Since failed yeast action is often the cause of poorly raised bread, master your understanding of how yeast works, and your home-made bread will always be outstanding! And understanding yeast is really quite simple.
Photo by Loretta Sorensen
Fact #1: Yeast is a living organism. Freezing temperatures don’t harm dry yeast, which is why it remains fresh in your freezer for a long time. Fresh yeast, usually found in the form of a refrigerated bar, is very uncommon anymore, has a very short life and doesn’t improve bread quality or flavor (as bread baking experts will attest).
Fact #2: Temperatures over 115 degrees (Fahrenheit) will kill yeast.
Fact #3: Yeast thrives – is most active – in a temperature range between 105- and 110-degrees (Fahrenheit).
Fact #4: If yeast is “old,” or has been exposed to high ambient temperatures or moisture, its ability to break down sugar and produce carbon dioxide will be diminished or lost. Dry yeast left a room temperature loses its vitality within a couple of days. If refrigerated, dry yeast typically maintains its quality for 3 months. Dry yeast will stay fresh in a freezer for up to one year.
Fact #5: In storage of any kind, dry yeast must be sealed in an airtight container to preserve quality.
Fact #6: Yeast requires “food” in order to produce carbon dioxide, which is the gas that causes bread dough to inflate. The most common ingredients used in bread to feed yeast are sugar, honey and maple syrup.
Fact #7: Too much sugar in a bread recipe will cause a loaf to be flat and dense. That’s because the sugar and yeast compete for the water in the recipe. Without adequate water, yeast cannot break down the sugar and produce carbon dioxide. Flour/sugar ratios in a bread dough recipe should not exceed ½ cup sugar for every 4 cups of flour. If the sugar/flour ratio is higher than this, additional yeast (one packet) will be needed to achieve the desired rise.
Fact #8: When yeast comes in direct contact with salt, it will die. Salt in a bread recipe must be blended with the flour to avoid bringing it into direct contact with the yeast.
Fact #9: Unless you are delaying a mix/knead cycle in your bread machine, your dough rise will be much more satisfactory if you mix your yeast in recipe liquid that’s warmed to the 105- to 110-degree (Fahrenheit) range. If you activate the yeast this way, you must immediately implement the mix/knead cycle.
Fact #10: Once the yeast has been mixed into the bread dough ingredients, it requires a warm environment so it can continue to feed on the recipe sweetener and produce carbon dioxide. A warmed oven (up to 120 degrees) provides an ideal location for raising bread.
As you improve your yeast-handling skills, you may be tempted to push your bread dough to more lofty heights. Don’t do it!
You can over-proof your bread before baking it, which means it could fall as it heats up. Once you learn how to manage yeast, you’ll be able to complete your final rise in 30 minutes (I promise!) and enjoy loaf after loaf of perfect home-made bread!
Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.