Yeasts are fungi . . . like mushrooms only much smaller. Common baker’s yeast is the type of yeast that you are probably most familiar with, It is used to leaven bread and impart the yummy fermentation flavor and aroma.
They are gassy little creatures. If we feed them and keep them warm they reward us by producing carbon dioxide and alcohol giving us yummy, airy loaves of bread.
Yeast are temperamental and sensitve. Give them too much sugar and you will overload them and they’ll shut down. They like it nice and toasty but if they’re too hot they’ll die . . . the optimal temperature is somewhere around 95°F and 105°F.
The amount of yeast to use, the length of time to allow the yeast to grow, and the balance of other ingredients that may promote or inhibit yeast activity are all unpredictable variables when creating a recipe from scratch. It takes a lot of trial and error to produce a recipe with accurate rise times for a particular amount of yeast (doubling yeast in a recipe won't allow you to halve the rise time) so it's best to start off by sticking with the amounts and times printed in a recipe before experimenting.
There are three different types of yeast you can purchase commercially . . . fresh, instant and active dry.
Fresh Yeast, also known as compressed or cake yeast, is active yeast. It has good rising qualities and produces excellent-tasting bread, croissants and Danish pastries. It is sold in tiny cakes in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets. Fresh yeast does not keep well; it will last about two weeks if refrigerated. The yeast should be pale gray-brown, fragrant, soft and crumbly, not hard, dark brown and crusty. Any mold growing on the surface is an indication that the yeast should be discarded. Fresh yeast should be proofed in tepid water (80-90 degrees F) without contact with salt or sugar. This yeast type is a good choice for breads requiring a long cool rise, or for breads made using the sponge method.
Instant Yeast is a dry yeast. It comes in smaller granules than active dry yeast, absorbs liquid rapidly, and doesn't need to be hydrated or "proofed" before being mixed into flour. Less rising time is required, allowing home bakers to bake a loaf of bread fairly quickly. To develop more flavor--such as for artisan-style breads--a long, slow fermentation is best: store the shaped loaves overnight in the refrigerator before bringing to room temperature and to a full rise. Store instant yeast in a cool dry place, or in the refrigerator once the package has been opened. Do not use yeast after the expiration date.
My preference is:
Active Dry Yeast is the most commonly available form for home bakers. It is available in ¼-oz packets or jars. The yeast is dormant, and is best used after proofing and rehydrating. Sprinkle the yeast over warm water (105-115 degrees F) and a pinch of sugar, and let it stand for 10 minutes until creamy and bubbly. It can be stored in a cool dry place and in unopened packages for up to 15 months, but do not use it after the expiration date. Store open containers in the refrigerator.
This one of my favorite recipes for making nice sandwich bread. It’s fairly foolproof as long as you follow the instructions.
What you need:
· 2 Cups Warm Water (110 Degrees)
· 2/3 Cups White Sugar
· 1 1/2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast
· 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
· 1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
· 6 Cups Bread Flour
Using a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water. After the sugar is dissolved, stir in the yeast, and allow the mixture to proof(1) until yeast resembles a creamy foam.
Pour the yeast mixture into a mixing bowl.
Into the yeast mixture, add the salt and the oil.
If you’re using a mixer – Mix on low speed with the dough hook, gradually mix in the flour, only one cup at a time. Once all the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer up to medium speed for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and satiny.
If you’re mixing by hand - Gradually mix in the flour, only one cup at a time. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth.
Place in a well oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow to rise until doubled in bulk. This usually takes about one hour.
After the dough has finished rising, knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into loaf shape, and place into two well oiled 9 by 5 inch loaf pans. Allow the dough to rise for thirty more minutes, or until dough has risen about one inch above the pans.
Bake the loaves at 350 degrees for about thirty minutes, until golden brown on top.
(1) Proofing yeast - Yeast needs to multiply and grow in a sympathetic environment. The correct environment includes moisture, food (in the form of sugar or starch), and a warm, nurturing temperature. However, if the yeast you have in your cupboard is dead, no amount of environment will help it become a productive leavening agent. Whenever you intend to bake with active dry yeast, it is a good idea to test to make sure the yeast is alive. The act of testing to see if yeast is alive is called proofing. (Proofing rapid rise or instant yeast is not recommended.)
To proof the yeast and make sure it's active, add one packet active dry yeast to 1/4 c. warm water (between 110 and 115 degrees F) and stir to dissolve. (The water should feel like a pleasantly warm shower, or about the temperature you'd use for a baby's bottle. If it feels uncomfortably hot, it will probably kill the yeast.) Add one teaspoon of sugar and let the yeast sit for five minutes. If the yeast is foamy and smells like bread, it's active.