Yeast can be a tricky little beast. It’s a living organism and needs to be treated carefully.
Here’s a few hints and tips I’ve learnt along the way. Let me know if you have any other secrets to perfect baking with yeast!
First off, always check how each particular yeast product likes to be stored AND its best before date. Some like to be in a cool dry place, others stored in the fridge.
The yeast I buy is best stored in the fridge, however yeast is best used at room temperature. This means I try to remember to measure out the quantity needed for a recipe, and leave that out on the bench-top a little while before I need it.
Because yeast is living, it does unfortunately expire (or die). If you use expired yeast in recipes the end result will not be good. Check the jar or packet every time you go to use it!
One of the first steps in recipes for bread making usually involves mixing the yeast with warm water. This is what’s known as ‘activating’ the yeast. It’s a really important step and If you don’t get it right, the end loaf will not be a success. The water needs to be lukewarm – not cold, not cool, not hot and definitely not boiling! Too cold and the yeast won’t activate, too hot and you’ll kill it off. See, I told you yeast was tricky!
Depending on each individual recipe, once you’ve mixed yeast with lukewarm water it’s usually left for 5-10 mins to bubble and foam. However, if it’s a cold day or your house is cool – the yeast may take longer to do its stuff. If after 15 mins there’s no sign of bubbling, the yeast MAY be have expired. However – hope is not lost yet! Sugar helps activate yeast – so if you haven’t already added any, try stirring through a teaspoon or two of sugar to help it along.
Hopefully this works. Recently I made bread and at this stage the yeast was only producing a very small amount of foam. It was quite a cool day so I hoped the room temperature was to blame. I preheated the oven to low, then turned it off (just leaving a lovely low heat inside). I then popped the bowl of yeast mixture inside for 15 mins… and voila! A bowl FULL of lovely frothy, foamy, activated yeast. Hurrah!
Cover dough and leave it in a warm place to rise. It needs covering so the dough doesn’t dry out but leaving a tiny gap allows gases to escape. If covering the bowl in plastic wrap, just prick a couple of air holes. If placing the dough in a plastic container, don’t clip the lid on and leave a small corner free. I often use a (clean) shower curtain to cover a bowl, but leave a small part free.
One final tip – cleaning up after bread making and got sticky dough everywhere? Use cold water to clean it off, not hot! This includes dough on hands and fingers too. Hot water tends to strengthen the gluten inside dough which makes things even stickier and harder to remove. Leave any dough covered pans or knives soaking in cold water for a few minutes to help things along.