Friday, March 29, 2013

Frugal Friday: Kitchen Tip/Tutorial: Yeast

For today's Frugal Friday post I want to talk about yeast. You may know by now that I love to make yeast breads and yeast and I have become rather good friends during the last few years. But it hasn't always been that way. Our relationship was quite strained during my early cooking days and I've had many cooking catastrophes that were caused by yeast defects. Now of course I understand that they weren't really yeast defects after all, but simply my own misunderstanding of the properties of yeast. I hope today to be able to clear up a few of those for you if you're having difficulties. Or if you're already a yeast expert I'd love to hear you share some kitchen tips of your own about yeast.

So how does this topic relate to Frugal Friday? Well, hopefully that will become clear as we go, but in a brief synopsis here let me just say that cooking catastrophes cost money (not to mention time and energy and stress). Understanding about yeast will help avoid a lot of the waste that comes from cooking catastrophes. Less waste means more money saved. And more money saved is what we're all trying to achieve, right?

So here we go...

KITCHEN TIPS: YEAST

HOW YEAST WORKS
Yeast is a living organism that is found in the "wild" - or in the natural world around us. Manufacturers of yeast have domesticated it and then dry it, package it and sell it. Yeast is used in all types of bread doughs to make them rise. Yeast loves to eat sugar and will start out eating the sugar in the dough as it's first course. When it runs out of sugar to east, yeast will convert the starch that is found in flour into sugar and then eat that. As yeast feeds it gives off C02. The C02 becomes trapped within in the fibers of the bread and that causes the bread to rise. Like a balloon, the more elastic the dough, the more the bread is able to expand with the CO2. The gluten found in bread helps increase the elasticity of the bread, and thus, helping it rise better.

If bread is allowed to rise too much, you may have noticed that it will start to sink again. This is not because the yeast stops eating, but rather because your bread has risen so much that the elasticity has become leaky (like a popped balloon). The C02 is no longer trapped and will escape into the surrounding environment instead of staying within the dough.

TYPES OF YEAST
There are different kinds of yeast. Two of the most common that are found in recipes are Active Dry Yeast and Instant Yeast. Here is the difference between the two types:
    • Active dry yeast is a dormant form of yeast and usually needs to be re-hydrated (or proofed) before it can be used in a recipe. The re-hydrating is not hard to do, but it does take a little bit of time. The yeast is dissolved in warm water with a little bit of sugar added. Then the mixture is set aside to rest for a brief time until the yeast is activated and then can be used in a recipe.
    • Instant yeast is yeast that is ready to use directly in a recipe with no proofing required. If you compare the granules of instant yeast to the granules of active dry yeast, the instant yeast granules are smaller in size. Because they are smaller, instant yeast dissolves faster in the water and the process of rising the dough gets started quicker. Instant yeast is my prefered type of yeast to use because of the ability to add it directly into recipes without proofing first.
A FEW TRICKS WITH YEAST
  1. Yeast likes warm temperatures and it will activate faster if the dough is warm. I usually help this happen by heating my water to between 110 F and 130 F. Water that is too hot (above 139 F) will kill the yeast and your dough will not rise.
  2. As a rule, don't let the yeast touch the salt. Salt is osmotic, pulling water out of the yeast's cells and thus inhibiting the action of yeast, causing it to slow down. If there is too much concentration of salt near the yeast it can even kill it. I like to put salt in first and then add my yeast on top of the flour so I make sure it doesn't come in any direct contact with the salt.
  3. Use rising times in a recipe as a guide, not an unbreakable rule. Lots of things affect rising times. Some examples are room temperature (generally yeast likes to rise in warm temperatures), barometric pressure, and even how often you bake bread. If you bake bread a lot, there are higher quantities of wild yeast found in your kitchen, thus helping bread to rise faster. If it's an especially cold day, I'll sometimes let my bread or rolls rise in a warm oven. I turn the oven light on, turn the oven on until it starts to barely warm up and then turn it off. The oven should not burn at all if you touch inside it, just be comfortably warm. I leave the oven light on to keep the oven warm while my bread or rolls are rising. 
  4. I like to buy my yeast in 1 lb. vacuum packed bags (or bricks). For best results yeast should be stored in an airtight container in the freezer after the sealed package is opened. I know those that even store the vacuum packs in the freezer, but I haven't found it necessary to do that. The yeast will go bad a lot faster if it is exposed to air and at room temperature (especially if the temperature is above 70 degrees). I use SAF yeast almost exclusively in my recipes because it's an instant yeast and I've always had good results from it. I always use my yeast directly out of the freezer without waiting for it to thaw first and have always had great results.
HOW TO TEST IF YEAST IS STILL ACTIVE
This is important because you don't want to make bread with bad yeast. The ingredients cost money and and when the bread turns into a brick after you put all that into it, it just is not worth it. I had some yeast that someone gave me the other day and I was a little skeptical about it and wondered whether it really was still good. So I performed this test that you can do too, if you're wondering if your yeast is bad.
  1. Add 1/2 cup warm (110 - 115 F) tap water into a measuring cup. 
  2. Stir in 1 tsp. sugar and 2 tsp. yeast (either kind).
  3. Check the yeast after 10 minutes. If foam and bubbles have formed, then the yeast is still alive and active. The mixture will be approximately half milky looking water and half foam.
In the picture below I put my test yeast in the cup on the left and the yeast that I knew was working in the cup on the right. The top row of pictures shows a side and top view of the yeast mixtures right after I mixed them with the water and sugar.
The bottom row of pictures is what the cups looked like 10 minutes later. You can see that from this I determined that yes the yeast I was testing was still good because it foamed and bubbled just as much as the yeast that I knew was alive. 

To be honest I was kind of hoping that the yeast had gone bad so I could show you the difference in what it would look like if it had gone bad. But at least I saved a little money from having to throw the bad yeast out, right? :)

If you want to learn more about yeast (things that are beyond the scope of this post), I found this tutorial really helpful. And like I said earlier I'd love to hear about any successes or failures you've had with this interesting organism. I consider yeast one of my good friends now, but it's been a rocky road to get there. Hopefully this post will help someone who's in the same boat that I was in. 

Happy Frugal Friday and have a great weekend! Oh and I won't be posting this week because I'll be spending some extra time with my family during spring break. So have a great week.

This week I'll be linking to some of these link parties.

1 comment:

Kathy A Delightsome Life said...

Hello, Love making yeast bread too. This is a very helpful post for those who have not tried and for those who'd love to learn more about yeast. I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,
Kathy

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