Yeast 101 {Tutorial}

19 Apr
Saccharomyces cerevisiae — baker's yeast...

Saccharomyces cerevisiae — baker's yeast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s talk about yeast, baby!

This post is intended to be a very basic, simple and easy to understand guide to yeast for anyone and everyone! Please don’t let the science aspect of this intimidate you. My goal is to provide you with fundamentals and understanding so you learn the how and the why!

There are several different kinds of yeast used for different purposes. Baker’s yeast is a living organism used as a leavening agent in breads and baked goods. Yeast feeds on sugars found in dough and turns it into carbon dioxide, creating bubbles and air pockets which gives bread its texture. There are different forms of bakers yeast like cake yeast, active dry yeast, instant yeast and rapid rise yeast. But today we are only going to talk about active dry yeast and instant yeast.

Active dry yeast is a dormant form of yeast in coarse granules and must first be proofed {dissolved} in warm liquid {110-115 degrees F} before adding to the dry ingredients in a recipe. Active dry yeast has the best shelf life, up to a year at room temperature.

Instant yeast has smaller granules and is more perishable than active dry yeast but can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer. Then, brought to room temperature before using. Unlike active dry yeast, instant yeast can be mixed directly with the dry ingredients, there is no need to proof it in liquid first. Instant yeast is very popular because it helps dough rise in less time than active dry yeast.

Most of my recipes use active dry yeast because it is what I prefer and what I always have on hand. Use whichever form of yeast best suits you and your preferences.

A good rule of thumb is one packet {2 1/4 teaspoons or 1/4 ounce} can leaven up to four cups of flour.

Many people are intimidated by yeast and scared to work with it. I was too, until my Aunt Lori taught me how to use it and how to make bread. It is one of those things you are afraid of until you do it and then its a piece of cake. I think what scares people away from using active dry yeast is the proofing process, which isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. If you have a kitchen thermometer you can use it to be positive your water is at the right temperature. I’ve never actually used a thermometer and have always had great results. I’ve found that there is no need to use a thermometer, it should feel between luke warm and hot to the touch. If your water is too hot it will kill the yeast.

The first thing you do is measure your water, pour it into a bowl with a little bit of sugar {about a teaspoon, unless the recipe indicates otherwise}.  Stir the sugar in the water until dissolved. Pour the yeast into the water and let it work it’s magic for about 5-10 minutes until puffy, bubbly and swollen.

The picture above is what the yeast will look like as soon as you pour it into the liquid. Notice how you can still see some of the yeast granules.

This yeast is proofed and ready to use. See how its foamy, bubbly, swollen and raised? That is happy yeast! Well… rehydrated, proofed yeast anyways!

Okay, so now the “hard” part is over. Our yeast is ready to rock and roll, so let’s get the party started with our flour and other ingredients.

Tender bread is the result of a softer dough. The more tender your dough the more tender the bread will be when its finished, makes sense, right? You don’t want your dough to be perfectly soft and smooth and not sticky when its finished kneading. You want it to be slighttly tacky, but not sticky. Let me show you what I mean, this is the entire process of making bread, from start to finish with an electric mixer, or by hand.

We already proofed our yeast in water above, so now we are going to add our salt, oil {if the recipe calls for it}, and two cups of flour.

Mix until most of the flour is incorporated.

Continue adding flour a half a cup at a time until the dough comes together, and begins pulling away from the sides of the bowl. It will look wet and feel sticky to the touch. After kneading 7-10 minutes the dough will become soft, smoother and still have a tackiness to it.

Always use the amount of flour called for in a recipe only as a guide. The actual amount you will use depends on a number of things; altitude, humidity, the weather and so on and so forth. To check if your dough is done, pull of a chunk of it. {It sticks to my fingers when I do this}.

Now roll the chunk of dough between your fingers to form a ball. If it comes together easily and holds its shape, then it’s ready to proof and raise. If it does not hold its shape, knead for a few more minutes and try again.

When its ready for its first rise, transfer the dough to an oiled or cooking spray covered bowl bowl. Turn and toss the dough until it’s coated on all sides.

The oil or cooking spray helps to trap the moisture so it doesn’t dry out during the rise. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and cover with kitchen towels.

Leave to rise in a warm place, usually about an hour or until doubled in size.

You will know when the dough is ready when you poke two fingers in the dough, if the indentations stay, it’s ready.

Now gently punch down the dough with your fist.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured or greased work surface.

Now shape the dough into whatever it is you’re making.

Baguettes, rolls, buns, hoagies, loaves.

Once shaped, transfer the dough to your baking sheet.

Cover very lightly with greased plastic wrap, being sure not to pin down on the sides of the pan or your bread will flatten while rising. Leave to rise 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Bake according to the temperature and time indicated on your recipe.

Enjoy the reward for all of your work, and gloat in your glory, you did it! Delicious, homemade bread and a house that smells oh-so- magnificent.

When it comes to bread, I’m a total ingredient snob. I strongly believe high quality ingredients produce the highest quality finished products. I only use Red Star Yeast {which is one of my Midwest neighbors, located in Wisconsin}! For flour I only use King Arthur or Gold Medal Bread Flour! It truly does make such a difference. For more information on these products, visit: Red Star Yeast, King Arthur Flour, and Gold Medal Flour.

Now that you’re a bread pro, look for these recipes I’ll be posting over the next few weeks:

Classic French Baguette

Classic White Bread

Classic Whole Wheat Bread

Classic Dinner Rolls

Sandwich Rolls

Bread Bowls

and so much more!


5 Responses to “Yeast 101 {Tutorial}”

  1. Paula April 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    That is some seriously great looking bread! Love homemade bread and around here it gets baked once a week. Great post on yeast…very informative.


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