Baking with yeast is not as daunting as it seems if you have the right information at hand. So, use this guide as a reference every time you need answers to all your yeast-related questions. A practical guide for beginners when baking with yeast.
What is yeast made of?
Yeast is a single-cell live organism that needs food, warmth, and moisture to survive. That is why we feed it with sugar, starch, and warm water. It converts food into carbon dioxide and alcohol that makes food rise such as bread. And, bakers use yeast for leavening bread.
Of course, when we say yeast, the most common picture for most people is the intense kneading, proofing, and labor-intensive bread recipes. However, it is not so difficult or daunting. Let me share with you some useful information about yeast.
Yeast and gluten
You must have seen these two always in a recipe. If there is yeast there is always talk about gluten. In fact, you need both to create the structure of bread or any yeast-leavened dough.
In addition, water is what hydrates the protein in the dough and sugar is what feeds the dough. Hence, the more you knead, the stronger the gluten development in the dough.
Yeast and proofing
Proofing simply means fermentation. This happens when gluten is developed after kneading. This is the time when the yeast feeds on the sugar in the dough along with the starch and expels gas into the gaps of gluten. And, this is what makes the dough rise.
Two main types of yeast
- Wet yeast - often referred to as fresh yeast, cake yeast, or compressed yeast.
- Dry yeast - known as active dry and instant yeast.
Types of wet yeast
Fresh yeast, cake yeast or compressed yeast
- These are moist blocks or cakes sold in compressed form in commercial bakeries.
- It has a pale flour color, smells like yeast and is easily crumbly.
- Fresh yeast has a short shelf life (highly perishable). Therefore, is best for those who bake often like a few times a week.
- Also, you don't need to keep it in the refrigerator at all times.
Types of dry yeast
1. Dry yeast - active dry yeast
- This is dry, granular and sold in well-sealed small jars or packets.
- The yeast is in its dormant state (sleeping state), so it needs to be revived.
- This needs to be rehydrated with the help of warm water and sugar (warmth and food).
- It needs to get foamy and smell like yeast before you add it to a recipe and kneaded into bread.
- It is best kept sealed in the fridge.
2. Dry yeast - instant yeast
- It is instant and can be used straight up in its granular form.
- This means that you can add the yeast granules directly to your flour along with all other ingredients.
- It does not need to be hydrated beforehand.
- It has a longer shelf life of about a year and can be kept at room temperature.
Substituting dry yeast for instant yeast
- Active dry yeast - 1 package = 2 ¼ teaspoon = ¼ oz = 7 grams
- Instant yeast - 1 package = 2 ¼ teaspoon = 7 grams
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast = ¾ teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 package instant yeast = 1 ¼ package active dry yeast
Substituting dry yeast for fresh yeast
- 2 ¼ teaspoon or 7 grams instant yeast = 21 grams fresh yeast or 1 ¼ block or 2 oz fresh yeast
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast = ½ block fresh yeast
- 2 ¼ teaspoon (1 package) active dry yeast = 17.5 grams fresh yeast or 1 block fresh yeast
Other types of yeast
- Rapid rise yeast - not very common because the quick rise does not necessarily help develop the flavor of the bread.
- Wild yeast - sourdough starter is wild yeast and it is what we make when we need sourdough bread. It is made using water, flour and a few days of nurturing until the bacteria is developed. It can be time-consuming and needs regular feeding.
What does activating the yeast means?
Dry yeast is usually in its dormant form and needs to be revived with food and water. It is best hydrated in a bowl with warm water and sugar. The yeast dissolves in the warm water and feeds on the sugar. This makes it foamy and you see bubbles develop. This is a good indication that the yeast is active.
What is the best place for the dough to rise?
Ideally, at room temperature, around 70 to 100 F, unless you have very hot summers or very cold winters.
- In summer, I prefer to keep the dough in my oven that is turned off.
- And, in winter, I keep the oven light on to raise the temperature a bit.
- And, in case the temperature is very cold, I turn the oven on at 100 F for 5 minutes. Switch it off, then place the bowl of dough in.
Do I need a thermometer to test the water for yeast?
Not really. The temperature is given to you as a guide. While a thermometer is very handy in baking you don't need to buy a thermometer just for the water.
How do you know the right temperature? Often these are used as guides
- Lukewarm or barely warm
- It's the same temperature you would give baby milk.
- If you put your clean little finger in the milk you should be able to hold it there comfortably without it feeling too warm.
- When in doubt it is best to make it less warm than hot.
Can I use expired yeast?
All products have a before and after date on the package. It is very important to keep track of these dates because in some products it can be critical.
Bread yeast is a living organism and can lose its potency. There is a possibility that the dough may not rise at all or it may take much longer than stated in the recipe.
To know if your yeast has expired - add a small amount of yeast in warm water and let stand for 5 minutes. If it forms up - you are good to go. If not, toss it out and use a new package of yeast.
Frequently asked questions
Yes, in fact, it is recommended to store dry yeast in the freezer to increase its shelf life. It is also recommended to store it at the back of the freezer so the yeast is not exposed to changes in temperature every time you open and close the fridge.
Dry yeast in a package once opened is perishable. Keep it in the fridge sealed in an air-tight container. Use within 3 months or less.
One packet of yeast (2 ¼ teaspoon ) for every 510 grams or 4 cups of flour.
You can knead the dough by hand or using a stand mixer. Kneading by hand can be therapeutic but it takes longer. Ideally, a dough with 4 cups flour would take about 5 to 6 minutes kneading by hand, while the same dough in the stand mixer would take about 3 minutes.
Kneading the dough incorporates air into the dough, it strengthens the protein and encourages the formation of gluten. This is essential for the fermentation or proofing stage, where gas is produced by the yeast. This gives the bread it's chewy characteristic.
Ideally, in warm temperatures of about 100 F, a dough will take between 60 to 90 minutes. In winter it can take up to 2 to 2 ½ hours. Similarly, in hot summer it can take as little as 30 minutes.
My yeast does not become foamy?
- Check the temperature of the water. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast, and if it is too cold it will not revive the yeast. The right temperature for the yeast is around 110F. If it still does not rise, give it a few more minutes. Start over.
- Alternatively, the yeast itself may be expired, which can happen when yeast is not stored properly or has past its expiration date.
My dough does not rise?
A few things could be the problem.
- Perhaps the room is not warm enough. Keep the dough in a warm place like the oven with the light turned on.
- The yeast is not active, perhaps it's expired. This can happen if the water used was too hot or the yeast itself has passed its expiration date. You may need to start over.
- The ratio of yeast to flour is not correct. It is very important to read your recipes and use the right type of yeast for the right quantity of flour. Too little yeast for a big batch of dough will not make a good loaf of bread
- You did not knead the dough enough. This is not always an issue with every bread because we do have no-knead dough recipes. But it works only if the ratio of yeast to flour is correct. So kneading is as important as the quantity of the yeast.
My dough does not stretch?
Working with dough needs patience and tack. If you overwork the dough it will start to resist. This means that the gluten strands need a bit of rest. All it takes is just five to ten minutes to rest the dough and it will cooperate again. Often, we try to work quickly and don't give the dough time to relax, which can compromise the final results of our baked bread.
Is baking bread easy?
Absolutely, not all bread is hard to work with. There are many simple, easy and less complicated recipes that you can start with.
Now that you know all about yeast, it would be a great time to start. Start with simple easy recipes. And, I have some wonderful basic recipes that are perfect for novice bakers. Here are a few of my favorite easy yeast bread recipes to start with.
- Homemade Soft Dinner Rolls - these are soft and light and oh so delicious. My kids' favorite too. I also have a video and step-by-step instructions for you as well. If you like them, sweet try my Homemade Hawaiian Rolls.
- I also make them in Roasted Garlic Parmesan Bread Rolls and Garlic Dinner Rolls.
- My Homemade Pizza Dough is very popular and for good reason. Kids love making pizza so it's the perfect recipe to get the kids into the kitchen. Read my 10 Tips to Better Homemade Pizza.
- If you love making sandwiches, I have a few recipes and you will be surprised how easy these are.
- And, if you love homemade burgers, you must try my super soft burger buns recipe.
- Also, if you like rustic whole wheat bread, you must try my simple and easy recipes like:
I hope you found this guide useful. Of course, I have shared many bread recipes along with videos to encourage you to try homemade bread recipes. If you do try any of my recipes I would love to hear from you about it.
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