One of the biggest “intimidation” factors in baking bread and other “rising” forms of oven-produced goodness is Yeast! What is it? Where does it come from? What does it do? What kind should I use? Just walk into the supermarket and you’ll find Active Dry Yeast, Rapid Rise Yeast, Quick Rise Yeast, and Bread Machine Yeast, all in as many confusingly colorful packages and sizes. Do you get the jar, the envelope, or vacuum sealed pack? Does it really matter? Where do you store it? Freezer? Refrigerator? Cupboard? It all gets to be a little confusing and intimidating
Lets see if we can simplify things a little.
Yeast is an active, living, consuming, and rapidly reproducing single celled organism. IT’S ALIVE! It eats, grows, and reproduces. Now, don’t worry. It sounds worse than it is. Working with something that is alive and has to potential to change what you are making should sound exciting and challenging. But, I realize for many it may conjure up images of bugs and other gross things. Sorry but you will need to GET OVER IT! If you want to make bread you’ll need to understand yeast. It converts food (mainly starches and sugars), through a fermentation process, into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yes, that’s right, alcohol. If you are a baker you join the ranks winemakers and brewmasters as you attempt to understand and control yeast. However, for baking, your focus for the most part is on the carbon dioxide and not alcohol so you can relax and not have to explain to your church why you are producing alcohol in your kitchen.
As with most living things, yeast needs the right environment to grow and work properly. It needs moisture, food (sugars and starch), and a warm nurturing temperature of 70* to 85* degrees. If you provide a conducive environment the yeast will do all the work. The carbon dioxide produced will enable the dough to rise and you will be on your way to a successful experience of baking bread.
So what’s with all the different kids of yeast out there? Lets look and see…
Active Dry Yeast: Are tiny dehydrated granules of yeast which lie dormant (but alive) due to the lack of moisture. This is one of the most stable and easily accessible forms of yeast available today. It comes in containers as small as 1/4 oz envelope and as large as 1lb vacuum sealed block.This yeast must be added to warm water (100* to 110*) to activate its full consuming power. When storing, it will need to be kept in a cool, moisture free environment. If you choose to keep yours in the freezer as I do, then it will need to come to room temperature before you start working with it. Also, it can die, so check your expiration date and try “proofing” it which will be described below. One 1/4 oz envelope 2 1/4 tsp. (Substitutes: 1 cube/ 0.6 oz Fresh Yeast = 2 1/4 tsp or 1 packet Active Dry Yeast; Rapid Rise Yeast = measure for measure; Starter = 2 cups)
Rapid Rise Yeast: Also called Quick Rise, was developed for home bakers to save time in the kitchen. (Most professional backers do not use this) It rises quickly, requiring only one rise where other yeast require two. The down side is that it dies quickly, before it can impart any of that great yeasty flavor to the bread. Bread Machine Yeast is much the same accept it is been tailored for your machine. (Substitutes: Measure for measure Active Dry Yeast; 1 cube/0.6 oz Fresh Yeast = 2 1/4 tsp or 1 packet; Starter= 2 cups)
Compressed Fresh Yeast: This yeast is the least stable but most desirable when making bread. You may not be able to find it in your supermarket but most bakeries will have some that they “might” sell you. It comes in 0.6 oz or 2 oz cubes, is moist and extremely perishable. It can be frozen (not highly recommended) but once thawed must be used immediately. This yeast does not need to be dissolved in water before it is added to the other ingredients. However, it is more sensitive to the proximity of salt before it is mixed. (Substitutes: 2 1/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast or Rapid Rise Yeast = 1 cube/0.6 oz; Starter = 2 cups)
Yeast Starters: This form of yeast is the richest, tastiest, and hardest to achieve and maintain. Starters were how bread was made until the 19th century when dry yeast and baking power came on the market. Most homes had a “crock” of starter stored in the house and fresh bread was made weekly. Basically, starter is yeast, water, and flour. Different breads call for different starters but they are very similar. If you’ve ever made “Amish Friendship Bread” you have baked from a starter. To keep it living, you must wait until the starter is established (fermented), then place in a air tight container and put into the refrigerator until ready to use. (2 cups starter = 1 packet of Active Dry Yeast or 1 cube (0.6 oz) of Compressed Yeast.) If not refreshed this yeast will sour and die. You can prevent this by removing from the refrigerator once a week, getting ride of 75% of it (I recommend you bake bread with it.) Then replace with equal parts warm water and flour. It’s as easy as that. (Simple Starter: 1 packet of yeast, 2 cups warm water (wait 10 min), 2 cups flower. Allow to ferment and then place in refrigerator.)
Proofing: This is a way to check and see if your yeast is alive or dead. I would recommend you first check the date. If it is 2011 and the expiration date is 1997 then you have a problem. But other things besides age can kill your yeast. Proofing is a simple test. Dissolve some yeast in warm water with a pinch of sugar. Set it aside for 5-10 minutes. If it starts to smell and foam then it…is… a…live. If not, then you will need some new yeast.
As for me… I would love to use Fresh Yeast when I am able to find some but until then… I am sticking with Active Dry Yeast. You can get a full pound at Costco for less than 3 of the little envelopes at the supermarket. Keep it in the freezer and then your ready to start baking.