In our bread and pizza classes, as like most of our classes, we talk a lot about ingredients. Knowing about various ingredients and how they are used, can make the world of difference in your cooking and baking results. Baker’s Yeast is no different, although, it often sparks fear in many of my students.

Baker’s Yeast is a micro organism. It is alive, or at least it should be, to do its job. Some students will tell me they never have any luck with yeast recipes and then we realise they are keeping the jar of opened yeast in the cupboard! Once the jar or package of dried yeast is opened, it must be refrigerated or it will die. There is also an expiry date on the package of dried yeast. If you are not sure how long you left it out, or what the expiry date is, just simply add some to a bowl with warm water and a pinch of sugar. If it bubbles and froths after a few minutes, it is alive and well. If not, well… a trip to the store is in order before you start that recipe. Fresh yeast always has to be refrigerated and the shelf life is shorter. It also has an expiry date.

So what are the types and what are they used for?

  • Natural yeast, commonly used in sourdough bread, is just that….collecting the natural yeast present in the air. A mixture of flour and water, sitting at room temperature over time will be the perfect vessel for collecting it. It gives sourdough that distinctive taste.
  • Active dry yeast or Traditional yeast is probably the most common. It is dry granules. Most grocery stores sell it in premeasured packages or larger amounts in jars or bags. The premeasured packages in my part of the world hold 2 1/4 teaspoons each and usually 3 packages are attached. A lot of recipes here in North America are fashioned with 1 of the pouches in mind. Active dry yeast must be “proofed” or dissolved in warm water for 5 -10 minutes (90-100 degrees F. or 32-38 degrees C.) to be activated and then added to the other ingredients. Although you find them on the shelf in the grocery store, once opened, they must be refrigerated.
  • Quick rising or instant yeast is very fine granules, almost like powder. It is also found on the shelf at the grocery store in premeasured packages or jars and bags. Again, once opened, it must be refrigerated.  This yeast does not have to be proofed before use. It can be mixed right into dry ingredients and once the liquid is added, it will get to work. It is often used in “No Knead Bread Recipes” and because of the long rising time, very little is needed. It has revolutionised traditional bread making and made bread bakers out of beginner cooks!
  • Compressed fresh yeast is probably the least common and the hardest to find. It is solid, beige/grey in colour and crumbles when cut. I get it at the local Italian food market at the bakery counter. As most commercial bakeries use it, they may sell you some. It is very inexpensive and it is sold by weight. Ask them to tell you the expiry date on the main package. It must always be refrigerated. Compressed fresh yeast must also be proofed in warm water. Crumble it and add it to warm water (90-100 degrees F. or 32-38 degrees C.) Let it rest for 5-10 minutes. It should be foamy when ready. I think fresh yeast has a less distinguished yeast flavour. My mother always used it for bread and pizza.

Learning to use yeast for bread, focaccia, doughnuts and sweets is definitely a more advanced cooking skill. It takes practice to perfect bread making but the new “No Knead Breads” are so simple I think anyone can learn and get great results. As I write this, my new cookbook is at the printer and I have 2 simple recipes that would be a great introduction to using yeast. My Thick Crust Pizza and No Knead Focaccia are simple, beginner recipes that will give you professional results! Order my cookbook here…  http://www.italiancookingschoolguelph.com/natalinas-kitchen-cookbook

I hope this Blog inspires you to get in the kitchen and Bring Homemade Back!

Ciao for now, Natalina xo

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