowl, and then add the wet ingredients to the dry ones. Mix them as little as humanly possible.
I cook my muffins at way lower temps than others recommend. I’m a 350 girl all the way. Most recipes do call for 425 or even 450, but I think you should heed my advice and cook them at the lower temp. Otherwise what often happens is there’s a thick chewy crust (and not in a good way) at the bottom of the muffin that detracts from the goodness of the whole.
You can add pretty much whatever you want to this. Using 1-2 cups of stir ins per batch is generally plenty. A cup or two of berries (whole or chopped), some cinnamon and a cup of raisins, a half-package of mini chocolate chips, some orange zest and half a sack of cranberries or Craisins, lemon zest/lemon extract/poppy seed, some chopped apple and walnut pieces. Cut back a little on the milk and add a mashed ripe banana. I just made a tolerable cinnamon-green tea muffin this very morning since I didn’t have any good stir-ins on hand. You can fill your muffin tin half full, then put in a spoon of jam and then top with the rest of your muffin batter for a surprise. If you want a savory muffin (be sure to reduce the sugar if you do) you can try Swiss cheese and bacon, cheddar and green chili, sun dried tomato and basil, even some cooked crumbled breakfast sausage – there is no right or wrong when it comes to muffins, save one rule: if your muffins have meat or are on the moister side you should keep them refrigerated rather than out on the counter.
Do not use this recipe as a basis for bran muffins, oatmeal muffins, and corn muffins. The rules for them are different since they themselves are grain-ish things and they change the chemistry of it. Bran and oatmeal muffins are muffins for another day, but corn muffins are the bastard child of cornbread, which we’re going to talk about right…about…NOW!
I love cornbread. It’s quick and easy. I serve it often with soup, chili, and baked beans. I personally prefer soup with cornbread in it rather than saltines. And all this time I have never found a better recipe than the good old Albers back-of-the-box special. So here it is. (courtesy of Continental Mills, Inc.)
1 c Albers corn meal
1 c flour
¼ c granulated sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
1 c milk
⅓ c oil
1 large egg
And a greased (I mean lay on that grease like John Travolta’s hair in 1978) 8 inch square pan. I often double this recipe and cook it in my brownie pan instead (I think that’s 13×9 but math is not my strong suit) and it works out.
Now I will diverge from the fine people of Albers and tell you how I mix and cook their recipe. Technically you make cornbread like you do muffins – dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in the other bowl, mix em together. When I do that I find I end up with an extra bowl to wash, and I don’t have a dishwasher so extra bowls are something I try to avoid when I can. I usually just mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, then make a little well in the middle and pour in the milk, the oil, and the egg. If you act fast, they don’t soak in much and so you can whisk them all together and end up with an evenly distributed mixture. Cornbread is pretty forgiving of a little extra whisking though. Don’t try this with muffins, it might end in disaster.
Pour it into your greased pan and bake at 350 (again, I digress from the standard temp instructions, I like my cornbread like I like myself; very, very, very blonde and rather soft in the middle) and err on the side of taking it out when it’s barely cooked through rather than waiting till it’s golden brown. Ye olde toothpick in the middle test works wonders here. Unless you like cornbread cooked longer, in which case bake it at 400 for 20-25 minutes like the Albers people suggest.
If you want corn muffins, bake the batter in a muffin tin. (I know this information may shock you; keep it secret, keep it safe.) They also have fancy pans shaped like ears of corn and other Southwest ephemera if you go in for that type of thing. And you can even cook it in a cast iron skillet (just grease it really well).
You can add crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, green chilis, or even jalapenos, but I rarely do as I just prefer the simplicity of the cornbread itself and the additions often interfere with my enjoyment of whatever soup-ish-type-thing I made to go with it.
Some people, particularly Southerners, prefer a not-even-a-little-bit-sweet cornbread made with white cornmeal, and I have fond recollections from childhood of a super sweet, super moist cornbread that was practically a dessert food. I have not tracked down good recipes for either of these things (not for lack of trying where the latter is concerned) so if you have them please share.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was something kind of exactly like cornbread only made with regular old flour? Well luckily, there is.
Irish Soda Bread
It would have been great if I had written this article last month in preparation for St. Patrick’s Day but I didn’t even know the world was running out of yeast at that point. They really need to keep me apprised so I can plan my writing in advance of unexpected global developments.
It is my understanding this is not a super authentic recipe; authentic Irish soda bread is made with only 4 ingredients one of which is REAL, full fat buttermilk. I’ve never made it that way (I’ve used this riff on a recipe from my old Better Homes and Gardens cookbook I got a million years ago when I was first married instead) and since we are cooking from our pantries here I figure it’s not likely many of us have any real full fat buttermilk in the fridge right now, so.
4 to 4 ½ c flour (start with 4 and see how it goes – you can always add more, but you can’t take it out again!)
1 t salt
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder (optional and probably not necessary)
2-4 T granulated sugar OR honey depending on how sweet you want this (if using honey you may need a bit more flour)
4 T (this is half a stick) of cold butter OR ¼ c melted butter (this is also half a stick)
1 egg, but only if using the cold butter (and thanks to Sally’s Baking Addiction for this tip)
1 ¾ c buttermilk, or you can use the trick I mentioned above to sour regular whole milk.
Optional – 1 t orange peel and 1 c Craisins, 1 c plumped dried apricots, chopped, or 1 c plumped raisins if using the extra sweetener, 1 t caraway seed or dill weed if using less sweetener. (you can plump your apricots or raisins by letting them set in your buttermilk for a while before draining the buttermilk off to be used in your bread. Craisins are chemically treated so they typically stay soft unlike raisins and dried apricots, and don’t need plumping).
Note about the optional baking powder – my original recipe had baking powder in addition to baking soda and buttermilk. I started off making it this way, but I found it had a faint chemically taste to it (and honestly, we really didn’t love this bread compared to yeast bread for that reason). Over time I reduced the baking powder to correct for that. While I was doing research into soda bread for this article, I learned that many people actually don’t put ANY baking powder at all in their soda bread and I tried it that way as I tested this recipe. It worked perfectly fine, seemed to rise as high, with no discernible difference in flavor, so if you’re out of baking powder, you may want to skip it totally.
If you want the classic Irish Soda Break you will cut in your butter as you would with biscuits. Mix the dry ingredients, starting off with just 4 c flour, and then use your pastry cutter or the “grated butter” trick and proceed from there, adding the egg and buttermilk to the coarse butter/flour combo. You may need to knead it with your hands to smoosh all the little pieces into the bread. You’ll possibly need to add some more flour beyond the original 4 cups, particularly if using honey, but don’t go overboard. You basically need to just plop it on the baking sheet when you’re done with it, so it doesn’t have to be completely unstickified to the furthest extent possible.
I rarely made soda bread except on St. Pat’s Day because it seemed so daunting to cut in the butter and then not even end up with a biscuit to show for it. While I was writing this article I stumbled onto that Sally’s Baking Addiction trick of melted butter, no egg when trying to find a soda bread recipe that could be made with oil (I never did find an oil-based soda bread recipe, so I must conclude that butter is of paramount importance here). I haven’t tried it, but if you don’t have an egg you may want to give Sally’s method a whirl, and if you do, please report back!
Shape it into a not-too-thick blob (I usually make mine all round and rustic, but a square blob may be easier to divvy up evenly) on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 (again, many people say 400, but I think it dries out too much at the higher temp) about 15-20 minutes, then cover the loaf with foil and continue cooking it another 15-20 minutes (it should take about 35-40 minutes to cook, 45 if you want it extra crispy on the outside). You could also use a skillet or a pie tin, but be sure you’ve greased them well. You do NOT want to try to cram this into a loaf pan because it’s not a yeast loaf and will not cook through if you don’t allow it to spread out a bit.
If you want something that WILL go in a loaf pan…
I have long wondered why it is there’s not just one standard recipe for quick bread and then you can just change it up by adding whatever you want to it. Scientifically it makes sense that there isn’t one, as moist pureed ingredients like pumpkin and mashed banana would operate differently than zucchini or carrot or cranberry walnut, but it just seems like a basic quick bread recipe is something that SHOULD exist.
As I was contemplating this article, I got to thinking about this concept again and decided to have a look at the Internet to see if it could shed any light. And lo and behold I found a very cool blog post in which Baker Bettie breaks down quick breads in about a jillion different ways, including adding various ingredients and catering to differing dietary needs like gluten free and vegan, and even explains how to make quick bread if you’re out of baking powder. I could never come up with something so thorough (at least not without months of effort) and this article has gotten long anyway, so I direct you to Baker Bettie’s site for no-yeast-required quick loaf bread directions (please note, I have not made these recipes personally!)
And last but not least, if you’re wondering about the dark underbelly of the world of non-yeast bread check out this Gastro Obscura piece about some more obscure breads, including one leavened by the bacteria that makes gangrene.