The E-Cookbooks Library

Cooking Tips
Food Dictionary
Ingredient Substitutions
Food Funnies
Email Us

Patience Is a Virtue.
Bread Is Its Reward.
By Kay Rentschler

For those who bake regularly, working with yeast has a cozy, alchemic appeal. Yeast creates doughs that breathe with life and are supple and cooperative in the hands. Touch a yeast dough and it responds. Treat it well and it rewards you with magic.

For those who do not bake regularly, the very thought of working with yeast is enough to persuade one to avoid making bread ever. What if the dough explodes? What if it rolls over and plays dead?

The truth is, by using less yeast in a bread dough and cooler temperatures to ferment or rise it, the baker's margin of error drops dramatically and the dough achieves new stature.

The effort is worth making. Yeast creates pastries and breads whose surface patina runs mirror-smooth to ragged, whose crumb weaves gauzy to worsted, and whose textural constitution falls anywhere between melting tenderness and frank chew.

The flavor spectrum of yeast baking evokes layers of hazelnuts and toast, and the properties it imparts to baked goods are unparalleled: yeast breads go stale far less quickly than those made with those chemical leavenings, baking soda or baking powder.

And then there is the aroma.

Yeast, of course, is not a chemical: it is a living organism that performs its magic in dough by attacking sugars and starches and emitting carbon dioxide and alcohol in their stead. The carbon dioxide, trapped in the dough's matrix, causes its rise, or fermentation; the alcohol helps define its flavor.

Yeast has become considerably less volatile since the Dutch fished it from the roiling soup of bitter fermented beer known as brewer's yeast in the 16th century. Before then, making bread was catch as catch can: unbridled, yeast will literally eat itself to death.

In progressive phases of development, commercial yeast passed from flowing cream to tidy cake (fresh yeast), to dehydrated granules (active dry yeast), to a potent variant of granulated yeast called instant.

Most commercial bakers work with fresh cake yeast. Nearly three-quarters liquid by weight, fresh yeast can be crumbled off a block and tossed on a scale. But it is also perishable, and grocery stores rarely stock it.

Instead, the yeast companies have taken to marketing instant yeast, suggesting that home bakers can have the heady aromatic results of a yeast bread in the time it takes to bake a biscuit.

This was not what the Europeans had in mind when they developed instant yeast in the 1970's their goal was to create a shelf-stable yeast with the vigor of fresh and it remains wishful thinking to this day.

Instant yeast will, indeed, outpace active dry yeast when each is deployed in equal amounts. It does not need to soak in liquid first and it goes right to work in the dough. But the notion that instant yeast is like instant soup or mashed potatoes, requiring a quick stir and a presto!, is misleading.

More misleading is the suggestion that abundant yeast results in better bread; recipes printed on yeast envelopes invariably call for a full envelope two and a quarter teaspoons, if not twice that for a single loaf. As commercial bakers know, minimal yeast in a bread or pastry dough means bigger flavor for the bread and greater control for the baker.

Underyeasted dough requires longer fermentation, which sets off more complex enzymatic processes than when the proportion of yeast is high. High amounts of yeast bring a dough to maximum carbon dioxide capacity in short order (ready for the oven), but the haste occurs at the expense of flavor.

When a dough has minimal yeast, the yeast depletes available sugars in the flour after a couple of hours. But it soldiers on, seeking fresh sustenance by converting damaged starches (produced when the flour is milled) to sugars. The new enzymatic processes that come into play when the yeast takes its time result in improved fermentation flavors.

Part of the problem with standard yeast applications and the correspondingly high ambient temperatures used to move them along is that things can get out of control fast: the dough swoons dizzily in its warm oven bunker and ultimately collapses. At this point the dough is not capable of containing the critical mass of carbon dioxide; the gas escapes and the bread's volume and crumb is compromised.

By keeping yeast proportions small and ambient temperatures chilly, the fermentation proceeds at a leisurely pace several hours or overnight with full flavor development.

Lean bread doughs (made without fat or sugar) require the least amount of yeast, about a quarter teaspoon instant yeast for each cup of flour, and relatively less rising time than sweet doughs or those (like brioche) that are heavy in fat. These doughs are sluggish to rise and require about half a teaspoon yeast per cup of flour.

Allowing the yeast to rise at cool room temperature (even in the refrigerator) will not influence the visual clues one anticipates with yeasted dough: at the end of the primary fermentation, or first rise, the dough will have doubled in bulk and will briefly retain the imprint of a finger. At the end of the second rise, the dough will have doubled in bulk again and should spring back slightly when touched with a wet finger; it should not collapse. (If it does, it's back to the drawing board.)

In truth, longer fermentations demand no more work from the baker than standard rises, but they do require forethought and patience. Your gratification will take its cues from the quality of the bread. So relax, sit back and enjoy the wait.

Recipe: Whole Grain Boule
Recipe: Crumb Schnecken

A Great Gift Idea For Anyone ...
Including Yourself!

Click Here For Cooking Aprons

Click Here For Free Cookbooks

Cheese Glossary
Measurement Equivalents
Food Safety
Wine Glossary
Ingredient Equivalents
Email Us

Copyright 2011 by All Rights Reserved. is a Division of VJJE Publishing Co.
8430 Gee Road Canastota, NY 13032