Searching for yeast on a Friday night in which we may have accidentally developed a baking problem

Food ?? Comments Sun 07 December 2014

When we first arrived at OIST, we struggled a bit for the first day or two with how isolated the campus is; outside of lunch (where several bento box vendors descend on campus with a selection ranging from katsu chicken, soba, to taco rice), the only shop available on campus is Jimmy's, an American style bakery that also sells Tim Tam's (of all things).

However, our apartment contains a small but decent kitchen, and after stocking up on kitchen supplies from Daiso - the most glorious store I've ever set eyes on - we slowly adjusted to cooking at night. (No but seriously, Daiso is amazing. Everything - I repeat, everything - is ¥100. That includes bins, kitchen utensils, food, chocolate, frying pans, ink cartridges. Every time we realise we need something - to Daiso! we cry).

So dinners started off exactly how you would expect for two students used to home cooked meals; spaghetti bolognese made with beef mince, dried pasta and Prego® Italian Sauce. Delicious and student-proof. (Note to selves: buy pasta colander from Daiso.)

From there though, things started to escalate ever so slightly.

I mean, our initial ideas started off simple enough, but had a nasty habit of escalating in the kitchen. For example, next up: steak. Easy, right?

This is what we ended up with.


Steak with stir fried vegetables, onion 'jus' and rice, uh, cake.

Not long after finishing, we started to get a pining for dessert. And thus began the soon-to-be nightly ritual of walking down to Jimmy's in sugary hope, wandering past aisles in an underwhelmed dazed, and returning to the apartment with nothing but a lingering sense of disappointment.

I can't quite remember who suggested it, but about one week later we finally found an escape from the perpetual walk of disappointment to and from Jimmy's. Let's bake our own cake.

Our kitchen was still barely functional at this stage, but we were driven. And so off we went to buy the required baking staples; milk (or milk-water, the closest thing we could find), flour (I think this is flour - but what's with all the photos of fish? Uhh maybe this is fish flour - is that a thing? - better get this one instead), cocoa powder, sugar, icing sugar, vanilla essence (we hoped it was vanilla essence at any rate), and butter (well, margarine; found after searching and giving up in FamilyMart, San-A and Aeon).

Last hurdle - our unfortunate lack of an oven (perhaps we can use the fish grill? we mused).

However, using Tania's intern privileges (and kindly provided with some utensils/cooking space by Tara, one of the PhD students in our group), we managed to procure use of the community kitchen.

Compared to the fish grill in our apartment, the community kitchen's stove and oven were almost industrial looking.

Making the cake

Tania documenting us discussing cake making strategies

Two hours later, the cake was done and we were ready to ice. (In this time, Tara had managed to mix, bake, ice and finish not one but three cakes. Edit: I've been informed Tara actually managed to make four cakes, not three. For what it's worth, it took us four hours to bake and ice a single cake.)

We got the icing ingredients assembled, and I stood there, delirious with hunger (it was around 9pm at this stage and we hadn't eaten since 11.30), holding the icing sugar.

No-one's looking, I tried to convince myself.

Go on.

Just take a couple of spoonfuls.

I gave up all dignity and dove into the packet of icing sugar.

Which, I discovered, did not taste at all like I was expecting. Maybe it was the hunger, but I was seriously considering another spoonful before I realised I was eating flour.

Oh crap.

The industrial oven hadn't been kind to the cake mix, and we needed some sort of icing. Luckily, we had both cream and dark chocolate upstairs - perfect for some delicious ganache.

The reason we had the cream and dark chocolate - we were planning on not just making chocolate lava cakes the next day, but also lime ice-cream(!). There was a packet of key limes sitting in the fridge which I had bought in some bizarre bout of lime-related excitement, and we had discovered the lunch room contained an ice-cream machine.

Even the OIST students hadn't noticed. (Whose ice-cream maker is that? ... there's an ice-cream maker?)


Tania photographing Michael photographing the ganache (and cake)



A chocolate cake. I hear you saying. That's a pretty pathetic 'baking problem'.

Well it gets worse. At this point we now had way too much flour, and were at loss of what to do with it. That's not to mention the other baking goods, such as the vanilla essence.

Put some vanilla on your steak! On your toast! In your tea! In your omelettes! - Tania's solution to our remaining excess of vanilla essence

But then Michael discovered some apples we had forgotten about at the bottom of our fridge. 'We could... make apple crumble?'

And so off we went to buy brown sugar, to prepare a dish that didn't end up requiring any of our two packets of flour.


Michael making the apple crumble using Tania's oven (stupid intern privileges... uh, thanks Tania!)


Delicious apple crumble


It was surprisingly good

Tania suggested we put some soybean powder in the crumble (to add an Okinawan flavour element) and it turned out quite well.

If only we had some vanilla ice-cream to go with it (goddammit Jimmy's). We considered putting an add up on the OIST student marketplace - First come first serve, delicious fresh-baked apple crumble in apartment #939. Must bring ice-cream.

But after all that, we had even more baking supplies left over. And we still had way too much flour.

Then I realised we were out of bread (as was Jimmy's).

'Hey guys. Why don't we make bread?'

And so that's how we found ourselves in MaxValu Ishikawa, at 10pm on a Friday night, trying to find yeast (nights in Okinawa get rowdy with us). We had split up, and I rounded the corner of one of the aisles to find Michael and Tania smiling coyly.

'What's going on?' I asked.

'I tried to ask if this was yeast,' said Tania, holding up her translate app displaying the kanji for yeast.

'But it got a bit out of hand, and the staff member we were talking to is now called on 3 of his colleagues to help out.' She gestured to the end of the row, where four staff members were huddled in a circle, feverishly discussing the packet of (potential) yeast.

Suddenly they all turned and walked towards us.

'Bread.' one of the guys said, smiling, as he held up the packet of yeast. Followed by a string of Japanese.

We looked at each other. Close enough.

And so we here we are; it's Sunday night, and we are discussing waking up at 6am tomorrow to make challah. And that's not to mention we still have lime ice-cream and a lime tart to make (yes, things might be getting a bit out of hand).

I think you can argue by now that we might be developing a baking problem.

The most worrying sign?

Two days after we got back from Ishikawa, a thought struck me.

'Guys, we drove all the way to MaxValu to buy some yeast. Why didn't we just buy bread?'

Tags: japan okinawa