Bread ingredients–yeast

Welcome to Yeast 101.

Yeast is a microscopic plant that produces carbon dioxide in doughs or batters with starch and sugars in it. The leavening action of yeast is enhanced by stirring or kneading the batter/dough, which develops the gluten. The yeast eats the gluten, makes more carbon dioxide.

I usually use an active dry yeast I get at the store. The store I go to doesn’t have the jars of yeast, so I buy the packets, which can get pricey. Those packets of yeast are nice if you don’t bake often. If this is part of your life, though, go with the jars. If you can get to a Costco or some such, the service bags of yeast are nice. Keep them in the freezer, keeping only a little out in the refrigerator. This extends its life. But don’t forget to feed it. When you take some yeast from the container, put in pinches of flour and sugar. Shake it up. This is another life extender.

In addition to being a leavening, a packet or tablespoon of yeast flushed down in your septic tank once a month keeps the pump man away.

Compressed yeast is a better performer than dry yeast. Its drawback is it goes bad much more quickly. Compressed yeast is purchased in 1-2 oz cakes in the section of the grocery refrigerator that has the dips and yogurt. Compressed yeast is a square that has a kind of clay consistency, feels moist. This form of yeast has food and moisture, so it is already activated. It is already reproducing, making its carbon dioxide, and this is why it is so superior. But these need to be kept in the freezer if the yeast cakes will be stored more than a few days. Bring to room temp before using.

For those who want to play with it, here’s a recipe for yeast cakes.

Yeast Cakes

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1/4 tsp salt

5 Cups of corn meal

1 tbsp or packet dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1 1/2 cups or a bit more of unsifted white flour.

Put the buttermilk, salt, and 2 cups of the corn meal in a sauce pan and heat until boiling, stirring occasionally. Now cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly to keep it from scorching. Cool until it just feels a little warm on your hand.

Mix the yeast with the water until dissolved. Pour into the cooled cornmeal/buttermilk mix. Stir, the let raise. It will take a few hours, and won’t double in bulk. Stir it down, then let it raise again. Do this 3-4 more times until it is light.

Turn the oven on to 350°, put the remaining 3 cups of cornmeal in a shallow pan, and slightly toast it. Stir the cornmeal around every few minutes until starts toasting. Take the pan out of the oven, let it cool.

When this sterile cornmeal is cool, mix 1 1/2 cups of it with the flour, then add to the buttermilk/yeast mix. Stir until it is stiff and comes away from the sides of the bowl. Turn it out onto a clean board and knead a few times, then roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Cut the dough into 1-1/2 inch squares. Move the squares with a spatula onto the remaining corn meal. Turn them over and over until coated. Arrange the cakes in a shallow pan, cover, and let dry 3-4 days at room temperature. Store them in a towel-lined container, with toweling between the cakes. These will not perform as well as commercially made yeast cakes.

If you think cake yeast is worth all of that, go for it. Some things, like hot cross buns, seem to have a better texture. It’s worth it, just for the experience, and it’s kind of mellowing.

Sourdough is catching the wild yeast and using it to leaven any kind of bread, from pancakes, to biscuits, cakes and loaves. This is wild yeast, will not perform like the active dry or cake yeast. It will take hours to raise dough. You’ll either give away or throw out gobs of starter, unless you want to make sourdough something every day. Along with leavening the bread, it gives a distinctive sour taste.

The sourdough that gets all the press is lactobacillus San Francisco, but there are lactobacilli in all climates . The Alaska miners had sourdough. As I said, yeast is all around us, it is just happiest at 70-80 degrees.

Starting a starter can be a pain in the patoot, and, really, it’s best to start with a tried and true starter. But for the full sourdough experience, this is how it’s done.

Check your water. If it is chlorinated, let the chlorine disperse overnight, then mix your starter. If it has chloramines, go with bottled or distilled water. These take much longer to dissipate, and can kill the yeast it contacts.

Now, get your flour. It works best with a whole wheat flour at first. Go organic with this because the processing can add lots of junk that the yeast won’t like. Use unbleached flour later, but start with whole wheat flour.

Get a glass container that holds about 6 cups. I don’t use plastic because of the taste it gives the starter.

Decide where you will put this. A warm place where your starter won’t be knocked down by cats or shaken around by kids. You want the place to be warm, too. On top of the fridge is good.

Get out your container, flour, water, and cheesecloth or other loosely woven cloth, and something to hold the cloth on the container.

You can use 1/4 c. water and 1/2 cup whole grain flour, but measuring by weight is much more accurate. You want 50 grams each of flour and water. Mix well. It will be a very thick mass. Cover with the cloth and secure the cloth around the container. Put it up in the place you’ve chosen. Now go away. Leave it be.

Look at it in 12 hours, see if it’s bubbling. No bubbles, wait another 12 hours. Still no bubbles, another 12 hours. If it still doesn’t react, check your ingredients, tear it down, try again.

If you’ve got good bubbling, add another 50 grams of water, stir, then add 50 grams of flour. Mix. Cover. Put it in its place. Wait, about 12 hours, for it to double. If it takes longer, wait. Then remove half, or you’ll end up with lots and lots of starter, and add 50 grams of water, stir, then 50 grams of flour, stir, then set in its place. Keep tossing half, mixing water and flour, for 2 days, then switch to unbleached flour. It will slow the developing a bit, but the sourdough should be back to itself in a day or so. By now, you will be feeding it once every 12 hours. The half that is taken out every 12 hours is too unstable to give away, maybe you can make biscuits, or glue something together with it. Cook it up for dog treats. Continue this for another 3 days. Your starter is started. Try not to use it until it is about a week old.

Starter can be kept in the fridge in a covered container, fed every time you use it.

If you really get into it, the folks at can tell you all you need.




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