Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bread Baking - Yeast

I've talked to so many ladies who are completely intimidated at the thought of working with yeast! "What if I kill it?" is always the question.

The goal in bread baking is for the yeast to feed on the sugars in your dough and produce specific gases which lift and raise your dough into the high light loaf that we recognize as a "good loaf of bread".

It truly is possible to kill yeast. High heat will do it every time! But let's just think for a minute of how glad we are that yeast dies. Imagine if it didn't. You slice off a few pieces of bread for breakfast, but by lunch the loaf is again twice it's size! The next morning you find the bread bag burst and bread dough rolling off the counter and onto the floor. Aren't you glad that yeast can be killed. The alternative might be down right scary!

The goal in working with yeast is to keep it warm. Be Goldilocks and aim for not too hot and not too cold, but just right. If you can bathe your baby, or yourself, without scalding either of you, you can successfully work with yeast. 

Too hot of temperatures will kill the yeast. Eventually, after your loaf has risen to the size you wish, you will bake it in the oven and basically "kill" the yeast and stop the rising process. It will not actively grow any longer. 

Cool temperatures will not kill the yeast but it will grow very slowly or not at all until it is brought into warmer temperatures. Some recipes call for placing your dough in the refrigerator over night to add more depth of flavor. This doesn't kill the yeast but does slow it's activity.

I use the SAF active dry instant yeast. It is much faster working then regular (non-instant) yeast. You can find small packets at the grocery store but it is far cheaper to buy yeast in bulk. I get mine at a bulk food's store or Sam's Club. Look for it in the refrigerator. It comes vacuumed packed or in a jar but after opening the package, it is best to keep your yeast in the refrigerator or freezer. It will stay fresh for months when kept cold.

Many bread recipes call for mixing yeast and warm water in a bowl before adding any other ingredients. This is allowed to sit for a few minutes. The yeast should dissolve and possibly become bubbly. This is the way our grandmothers tested their yeast to see if it was active and alive before adding their precious flour.

When using instant yeast, it is not necessary to dissolve the yeast in water and it can be added directly to the flour.

The water used in bread baking should always be lukewarm, not hot. I find 90 to 100 degrees is about right but it isn't necessary to check the temperature. When I first was married, I thought our tap water didn't get hot enough. So I heated my water up in the microwave. Bad move! After ruining two batches of bread (I truly understand now the fear of killing your yeast) I decided that the tap water is warm enough. It would be better to use room temperature water then water that is too hot. If you can comfortably put your wrist in your water, it should be good to your yeast.

All bread is basically a mixture of flour, liquid, salt, and yeast. A great loaf of bread can be made with only those four things. Sweeteners, eggs, milk, fats, spices and all the other various ingredients found in recipes, are added for flavor, nutrition, or richness.

So that is the basics on working with yeast. Tomorrow I'll share a super simple recipe for your first foray into using yeast. Hope you join me!


  1. This is a wonderful post! I am enjoying bread baking again, after years of not making homemade. I am trying to feed my family in a more healthy way and I love knowing exactly what ingredients are in my bread.

    Also I have been using spelt flour - have you ever tried spelt?

  2. Mrs. Rabe -
    I have never tried using spelt. I haven't tried many grains other than wheat, rye and oats. Maybe I need to branch out more!

  3. Ken & June in MaineJanuary 5, 2011 at 5:37 PM

    Gina, it is so awesome to be here on your web site with you and your family and adventures and learning and being IN THE LORD. My husband and I have been here in Maine for many years and "getting back" to the way life should be. We have chickens, pigs and rabbits and have just made the decision to go "hog wild" and be pig farmers. So we appreciated the information you were willing to share. My husband has been a meat cutter for over 35 years, a great asset in raising pork, but little experience in the slaughter, butchering process.
    Again may I say what a wonderful time we have had on your site and how awesome it is that you share such usefull information. God bless.
    Ken and June in Maine

  4. This is a wonderful article and I'll recommend it to those who are trying bread making for the first time.

    We've been making bread many years now due to my husband's specialized diet, but recently because of time constraints and space in the camper my husband got a discarded bread machine for me to use. I have gotten a recipe down so that it takes me all of 2 minutes to get a loaf started and the machine does absolutely everything else. I miss getting my hands into the dough and the bread really doesn't taste as good, but Mr. D is just happy to have fresh bread everyday.

    I am going to try tweeking the bread machine recipe a little and see if I can't get a little more flavor control.

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a wonderful article.

  5. Thanks I now understand what happened to my first batch of bread and why it didn't rise.
    Second batch is rising beautifully.

  6. What kinds of pans do you use for your bread making?

    1. I prefer stainless steel or glass baking pans for baking bread.


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