Yeast. Just the word instills fear into the hearts of cooks everywhere. Since fear is often rooted in mystery, I’m going to dispel some of the mystery surrounding baking yeast.
What is yeast?
Yeast is “a microscopic fungus consisting of single oval cells that reproduce by budding, and are capable of converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide” (Google.com).
What does yeast do?
Simply put, yeast makes bread rise. The gas it expels creates bubbles within bread dough making it lighter in texture than an unleavened bread (think flat bread: tortillas, matzo, etc.).
Is there more than one kind of yeast?
Yes. This post focuses on baker’s yeast, but there is also nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast. There are three basic types of baker’s yeast: Cake (fresh) yeast, Active Dry yeast, and Instant yeast. The two most commonly used forms of yeast in the USA are Active Dry and Instant.
What’s the difference between “Active Dry” and “Instant” yeast?
• Active dry yeast is the yeast most Americans are familiar with. It is recommended that you “proof” the yeast before you use it. Some people consider active dry yeast finicky and difficult to use.
• Instant yeast, also knows as “fast-acting” or “rapid rise” yeast, is becoming more common. It can be used without proofing by simply mixing it in with the dry ingredients. It rises more quickly than active dry yeast. Many consider it easier to use.
Why would anyone use active dry yeast when it’s more finicky?
Bread tends to be more flavorful when made with active dry yeast than with instant yeast, because the bread develops more flavor during rising.
How do I proof yeast?
To proof yeast, you need a warm liquid (usually water) and yeast. Sugar will help the yeast proof more quickly. Simply put a small amount of sugar (1 teaspoon will do it) into lukewarm water. Then stir in the yeast, and let it sit. If the yeast is good, it will bubble up within a few minutes and look like this:
If you let it continue to proof, it will continue to expand like this:
What happens if my yeast fails?
Your dough will not rise.
Why does yeast fail?
The most common reason yeast fails is that the liquid is too hot. Yeast is a living organism, and it will die if it gets too hot. To test your liquid, put a drop on the inside of your wrist. If it feels hot, the liquid is probably too warm for the yeast. It’s better for the liquid to be too cold than for it to be too warm. If the liquid is too cold, your dough will rise more slowly, but it will rise.
A less common reason yeast fails: the yeast is too old. At some point, yeast will no longer make dough rise. I’ve never had this happen, but it can. I store my yeast in the refrigerator and freezer. I keep my main stock in the freezer with some in a mason jar in the fridge.
Can I fix my dough if I realize I killed my yeast?
One reason I like proofing my yeast first, is that I always know it is working before I spend all that time making bread, cinnamon rolls, pretzels, etc. If I killed my yeast, I can dump it and start over without dumping the rest of my ingredients. It’s much easier to prevent a problem than to fix a problem.
If you have already made your bread, it is possible to add additional yeast to the recipe. Once your dough is cool enough (you don’t want to kill the yeast again), you can add instant yeast directly to the dough. If using active dry yeast, you want to proof it first. Keep in mind that you will need to add more flour to offset the additional liquid, but it should turn out just fine.
Did this help? Do you feel you can try out a yeast recipe without worrying about instant failure?
If so, what will you bake first?
If not, what’s stopping you?
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