Have you ever wished you knew more about yeast baking so that you would always be successful in working with any form of baker’s yeast sold to consumers? Have you ever wished you could get some yeast risings to go a bit faster to save some time making a recipe from start to finish? Have you ever wondered about the differences between fresh yeast, active dry yeast, and instant dry yeast?
We’d love to share some background & pointers when it comes to baking with yeast to reinforce your confidence in working with it.
There’s really nothing quite like the aromas that emanate from freshly baked, yeast risen breads, rolls, and pastries, etc.
In this Part 1 of 2 of our series on baking with yeast we’ll mention some background about baker’s yeast and some details about fresh yeast and active dry yeast.
Then in Part 2 of 2 of our baking with yeast series, we’ll discuss how to “proof” or “bloom” active dry yeast prior to incorporating it into recipes, as well as some of the various offerings under the category of instant dry yeast.
For those who don’t bake their own breads, rolls, etc. throughout the year, holiday times may be the only time yeast based recipes are brought out and a refresher on using yeast might come in handy.
Those with experience baking their own breads, rolls, buns, etc., can tell you that it is a very satisfying sensory experience to work with yeast doughs year round, but even more so at holiday times. There’s nothing quite like that final “oven spring” when the dough does that last bit of rising in the oven and the warm air carries the aroma throughout the space making any room or home smell like a holiday home of yore!
Some batter doughs don’t require any kneading (some have one rising and others two risings), and using instant yeast where applicable in recipes can save you time from start to finish. More traditional kneaded doughs that require two risings (often one can be in the refrigerator overnight) frequently are not hard to make if you know & follow a few simple guidelines. Either batter or yeast doughs can be very satisfying to make. There are now even alternate batter recipes that involve cool risings for the most part and even use cool water in them, however, we don’t suggest those for beginners.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to have grown up around yeast bread baking all your life, then some of the following will already be familiar to you; but if you are newer to it, then we hope you will find some of the pointers below to be helpful.
Note that for our 2011 Thanksgiving and 2011 Christmas menus we’ve mentioned a simple batter dough recipe for Savory Cheese Rolls; and for a lower fat recipe that can be served with Christmas Tea, etc., we’ll be sharing a variation of a recipe for Heavenly Cinnamon Rolls courtesy of our webmaster, G.
Some Background on Baking With Yeast
As a leavening method for enabling doughs to rise, yeast offers a number of desirable characteristics:
- Typically yeast bread doughs (although not necessarily their fillings or toppings) are naturally lower in sodium because sodium only needs to be added in enough quantity to yeast doughs to control their rising rate;
- Yeast based doughs can also be lower in fat and still yield a desirable product with high sensory appeal since yeast doughs contain a complex flavor perception involving fermentation, aroma, and texture, etc.;
- Yeast based doughs can easily feature whole grain flour choices and you should feel confident using some whole grain flour in place of all-purpose flour in most yeast based recipes. Although whole grain pastry flour made from soft wheat is used most often in chemically leavened more tender baked goods such as some cookies and some quick breads, you can use other whole grain flours milled from hard wheat when making yeast leavened items of breads, rolls, etc.
A downside of using yeast to leaven recipes is that unfortunately, it does not work well with gluten-free flours. Gluten has a responsibility for retaining the CO2 produced by the yeast cells as the dough rises. Gluten-free flours typically lack that ability.
Older recipes from classic early cookbooks called for using a “starter” such as a sourdough starter and adding that to a recipe to provide some or all of the yeast action for the recipe. Sometimes the “starter” was more of a thick liquid and other times it was a piece of actual raw dough. Such “home starters” contributed more than simply yeast growth potential–they also provided sensory elements of flavor as well.
Back in the 1800’s and earlier, yeast slurries (think flour + H2O where wild yeast cells could propagate) were the main source of baker’s yeast cells.
(BTW, if you or someone you know bakes yeast batters and doughs from scratch regularly at home, their kitchen may well contain some wild yeast cells and they may find that somehow yeast batters and doughs they make there always seem to rise quite easily and enthusiastically. In contrast, if you are just starting to get into yeast baking, there won’t be those wild yeast cells there to speed along batter and dough rising in your kitchen).
Over time, commercial yeast cultivators developed techniques to “domesticate” and cultivate wild yeast strains and then thanks to the work of microbiologists building on the findings of Louis Pasteur were finally able to cultivate pure yeast strains with higher stability and strength.
Over time, yeast slurries were replaced by cream yeast and then came the advent of compressed yeast cakes in the 20th century. Further progress led to the introduction of easy to store and transport dry yeast options such as active dry yeast developed for the United States military by Fleischmann’s during WWII, and then the introduction of instant dry yeast by Lesaffre in the 1970’s.
Although previously cultivated using molasses as a nutrient source, most baker’s yeast cultivated today is grown using corn syrup.
Current Commonly Available Forms of Baker’s Yeast
Various strains of baker’s yeast aka Saccharomyces cerevisiae have been cultivated for baking purposes. It grows on skins and it is thought that originally the species might have been isolated from the skin of grapes. The genus, Saccharomyces, is a combination of the words “saccharo” meaning sugar and “myces” meaning fungus. The species name, cerevisiae, references the name “Ceres” also known as the Roman goddess of agriculture. The species is used in baking, brewing, and wine making, however, we’ll focus on baking in this infotainment series.
When we think of baker’s yeast today, two words come to mind: wet; and dry.
Baker’s yeast available to commercial bakers includes: wet aka fresh yeast (as cream/liquid cream, crumbled, and also block); and then instant dry yeast (with or without dough improvers), including osmotolerant instant dry yeast (used by commercial bakers in doughs that are characterized as sweet, salty, or low absorption). There are also dough conditioners commercial bakery operations can purchase to enhance the quality of their yeast doughs. Nitrogen is critical for optimum yeast activity. If soluble nitrogen is lacking in bread dough, then improvers containing nitrogen, such as ammonium chloride, may be be added. Mineral salts which encourage yeast activity and accelerate fermentation may also be added.
Baker’s yeast available to home bakers includes: foil wrapped wet, fresh yeast cakes; active dry yeast in packets; and instant dry yeast sold under various names in packets, jars, or vacuum packages shaped like “bricks”.
Yeast is sold by weight, not volume, in various types of packaging, typically for either wet or dry baker’s yeast available to US consumers from two main producers: Fleischmann’s; and then Lesaffre’s (whose brand name lines include Red Star / SAF / (bakipan–sold primarily in Canada). Another brand consumers might find is Hodgson Mill, which offers two dry yeast options: an active dry yeast product in single packets of 5/16 oz. or 8.75 g size; and a fast rise yeast in single packets of 5/16 oz. or 8.75 g size.
Yeast “cakes” are fresh, wet yeast cubes that are foil wrapped. They must be kept refrigerated and thus are sold in limited market areas of the country, often at holiday times, and if available, can typically be found in the dairy section. Yeast cakes typically have the shortest refrigerator storage shelf life and should be purchased close to when you plan to use same. Yeast cakes contain approximately 70% H2O.
Yeast cakes typically can be crumbled into either tepid water (70-90°F), or if the recipe advises, mixed in with dry ingredients (follow package instructions exactly).
The size of yeast cakes is typically 2 oz = 3 packets of active dry yeast leavening power; you can use only part of a yeast cake at a time and re-wrap the remaining yeast cake in the same foil & put it back in the refrigerator to use another day in the near future.
Fleischmann’s has a 2 oz. package yeast cake and also offers a 0.6 ounces tiny yeast cake = 1 packet of active dry yeast leavening power (enough leavening power to raise about 4 cups of flour).
Lesaffre under the Red Star name typically offers at retail a RED STAR® Cake Yeast in a 2 oz. package.
The claim to fame of yeast cakes is that yeast in that form has the greatest gas production capability during fermentation, thus it tends to develop the most flavor in doughs and batters.
Active Dry Yeast
Active dry yeast contains larger granules than those for instant dry yeast, is pantry shelf stable, and is sold in single packets (0.25 oz. or ~7 g = ~2.25 tsp – ~2.50 tsp.) typically linked together and sold as a perforated 3-pack strip, or is sometimes sold in small 4 oz. jars. It was developed back at the time of WW II (around 1944) and can work twice as fast as some cake yeasts can. A number of firms which cultivate active dry yeast advise that consumers with home model combo refrigerators/freezers that have frequent door opening, etc., (and thus temperature fluctuations in such storage) NOT freeze active dry yeast granules, however, dough made with active dry yeast can be frozen prior to baking it off.
Note that just as flours have changed over time, so have cultivation practices for yeasts, thus older treasured family recipes may call for a greater measurement of active dry yeast than you would need to use now. It used to be that older recipes often might call for 1 Tbsp of active dry yeast to replace “1 packet” of active dry yeast, whereas now with the changes in cultivation methods, etc., less yeast than was formerly required will leaven the same amount of flour, so don’t exceed 2.5 tsp of active dry yeast to replace “1 packet” of active dry yeast if you do try to follow an older recipe.
Fast forward to today’s bread machines that have very warm chambers. If you are wondering if you can substitute active dry yeast for instant dry yeast in a bread machine recipe, be cautioned that you will likely need 25% LESS active dry yeast than instant bread machine yeast and want to watch the temperature of any liquids you add. If you don’t heed those caveats, your batter or dough may over-rise too quickly in the bread machine and then collapse.
When it comes to storage of active dry yeast, as Fleischmann’s suggests for their Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast: “avoid oxygen, humidity [moisture], or unplanned heat.”
Active dry yeast is most temperature sensitive when rehydrated aka subject to thermal shock–so follow temperature suggestions for lukewarm water precisely (typically 100 – 110°F). (Although cold based liquids and cold rising methods are coming back into vogue somewhat, since temperatures below freezing will kill yeast cells, we are not advising that beginners use cold methods to start with. Cold shock is a concern, plus the times needed to produce cold rise products involves multiple days instead of just a couple of hours or less). Note that temperatures above 114.8° F (46°C) will also kill yeast cells.
Lesaffre typical retail active dry yeast offerings include: RED STAR® Active Dry Yeast, SAF® Traditional Active Dry Yeast, and bakipan® Active Dry Yeast.
Second behind wet yeast, active dry yeast has a mid-range of gas producing capability and some also feel flavor development ability (remember that it is during fermentation time that batters and doughs develop flavor, so if the time is sped up, that means there is less time to develop flavor).
Because it can often rise more rapidly than active dry yeast, you might even want to investigate instant dry yeast in batters and doughs where there are other flavor elements present. Experts used to advise that for high sugar content batters and doughs (those with more than 1/4 cup of sugar per 3 cups of flour) only active dry yeast should be used as opposed to using instant dry yeast, but in reality since such higher levels of sugar slow down yeast growth, both active dry yeast and instant dry yeast will behave similarly in the end in those high sugar content batters and doughs. The higher the sugar content of any batter or dough, the more slowly the batter or dough will rise.
Yeast baking can provide the opportunity for making some wonderful family memories and we hope you will give it a try during this holiday season.
We must agree with the folks at King Arthur Flour who say that “Baking with yeast is a combination of art, science and a [little] bit of magic.”
Please see Part 2 of 2 in our series on yeast baking to learn more about baker’s yeast including how to “proof” or “bloom” active dry yeast, as well as about instant dry yeast.