color schemes
   rss feed:
5 Jun 2024

Where there’s a will, there’s a whey – We recently got a yogurt strainer. It’s a pretty simple device, consisting of four pieces: a lower container to hold the liquid that comes out, a middle container with a very fine mesh bottom, an upper container that fits into the middle container and holds water (to press down the yogurt), and a lid that fits over the water container. You basically pour the yogurt into the middle container, put the upper container on top of that and fill it with water, and then close the whole thing up and put it in the refrigerator. Give it enough time and you’ll end with with thickened yogurt in the middle container and a yellowish liquid in the lower container.

“I think we can call the whey experiment a success.”

Although the yogurt is the main, intended product of the process, it is the liquid that I want to talk about today. As you might have guessed from the title of today’s entry, this is called “whey.” Specifically, the whey that you get from yogurt is “acid whey” or “sour whey” (unlike “sweet whey,” which comes from cheese made with rennet). Depending on how long you leave the yogurt to strain, you can actually end up with quite a bit of whey; I did a little experiment and discovered that the thin yogurt we use ends up producing about half of its weight in whey when left for twelve hours. Since we tend to eat a lot of yogurt and have been using the strainer a good deal, we have been ending up with a lot of whey. It’s actually a pretty refreshing beverage straight from the refrigerator, but I was curious about what else we could do with it. I vaguely remembered hearing somewhere that you could bake with whey, so I took to Google for more information. After searching for a bit, I decided to try it out for myself.

My first attempt was a simple four-ingredient (flour, water, salt, and yeast) bread in which I replaced some of the water with whey. There was no pre-ferment or anything fancy, I just made the dough, put it in the refrigerator overnight, and baked it the next day. It turned out perfectly fine—good, even. But I hadn’t used all that much whey, as I wasn’t sure how it would affect the bread, and as a result I couldn’t detect that much of a difference. So I decided to try it again, this time using all whey. I also made a more involved recipe, starting with a twelve-hour pre-ferment (poolish) that I then worked into a dough and fermented for three hours. This is a very wet dough, so there is no real shaping—I just toss it into a banneton and let it proof for an hour. Once it is turned out onto my pizza steel, I score a cross on top and then bake it on my pizza steel at 250C for twenty minutes.

I am very familiar with this recipe, as it is a recipe of my own design and something I trot out when I want to impress people. It balloons up in the oven, and it has a thick and crispy crust with a soft and airy crumb. (If you are interested in seeing what this version of the bread looks like, I did post about my first experiment with the banneton in 2022, although the recipe has evolved and been perfected since then.) I was very curious to see how the whey would affect the final product, and I have to admit that I was initially somewhat disappointed. It didn’t balloon up in the oven like the water-based loaf does. This is not to say it didn’t rise. It definitely rose, it just didn’t seem to rise quite as high as the water-based loaf. It also ended up being a little weirdly shaped, unlike the perfect boule of the water-based loaf. I suppose there could have been other factors that led to the shape, though.

I took the loaf out of the oven and put it on a rack to cool. As tempting as it may be, you shouldn’t cut a loaf straight out of the oven, especially a loaf as soft as this one. So I waited until the loaf was completely cool (actually, I went out with family to lunch and then a picnic on Nodeul Island in the Han River—it was a beautiful day) before cutting it. When I finally did put my bread knife to it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the loaf, despite being somewhat misshapen (let’s call it “rustic”), had a beautifully thick crust and an airy crumb punctuated by well-distributed bubbles. But they say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here are a thousand words about the loaf:

I am honestly not sure if there was a significant difference in the flavor of the bread. My initial impression was that this loaf had a little more of the acidic taste associated with sourdough, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve had the regular version of this loaf, so I can’t say that my recollections are completely trustworthy. I suspect there probably is a difference in taste, but it probably isn’t a huge difference.

The texture was another story, though. As I mentioned above, the water-based version of this loaf has a very soft and airy crumb; you can see from the photo above that this crumb is also quite airy, with very large and prominent bubbles, but I would describe the texture as “chewy” or “springy” rather than “soft.” Neither HJ nor I found this unpleasant at all, but we were both surprised at just how chewy it was. Even though we ended up liking it, I will probably not be making this version for guests, as I think the original texture is more pleasing and better suited for dipping and mopping applications (with soups, stews, and other such dishes).

This does not mean that I will never be making this loaf again, or that it does not have its uses. We had an entire 400-gram loaf (that is, it contained 400 grams of flour) to eat, which meant that I could try it in a number of different ways. I cut up some slices and dropped them into the toaster the next day to have with my lunch, and it turned out fantastic. I would go as far as to say that I have never made a loaf that is better for toast than this one. With its airy crumb and chewy structure, it ended up reminding me very much of a good English muffin. It was amazing spread with butter and then topped with jam and honey. We had some borscht for dinner, and I toasted up some more slices that we spread with sour cream, and again it was excellent.

Even after this, we had enough left over for four thick slices, so the following morning before leaving for the office I whipped up a simple custard (eggs and milk) and left the slices to soak up the mixture for the entire day. This was inspired by something that HJ had said last week. I don’t remember what we were doing, but out of the blue she suddenly said that she wanted French toast. Then she asked if you could actually have French toast for dinner. My reply was that we were adults and could do whatever we wanted.

When it came time to prepare the French toast in the evening, I saw that the slices had soaked up all the custard but retained their structural integrity. With a long soak like this (usually overnight for breakfast the next morning), you usually have to be very careful when transferring the bread to the griddle because it has a tendency to tear, but I could grab these slices by one end and lay them down on the griddle with no tearing at all. To make it more of a “meal,” I added some ham slices I had found in the freezer and some leftover Camembert to make a version of a Monte Cristo sandwich.

It turned out great. The bread was soaked through and ended up being just the right consistency when cooked. With a drizzle of honey over the top, it was perfect (not to mention very filling!).

So, what’s the verdict? Well, I think we can call the whey experiment a success. As a “fresh” bread, I think I probably prefer the water-based version of this loaf, but I still like this version, and it is great for toast and other cooked preparations. I will continue to try out different recipes using different proportions of whey. Next, I would like try a pizza dough with maybe half the water replaced by whey and see how that turns out. The chewiness would be welcome there, I think. Given how good this bread was for toast, I am thinking of an all-whey white loaf with a slightly denser crumb specifically for the purpose of making toast. HJ also suggested that I might try making actual English muffins, or maybe even bagels. I’ve never made either before, so they might be interesting experiments. At any rate, I don’t think I will run out of baking applications for whey any time soon.

color schemes
   rss feed: