I am in shock. I found fresh yeast! After an extended search in January, plus contacting Fleischman’s yeast only to discover that they don’t distribute fresh yeast in Canada, I found some from another company at Euro Foods here in Kitchener on Saturday. This yeast comes in squares or in this case in blocks and must be kept refrigerated. It doesn’t keep a long time so I decided to make a start with one yeast based recipe. Tonight I am making Coffee Cake using Mrs. P. Zeller’s recipe in the 1906 Berlin Cook Book. There are three other recipes for Coffee Cake and each is quite different from the other.
I creamed the butter and separated the eggs before adding the yolks. There are many recipes calling for whites rather than yolks so if this turns out I’ll keep it on hard to use up yolks on other occasions. I measured four cups of 1% milk and then had to cut the block of fresh yeast to get the equivalent of two cakes of yeast. Fortunately I used to be able to buy cakes of Fleischman’s yeast so I have a sense of what size is needed. Basically it is like the foil wrapped pats of butter served in some restaurants and airlines. I stirred the yeast into the milk and added the sugar and salt. I poured the milk into the butter and egg mixture and then started adding flour. I stirred well after adding two cups of flour. Eventually I added about seven cups of flour. Normally I would just add flour until the texture was right but I try to measure for you! I wasn’t sure how much to add as it looked good after five cups. However, the texture was more like cake batter and the recipe talks of dough so I added more flour. In the end it looked and smelled a bit like pizza dough.
I left the dough to sit in a warm place for an hour. Again I wasn’t sure how long it should rise or how it should appear. I could see it was bubbling so knew it was working. I spooned it into two greased square cake pans and baked for 35 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Mary Reiner married Phillip Zeller in 1884 and they had seven children. Phillip was Mennonite an a farmer but by 1911 he was Swedenborgian and a shipping clerk in a store. Mary was born in Austria but was christened at age 10 in Berlin at the Church of the New Jerusalem not too long after she and her family emigrated to Canada. She too is listed as Swedenborgian by 1911. Reading her listing in the Waterloo Region Generations website is a bit of a glimpse into the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, the same region soon to become famous for its role in the start of WWI in 1914. Mary’s father was born in Hungary and her mother in Austria. In 1911 Mary, Phillip and their children live at 80 Water Street in Berlin. Most of the adult children are working in shops in a variety of occupations including dressmaker and bookkeeper.
Mrs. Zeller’s Coffee Cake is not the typical coffee cake. I’ve never seen one like this. It is more like a light bread. It doesn’t have spices or brown sugar. In fact there is very little sugar in proportion to the amount of flour. There is a significant amount of butter and eggs which must be what gives it the cake like texture rather than bread feel. It tastes more like bread because of the yeast. I can imagine that this recipe would appeal to Mary Zeller. It doesn’t require any exotic ingredients and makes two cakes. I recommend trying this recipe if you like bread but don’t like kneading or waiting for hours for it to rise several times. A modern cook could use this as a base for experimentation. I enjoyed it warm with a bit of jam. Adding anything will take it out of 1906 but some spices or even some fruit added to the dough would make it interesting. I suspect that this version of coffee cake reflects Mary’s Austrian roots.
3/4 pound butter whipped to cream, yolks of 4 eggs, 1 quart milk, dissolve 2 Fleischman’s yeast cakes in a little milk, a little salt, 1/2 cup sugar, dissolve in milk, flour enough to make a light dough. Let rise.