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Testing Away: Imitation Coffee Cake and Osmotolerant Yeast

I don't know why I've been into making coffee cake lately. It's so simple but perfect as a breakfast treat or a midnight snack. Growing up every so often my parents would get the Sara Lee Butter Streusel Coffee Cake and it was always a hit. Although I will admit I do love all of those frozen cakes at the grocery store, I'm a chef and personally I don't to like to eat a lot of things with a long list of ingredients. I mean I know some of the grosser things used in high production bakeries that I don't want personally to eat.

Not long ago I thought about trying to recreate this childhood memory of mine. I'm still messing with this recipe so I won't share it yet. I want to do a couple more tests and do a trial with the family over the holidays. But I do want to discuss this process and small experiences that happen along the way.

Now to start I want to discuss some specific parts of the recipe and how this began. I like to look at the ingredients and see what I can get at home to start. Seeing that there is yeast and baking powder is different but not completely strange. So I knew to start with a yeasted dough and play with a leveling agent like baking powder being added. I took a recipe of a dough similar to what I remember the texture as and started to work. The dough at this point is this buttery, sweet, yeasted dough. To help with some of the fermented flavor from the yeast and enzymes I proof the dough overnight in the fridge.

The texture is okay at this point, but I'm worried that the yeast might be struggling since it is in a dough high in fat and sugar which can both slow dough the fermentation of yeast. There is another yeast that is perfect for doughs like this though, osmotolerant yeast. Typically yeast and sugar are good friends, yeast eats sugar and produces gas to make bread. But too much of a good thing can be bad and too much sugar and the yeast will lose water and start to die off. If you're super scientific the osmotic pressure sugar creates gets too high in high sugar concentration doughs. That's where osmotolerant yeast comes in. It's tolerant of that osmotic pressure and can thrive in a dough with a high sugar concentration.

I did a side by side test of my recipe so far with both types of yeast. Made the dough, proof overnight, and bake day 2. And here's what happened....

On the right is the osmotolerant yeasted cake. You can see that it does have a slightly more open crumb that isn't as compressed as the standard yeasted cake. Although they look similar the big difference is in texture when eaten. The osmotolerant yeast led to more air and a more bread like product while the standard yeast made a more moist, cake like texture. A blind test with family and the standard yeast reigned supreme. I do agree though, it's closer to what the original was. But it was fun to play around and see if there was a better route in making this recipe.

As for now I will do a couple more tests and since the family is coming out for the holidays I will do a final trial to see what is the best version of this classic.


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