Yeast Primer

February 21, 2008 at 9:21 pm 24 comments

Yeast granuales up close 

In the comments of a recent bread post, I was asked what the difference is between the available types of yeast and why I use different kinds in different recipes.  Here’s what I wrote in response:

“I don’t have a scientific explanation but I can tell you how I use them differently.

Dry active yeast:
This is the kind I always proof first so it’s what I use for any type of bread that I’m afraid to make without testing the yeast, which usually includes larger loaves and/or a dough with a lot of “stuff” in it. This type of yeast is not nearly as “hungry” as the rapid rise variety so the dough takes substantial time to rise and usually is more dense once baked. [added note here:  this means the dough is sturdier so it can support larger sizes and more ingredients.]

Rapid rise yeast: This kind I almost always mix straight into the flour without proofing it. I like to use it for rolls and similar smaller airy dough creations, such as bread sticks. It lives up to its name in that a dough made with rapid rise yeast will double in size in about 30 minutes instead of two hours. Why not always use it, you ask? I personally think the flavor of the resulting bread is not at “deep” (i.e., hinting of sweetness from the yeast’s gas) when it rises so quickly. I’m sure there’s a more scientific reason too that a real artisan bread maker could explain.

By the way, there’s also something called easy blend yeast, and I think it’s a combination of the more traditional dry active yeast and the rapid rise. I had a few packs of it once, but don’t really see it all that often in the supermarket.

All in all, I’ll try to do some research and figure out more factual answers to your question. I’ll put up a yeast primer if I can get enough materials together.

Really good question, btw!!”

rapid rise yeast

And indeed it was a good question, and one I wanted to answer for myself.  Luckily for me, the answer was right under my nose the whole time.  My copy of The Big Book of Bread contains more than five whole pages explaining the properties of this essential ingredient in bread making.  Turns out I wasn’t too far off in my gut instincts about what to do with which types and why. 

For rapid rise yeast, which the book dubs “fast-action (quick) dried yeast”, it explains this variety is “a combination of dried yeast and the bread improver ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which accelerates the action of the yeast during the fermentation process” and is “sprinkled and mixed directly into the flour or dry ingredients…making yeast cookery quicker and easier.”  They also note that this is the preferred yeast for those using bread machines.  They note that rapid rise yeast does not technically require a second rising period, but they highly recommend it, which leads me to believe that they have the same thoughts as myself about rapid rise yeast not imparting the same depth of flavor when it rises so fast.  Allowing it to rise a second time will give it more of an opportunity to develop that flavor.  Regardless of the questionable factual nature of that theory, a second rising does ensure a more evenly textured loaf.  If you let rapid rise yeast get out of control and rise too fast or too long, the dough may collapse and result in a sad looking loaf. 

Yeast foaming up

For dried active yeast, also referred to as “traditional” or “ordinary” dried yeast, the book says it “is compressed yeast from which the moisture has been removed…this type of yeast will need to be reactivated with water prior to use” and resulting dough will require two rising periods.  This is not the type of yeast to use in a bread machine. 

Coincidentally, the book offered some other interesting yeast facts that I found quite useful. Rapid rise yeast keeps longer than dried active yeast (the former up to 12 weeks, the latter only about 2 months).  Also offered was a rough guide of measurement/ratios which goes something like 2 teaspoons of rapid rise yeast is equal to 1 tablespoon of dried active yeast and both those measurements will support up to 5 cups of flour.  Keep in mind though that the more fats (butter, eggs, and milk) you add to a dough, the more yeast you’ll need as fats slow down its feeding frenzy on the sugar and starch.  Same goes for salt, although the book does not that salt helps preserve the bread so don’t ever skimp on it too much.

measuring out yeast

The book also comments that all varieties of yeast, even fresh yeast which is a tad difficult to find, can generally be used interchangeably in recipes so long as you abide by the rough equivalents above.  And most importantly, remember that as soon as any kind of dried yeast comes in contact with even the teeniest bit of moisture, it’ll jump out of its hibernation and start eating.  Unless you use it promptly, it’ll be ruined.  I’d suggest putting all your yeasts in a ziplock bag and storing them on your fridge door, which is almost assuredly dry and cool. 

Interestingly enough, the book says yeast will still activate in cold water.  I was always under the impression that cold water would basically kill yeast.  But apparently it just takes a lot longer to show signs of life and mixing a dough and letting it rise in the fridge overnight may actually result in “a good, well-shaped loaf.”  I might just try that next time. 

Oh, and I almost forgot: the book lumps “easy-blend” yeast with rapid-rise yeast so they must behave very similarly after all.  See, I’m learning just as much as you guys from these SFTF Weeks of Bread!  

graphic black and white of yeast granuales

Entry filed under: Extra Credit. Tags: , , , , .

Week 3 of Bread: Honey Multigrain Week 3 of Bread: Bread Bowls

24 Comments Add your own

  • 1. autumnmist  |  February 21, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    Interestingly enough, the book says yeast will still activate in cold water. I was always under the impression that cold water would basically kill yeast.

    Oh definitely not. 🙂 I’m not an expert baker, but I work(ed) in a yeast lab (biology research) and I can guarantee you one of the best parts of working with yeast as an organism is that it’s tough. You can stick yeast on a petri dish, put them in a fridge at 4 degrees Celsius and leave them there for 2 weeks and they’ll be fine even longer than that (though no longer good for experiments because mold tends to get into the dishes). You can put yeast in suspension in water (but preferably glycerol since more survive) and freeze them for essentially years at -70 degrees Celsius, then take the tube out, swab out a tiny dab of the mixture, put it on a petri dish, let it grow at 30 degrees Celsius (yeast’s preferred growing temp), and two days later you’ll have live yeast again.

  • 2. Christine  |  February 22, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Thanks for the very helpful info! I just knew you’d be the right person to ask. (Also, re: the cold water part, you can freeze bread dough; I usually let it rise once, punch it down, divide it and freeze some of it before the second rise. Once thawed, it rises again nicely. So the yeast isn’t dying, it’s just slowing down again…I like to let it thaw in the fridge, and your book is right that the slow, cold rise makes for a nice smooth loaf.)

    My favorite bread book is older than me (and out of print, sadly – it’s from the ’70s) and sometimes refers to “cakes” of yeast. I always use a packet as equivalent to a “cake,” but not on any authority that it’s actually right. (No bad results thus far but there’s always room for improvement.) Any idea how much a “cake” of yeast actually is/was?

  • 3. Jennie  |  February 22, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Wow, Autumnmist, that’s so cool that you worked with yeast in a lab! I should have interviewed *you* for this post. 🙂 It must have been really cool looking at yeast under a microscope! Any other fun scientific facts about yeast, please thow them our way!!! 🙂

  • 4. Jennie  |  February 22, 2008 at 7:50 am

    Christine – Glad to be of service. 🙂 As for the freezing the *dough* after letting it rise once, that I do as well, especially for pizza dough. But I guess it was my mom or someone who told me that if the water you use to proof the yeast is too cold, it will kill the inactive yeast granuales before they get a chance to start feeding. But the book specifically says you can activate yeast in cold water. I’d also never tried purposefully putting my dough in the fridge to rise (again, have put it in the fridge to thaw out like you have) as instinct always shouts, “warm place, lady!!!”, when I’m putting together a dough. 🙂

    Oooo, I am dying to see this book of yours sometime. 🙂 I am sure that they are talking about *fresh* yeast when they talk about using a cake of yeast. I’m not at home at the moment with *my* book but I’m pretty sure it said that dried active yeast and fresh yeast were equal when measuring (vs. rapid rise being “stronger” so you wouldn’t need as much of it to be equal to a cake of yeast). In short, I *think* a packet of rapid rise yeast is equal to a cake of fresh yeast and you’d ideally need a little more than a packet (another teaspoon) of active dried yeast to equal a cake. [see the paragraph above the picture of the measuring spoon of yeast for the discussion on swaping yeasts.]

    But like you said, if it’s working the way you do it now with no bad results, you’re probably doing just fine with your own conversion of cake to packet. 🙂 This was a fun post to do so thanks again for asking the question!!!

  • 5. Christine  |  February 22, 2008 at 8:16 am

    Jennie – My bread book is called “A World of Breads” by Delores Casella. It’s my mom’s standby. I found my copy on eBay. I love it because it has yeast breads, quick breads, pancakes and waffles, sweet breads, you name it, and a pleasant conversational tone. (of course I have my favorite couple of recipes and keep making them over and over even though there are hundreds in the book!! typical of me.) I’ll show it to you sometime, maybe invite you over for a slice of Pennsylvania Dutch Crumb Cake some weekend 🙂

    Ah, so a cake of yeast is fresh yeast…that makes sense. I’ll probably tweak my measuring a little now that I know your equivalents. I have noticed, though, that the Hodgson Mills brand of active yeast packets contain slightly more (5/16 ounce) than the Fleishmanns packets (1/4 ounce). This might be an easier solution than measuring out part of an additional packet. It’s not a whole teaspoon more, but it might be enough to make a difference.

    (If I could find a source for small jars of yeast, I’d go that route instead of packets…I just can’t get through a big package within 12 weeks!)

  • 6. Julia  |  February 22, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I use instant yeast, which I know you can add straight to the flour without proofing beforehand…so do you think that is the same thing as rapid rise yeast? Too many names, why’d they have to go and make it so confusing for us?

  • 7. Jennie  |  February 22, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Christine – Yes, please, I’ll have some PA Dutch crumb cake! A big slice, if you don’t mind. 😉 Thanks for the tip on the Hodgson Mills brand verus Fleishmanns…I never realized that. Should definitely help even out the difference between a packet and a cake. As for jars of yeast, I have seen them occasionally in Acme up on the very top shelf in the baking aisle but they weren’t there the last time I was buying yeast so don’t know if that’s a regular offering or not. I’ll keep my eyes out and snag you one if I see them again.

  • 8. Jennie  |  February 22, 2008 at 11:33 am

    Julia – Yep, instant yeast is the same as rapid rise yeast. I get confused by all the names too! I guess each brand decided to call theirs something different for marketing purposes… 🙂

  • 9. superluckykitchen  |  February 22, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    thanks soo much, totally informative. i always wondered what the differences were!

  • 10. Julia  |  February 22, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    PS. Christine, I found the cutest little jar of yeast packaged in a canning jar at a kitchen goods shop in my Brooklyn neighborhood (called Brooklyn Kitchen), so that’s what I use, but I doubt that will help you any unless you live nearby.

  • 11. Christine  |  February 22, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    Julia – Thanks! Sadly, not near Brooklyn, but I like the idea of checking kitchen goods stores rather than just supermarkets. I’ll start hunting!

  • 12. Week 3 of Bread: Bread Bowls « Straight from the Farm  |  February 23, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    […] the sudden outpouring of love?  Well, the Yeast Primer post got a lot of great discussion going in the comments, and I’ve started getting regular emails […]

  • 13. Zoe Francois  |  February 25, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    Hi, this is fascinating. I am the co-author of a bread book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. We found absolutely no difference in any of the yeasts we tested in our method of bread baking. I believe it is because of the long storage our dough has, it seems to even out the differences in the effect of various yeasts.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Zoë Francois

  • 14. Jennie  |  February 25, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Zoe – Are you leaving your dough sit overnight in the refrigerator? I’m curious as to what you mean by “long storage”. 🙂 If that’s the case, then I’m sure there’s not much difference in the yeast types. Glad you enjoyed the post and I’ll have to look for your book. 🙂

  • 15. eatyet  |  February 25, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    i have been only using Saf-instant yeast (i believe this is only a dry active yeast and not rapid rise) after taking a bread making class 5 years ago. they only sell them in one pound bags, i store it in the fridge inside a zip lock bag and they last a whole year before they stop working.

  • 16. Jennie  |  February 26, 2008 at 8:39 am

    Wow, EatYet, a whole pound of yeast?! I buy quarter pound bags on occasion but don’t think I’ve ever seen a whole pound. Nor am I familiar with the Saf brand. Must be some good stuff! Where do you get it?

  • 17. eatyet  |  February 26, 2008 at 8:47 am

    i found them at Whole Foods Markets and they are on too, but the shipping fees are steep.

  • 18. Leaveners, a baker’s secret weapon « Jeremy’s Kitchen  |  February 26, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    […] has some informative information on yeast. […]

  • 19. Charlie  |  August 16, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Very helpful! Thanks.

  • 20. Lisa  |  April 1, 2010 at 8:22 am

    BJ’s sells 2 one pound vacuum packed packages of yeast bundled, which is how I buy it, since I use so much… it is Fleishman’s… I’m not sure which yeast, since once I open it, I put it in a separate container. I make all of our bread and baked goods from scratch, so I use a lot of yeast, and I use this same yeast for everything. Last time I bought yeast, 2 pounds ran somewhere around $6 (I’m in South Jersey), so that’s a lot cheaper than the $5 for a 4 ounce jar that I used to buy.

  • 21. Marie LeFever  |  October 1, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    My recipe for a whole grain bread calls for 0.75 oz. Hodgson Active Dry Yeast comes in packets of 8.75g. How much of this packet will make .077 0z.? I do not have a scale. Thanks for the help.

  • 22. cooking lady65  |  April 23, 2012 at 6:40 am

    I would suggest going to the yeast mfg. Web sites and they explain all the differences of their yeast products. I’ve been making bread for many years and found their information really informative and helpful. For most of my regular breads I use the rapid rise yeast, when using it I always add it to my flour in my sponge and I make sure my liquids, be they water, milk or butter combinations, are always exactly at 125 to 130 degrees maximum, but in that range only as recommended,and it always comes out perfect. I use a candy thermometer for accuracy. After beating my sponge for about 3 to 5 minutes, I then add the rest of the flour and ingredients as the recipe calls for and after mixing well I cover it all in my mixer bowl with a towel, and let it rest for about 10 min. No drafts please. After the 10 min. Are up I continue and use my blenders hook to knead the bread for about 8 min. And now cover it with Saran wrap then a damp hot towel and place it in the cold oven or a large microwave to rise for one hour. Also another trick is to place hot water in cups or small containers or large if your bread is in the cold oven, the warm water helps your bread rise beautifully, then after it has risen enough, each bread recipe will be different, but once sufficiently risen with the use of rapid rise yeast, shape it into loaves or in loaf pans or braides or spirals or Mini loaves, as you wish, place back in oven or other warm draft free place and again all to rise to its fullest and use the hot water in cups or pans to help it rise again. When ready wash with beaten egg yolk and water or milk, beautiful. Happy happy baking to us all!

  • 23. eliminating yeast  |  November 26, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    A quick red wolf jumped over the lazy pet

  • 24. presents  |  November 27, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    The fast red fox jumped over the lazy dog


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