Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's the yeast of your worries

One of my coworkers is getting married in October.  We threw her an early bridal shower, chipping in and getting her a KitchenAid.  I procrastinated and didn't get my money into the collection quickly enough, so instead bought her a Beater Blade to go with the mixer.  Friends of ours, Rejoyce and Hawley, suggested one to me when I got my own KitchenAid and they were absolutely right in their advice - those things are awesome!

Over a lunchtime conversation recently, I found out that the bride-to-be has never made a yeast bread.  Several of our other colleagues agreed: "yeast is scary".  I'd never thought about it before.  This morning Gene and I were over at friends' house for breakfast and my girlfriend was asking me about the flatbread I'd made for them last weekend.  Turns out that she'd never made a yeast bread, either.

In all the times I've made bread with yeast, I've only screwed it up once.  That was my fault, not the yeast's fault, and happened because I tried to freeze dough after allowing it to rise.  If you freeze it pre-rise, it'll be fine and will behave normally once thawed.

Do not be afraid of yeast.  Here are a few pointers for you yeast virgins:

  • Get the kind that comes in envelopes.  Yes, it's more expensive than the jarred kind but by getting just what you need for the first time, you won't waste any if you decide never do make yeast dough again.
  • Purchase active dry yeast.
  • Check the expiration date on the packet.  Yeast is a living organism - expired yeast is ineffective (read: dead) yeast.
  • Heat kills yeast but cold does not.  If the water feels warm to your skin, it's probably too warm for the yeast.  You can always check with a thermometer to be sure: between 100-110 degrees is a good environment for the yeast to proof but don't go any higher. 
  • Here's a video on how to "proof" your yeast.  Proofing ensures that the yeast is still alive and that it will be able to do its job later.
  • Yeast needs sugar in some form to do its work.  Honey and sugar are usually interchangeable in many bread recipes, though you'll want to use 1/2 the amount of honey if substituting it for sugar because honey is twice as sweet (by measure) as sugar.  I prefer to use honey because I think it adds a depth of flavor, plus it allows me to keep my ingredients local.
  • Salt slows down the yeast's progress so don't add any during the proofing process.  Salt, however, is necessary for tasty bread.  Do not - DO NOT - make saltless bread.  I forgot the salt once and the bread sucked... bad.  It was unpalatable.
If you're ready to dive into baking bread with yeast, check out Alton Brown's recipe for "A Very Basic Bread."  It's my favorite go-to bread recipe.  I like to add chopped rosemary to the dough and coat the shaped loaf with kosher salt before baking.

Mother Earth News has a recipe for a no-knead yeast bread.  It gives different (less firm) results than Alton's but is nice because, well, you don't have to knead it.

In my next post I'll walk you through the steps to make the flatbread I talked about last weekend.  We liked it so much that I made it again today and took it to another friend's house - instant hit.


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  2. You make me want to bake bread from scratch for the first time :)

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