A Beginner’s Guide to Baking with Yeast


I have several yeast bread recipes waiting to be posted, but before I do that, I wanted to post some basic tips.  Yeast breads can seem scary at first, but once you learn the basics, you open up a great world of baking!  And, yeast-risen breads are so much yummier, in my opinion, than most quick breads.  So, here goes, my basic yeast tips:

Activate your yeast:

Do not skip this step.  Pour warm water into your bowl, sprinkle yeast on top, and then sprinkle your sugar on top of that.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes until it’s foamy.  The picture above is what it should look like after that 5-10 minutes.  **If your yeast doesn’t proof, here are some of the most common causes:  (1) Your yeast is too old, and is dead/inactive. (2) Your water is not warm enough, (3) Your water is too hot.  The water should be approximately the temperature of baby bath water.

Temperature:

When letting your dough rise, be sure it’s in a warm area and in a place free from drafts.  My house is never warm enough to accomplish this, so I usually have my oven on and place the dough on the back of the stove top (not on a burner) where it’s nice and toasty warm.  I’ve seen tips to turn the oven on 200 for 5 minutes, then turn it off and put your dough in.  That didn’t work for me, because it actually made it too hot.  Just as the temperature has to be warm enough, if the temp is too hot or if you let your dough rise too long, this too can mess up the final product.

Knead

There are some no-knead recipes, but most call for kneading.  The amount of time you knead the dough affects the texture, and is especially important if you’re making tough or chewy bread, like French or Italian breads.  Some recipes specify a certain amount of time, but a good rule of thumb is to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Rise

Some recipes just say “let rise until doubled.”  I have found that my magic time is 1 hour for the first rise and half an hour for the second rise.  If your dough hasn’t sufficiently risen by then, more than likely your yeast is too old, or the temperature isn’t warm enough.  Always keep the dough covered with a towel.  Cover it while rising, and when shaping your dough, work with it in portions, keeping  the rest covered.  It dries out really quickly and will result in yucky dried out crusts on your bread.

Other Tips:

  1. If you plan to cook with yeast a lot, get it at a bulk discount store, like Sam’s club.  Seriously.  You can get 2 lbs of yeast (go in with a friend for a pound each), for under $5!  That much yeast in packets would cost you around $50.  That is a HUGE savings!  If you do buy yeast in bulk, 2 ¼ teaspoons is equal to one package.  Bulk packages are also nice because some recipes call for different quantities of yeast (such as 1 tablespoon).  If you purchase yeast in bulk, store it in the fridge/freezer so that it will stay fresh.  If you don’t have a membership, you can also purchase online for a bit more.
  2. Most yeast breads can be frozen, either after the first rise, as a dough, or after baking.
  3. Don’t add more yeast if your bread isn’t rising properly.  Too much yeast will cause the yeast to become overcrowded and will also cause your dough not to rise properly.  If it isn’t rising, see one of the other common problems (old yeast, or temperature).

If you have any questions that I haven’t addressed with this post, or troubleshooting, leave them in my comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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