Baking with Yeast Guide
When it comes to baking, yeast can seem like a mystery ingredient. Where does it come from? How is it different from active dry or fast-acting yeast? What makes some types of dough rise faster than others?
The following guide will help you understand the many benefits of using yeast in your homemade baked goods. You’ll be whipping up homemade loaves and sinfully sweet yeast pastries in no time.
What is Yeast?
Yeast is a member of the fungi family, consisting of single-celled organisms that feed on sugars and starches found in flour and fruit. When mixed with water and flour, yeast releases tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. As the yeast feeds on the sugars in the dough, it grows and forms new bubbles, which cause the dough to rise. This process of feeding is referred to as fermentation.
Types Of Bakers Yeast
There are two main types of yeast: wet and dry.
Wet yeast is a naturally occurring, single-cell organism that feeds on sugars found in flour and fruit. This type of yeast must be refrigerated to keep it alive, but it also keeps for up to two years without losing potency. Wet yeast can produce bread with a shorter rising time than dry yeast, due to its live cells, and it also produces bread with a breadier texture. This type of yeast is best when used by itself, with no other leavening agent such as baking powder or baking soda. It can be crumbled easily between your fingers for use in recipes, but should not be ground up.
Dry yeast is commercially prepared, with most brands consisting of little more than yeast and wheat flour. This type of yeast is commonly known as brewers or instant yeast. It can be added directly to dry ingredients, but should first be proofed in warm water (between 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 115 degrees F) until bubbly, about five minutes. If it foams within this time frame, it is fresh and active; if it does not foam, the yeast should be discarded.
Types of Dry Yeast
There are several varieties of dry yeast, but they can generally be categorized into four types: bread machine, active, fast-rising, and instant.
Bread Machine Yeast
This yeast is also commonly referred to as “regular” or “traditional” yeast. It’s usually sold in small jars or packets and comes with a premeasured amount of powdered yeast and an instruction packet telling you how to activate it. This type of yeast is generally only active for one rising, so if you won’t be using it right away, store the dough in the refrigerator after kneading until ready to bake (do not punch down or let rise; simply cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil).
Active Dry Yeast
Also sold in jars or packets, active dry yeast is a bit more potent than traditional yeast. However, it is also perishable and must be kept refrigerated at all times (even after opening). Active dry yeast can be combined directly with dry ingredients like traditional yeast; however, this variety should never be proofed in water, and it should always be added to warm water (between 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 115 degrees F) before mixing with the other ingredients. If you’re not sure which type of yeast you’re using, err on the side of caution and proof it first.
This type of yeast is also sold in jars or packets and is fast-acting dry yeast, which means it doesn’t need to be proofed in water. It can also be combined with the other dry ingredients for dough; however, only let the dough rise once before shaping ( don’t punch it down ). This type of yeast can shorten the rising time by up to 50 percent compared to regular yeast, and its small granules make it easy to measure.
Also sold in jars or packets, this type of yeast is a potent dry yeast that can be mixed directly with dry ingredients for the dough. Only let the dough rise once before shaping (don’t punch it down). Instant yeast can shorten the rising time by up to 75 percent compared to traditional yeast, and the tiny granules make it easy to measure. It can also be added directly to dry ingredients for bread without being proofed in water first.
Can I Store Dry Yeast in a Freezer?
Dry yeast can be stored in the freezer to keep it fresh until ready to use. However, yeast is at its most potent when stored no longer than three months in the freezer. To store dry yeast properly, seal it tightly in an airtight container or baggie before placing it in the freezer. Remove only as much yeast as you need; the rest should be allowed to thaw in the refrigerator. Once it’s been defrosted, yeast can be stored in the refrigerator for up to six months.
What is Proofing Yeast?
Proofing yeast is the process of combining yeast with water or other liquid and allowing it to sit until it begins to foam about 10 minutes. If you don’t want to proof your yeast in water, some sources suggest using milk or fruit juice for added flavor. Here are instructions on how to proof dry yeast.
How Is Yeast Used in Baking?
Yeast feeds off sugar and flour to create carbon dioxide, which is what makes bread dough rise. When yeast comes into contact with a warm liquid, it begins feeding on the starches in the flour for food. As it does this, the yeast produces two byproducts: alcohol and carbon dioxide. The ethanol evaporates as bread bakes, while the carbon dioxide creates pockets in the bread dough by expanding and making bubbles. The longer yeast sits before being used, the more time it has to produce gas bubbles that will affect how bread rises.
When Does the Dough Rise?
Once you’ve combined all the ingredients for the dough, it’s time to knead. At this point, place the ball of dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Now allow the dough to rise until double in size before shaping into loaves or rolls. Rising times will vary depending on how active your yeast is, how warm the room is, and whether or not you’re using fast-acting yeast. Once you’ve shaped your loaf or rolls, they must rise again before baking.
What if My Dough is Not Rising?
There are a few things that could be happening if your dough isn’t rising. First, check to make sure you’ve measured the yeast correctly and haven’t added it to water that’s too hot or cold (between 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 115 degrees F). You can also use our yeast conversion chart if you’re not sure how much dry yeast to use. If you’d rather proof your yeast in water, make sure the liquid isn’t too hot or cold (between 100 degrees F and 110 degrees F). You can let the dough rise twice before shaping if it’s not rising, but try to keep each stage under two hours. Err on the side of caution with proofing times, since yeast that’s left to sit too long will start to eat into the dough, causing off-flavors and a denser loaf. Once you’re done making bread, learn how to store it properly.
How do I Knead Dough?
For dough that’s best suited to the kneading process, bring your ingredients together into a ball or disc. If you’re following a specific recipe, it will likely mention what kind of consistency the dough should have during this step. For example, it might be very sticky for biscuits and Danish pastry, but smooth and elastic if making bread.
Once your dough starts to look smooth and pliable, dust a flat surface with flour. Mine will have bubbles throughout that I’ll want to pop before using it. Next, place the ball of dough onto the floured surface and use the heels of your hands to push down on it gently. Fold the dough over itself, turn it 90 degrees, and push down on it again. Keep turning and kneading until the dough starts to feel smooth and elastic, but not overly stiff.
Baking with yeast is a science in itself, and the more familiar you become with what your dough should look and feel like during each step of the process, the better. If this all sounds foreign to you, make sure to check out our best bread maker reviews and baking supplies guides for helpful tips and information.