My tryst with the yeast!!! (part-1)Handling of baker’s yeast
Never ever thought, even after starting with my blog that I would ever in my wildest dreams be baking bread, a real one, as in a yeasted bread! I must confess, having hardly baked a dozen loaves, I am not qualified at all to write this lengthy post. But before I embark upon any other bread recipes, it is my moral duty to update my readers all the lessons I learnt in the process of baking my first successful bread.
As always, the orthorexic me, I started with baking whole wheat flour bread.(orthorexia is obsession with eating healthy, read somewhere recently and wanted to put it in use:-)). As expected the first loaf that came out went straight into the trash. Hubby inspiringly said, there goes your first step to success and I consoled myself saying ‘I would rather fail at something I love than succeeding at what I hate…’ (as quoted by George burn). I had read and researched a lot of articles before baking my first bread, and chose the simplest of the recipes to start with. But nothing can replace the hands on experience of baking it live. Not necessarily your first loaf will be a failure, if you are slightly more mentally equipped than me, then for all you know you will taste your success with the first bake itself. But, no regrets, for me the whole experience from finding a good yeast to seeing my son dipping the so soft yummy bread into his glass of milk has been an unforgettable experience.
There is no dearth of stuff online on bread making and you will get tons and tons of material on google. I am just listing out few things which I felt should be taken care of before you start baking your bread.
I have addressed the following topics, as I felt they need some special attention:
- Handling of yeast
- Kneading of dough
- Pre bake Glazing
- Checking doneness of bread
- Storage of bread
- Some take home points
1. Handling of yeast:
“The” most important ingredient. It does to the bread what a baking powder does to a cake. Yes, the rise of the bread, the softness, the perforations; they all are creations of this ‘fascinating fungus’. Below are the varieties of yeast or more specifically baker’s yeast:
Fresh yeast: suspension of fresh yeast cultures in liquid or compressed forms to get ‘yeast cakes’. It’s highly perishable, and is mainly used in wholesale production of breads in bakeries etc. I recently found a good source for fresh yeast. If the yeast is really fresh it would swell up the dough in half the time!! That’s mainly because it is a live yeast culture. Fresh yeast also gives a very distinct flavor which we usually associate with bakery breads. But its two main limitations are that it’s difficult to obtain and has a very short shelf life. I read that it can stay in freezer for a maximum of two weeks, but I was told by the wholesaler that in 4-5 days it starts losing its potency. It comes in block of 500gm, which is quite a lot, considering that a wee bit will suffice for baking a loaf at home, around 21 grams.
If using fresh yeast, the weight of it should be three times that of dry yeast, for example
7 grams of instant yeast= 21 grams of fresh yeast ( considering all the moisture it is packed into)
Fresh yeast should also be ‘proofed’ (explained later) before use, just to check if the yeast is doing fine. It cannot be scooped into measuring spoons and has to be weighed. The required amount is just crumbled directly into the flour.
Apart from the slightly better flavor it imparts, there isn’t really any other benefit of using fresh yeast.
Active dry yeast: Sold in packets. Yeast cells are stored in small granules encapsculated with thick coatings. So in order to activate them, the yeasts have to be hydrated by dissolving the outer coat. The required quantity is put in warm sugar water solution for ten minutes. This is called ‘proofing’ and is also used to check if the yeast cells are viable or dead.
Instant yeast: smaller granules than active dry and has more viable cells than it, thus making it more effective. Unlike active dry, the yeast cells are not packaged, so it does not require hydration or proofing and can be added directly to the dry ingredients of dough. I use instant yeast.
Rapid rise yeast: similar to instant, but known to act more rapidly than instant yeast.
For home bakers in India, active dry and instant yeast are easily available forms.
First step is to search for a good source of yeast. Since yeast is the backbone for the whole process, I cannot stress enough on the importance of a reliable source. Until recently I didn’t have a local source and I had ordered my first batch of instant yeast from ccdsshop.com. You can also try ebay. Choose from either active dry or instant. I have till now handled only instant yeast and yet to experiment with active dry yeast. A lot of recipes specify instant or active dry, but whatever recipes I have attempted with instant fared well, inspite of reciepe calling for active dry. It’s usually believed that if a reciepe calls for active dry and you want to use instant, then adding it 25% less will suffice, as instant yeast has more living yeasts in it ( for example 1 teaspoon of active dry= 3/4th teaspoon instant yeast).
Proofing of yeast:
The step used to check if the yeast is viable (active) or not is by ‘proofing’. Take a cup of warm (not hot) water, add a teaspoon of sugar. Let it dissolve well. Then add a teaspoon of yeast to be tested. If using fresh yeast, use a tiny bit of it (around half inch piece) .Now, if you are a beginner, it’s also the time to cross your fingers, if possible toes and wait for ten minutes to see small bubbles frothing on the surface. The following pictures explain how inactive, active and instant active yeast perform when mixed with warm water. Yeasts are living cells, so hot temperature will kill them. Make sure the water is comfortably warm. If you are buying those small packets of active dry yeast from local shops, then make sure you test the batch by proofing before going for a bigger purchase.
Proofing is done not only to check whether your yeast ( fresh, active or instant ) is active or not but also every time to activate when an active dry yeast is used in a recipe. Fresh and instant yeast on the other hand goes directly into the flour without proofing.
Checking the viability of the yeast is by far the most important step in the whole process. If your yeast has lost its ‘oomph’, then your bread won’t rise. So if your yeast isn’t frothing after ten minutes, try again afresh. If meeting with the same result, do not hesitate to throw away the batch.
Once your yeast turns out to be viable, next important step is storing. After opening the sealed package and taking out the required quantity, repack it in an air tight container and store it in your freezer. Freezing virtually arrests the activity of yeast, and keeps them in a dormant state.
Continued in My tryst with the yeast (part-II)