My baking life was fairly peaceful with cakes and some simple desserts till the Yeast Beast stepped in and caused utter chaos. I suddenly got it into my head that I must bake bread. And this little voice in my head was hard to silence. So I set out to bake bread with the active dried yeast we get in our friendly neighborhood super-market. Warm water, sugar and in goes the yeast. Nail biting 10 minutes, froth here and there and I guess that's good enough! I mixed the dough and waited for it to rise, waited and waited, no rise sometimes, not enough rise at other times. Bricks of bread as dense as the forests of Amazon. Grumpy me. Baking bread on a weekend was torture for my family. The dough just would not rise enough (and this had to happen twice) and I would refuse to go out without finishing the bread baking business. Hair-tearing time for me and my family.
Obsessed, perplexed me. Perhaps I have not proofed the yeast properly, so its not frothing properly. I am ready with the rest of the ingredients, proofing begins! Warm, water, sugar and in goes the yeast. Another nail biting 10 minutes, bubbles here and there. Water too warm (no thermometer then) ? Lets start again, with water less warm. No different results. Aaahhh! Yeast in the pack is over, I rush to get another pack. (you are now convinced that I am mad) Let me try another recipe, may be I am choosing the wrong recipes for a beginner. This is crazy! Bread baking is just not my thing, I must give up and stick to cakes and the like. Optimistic me went ahead and baked a couple of loaves, thank fully better ones. May be the yeast was better in this pack and I chose the right recipe too. Joy!! But then, it was short lived, as I was getting inconsistent results.
Then I got a packet of yeast which read as instant yeast and more importantly a 'phoren' make. Hope! Looked so different, let me try! Consultation with Champa and I bake again. Good rise, every time, better breads. Aha! Finally nailed the major culprit factor - the yeast! Slow, but a momentous realization for me!
Good yeast, as we know is the first most important thing for a good bread. If the yeast is not good, even if everything else is perfect, the bread won't be good. So its important that we know yeast and how to identify it its good. This done, you have won half the battle. But if you live in the US or elsewhere, this is not relevant to you as you have access to only good yeast and you probably can't even think of (bad) yeast as a factor for a failed bread. For us folks here in India, good yeast is a real find and a rarity. Its imperative we know how to distinguish the hero from the villain. I have baked bread with bad yeast quite a few times not knowing that the yeast was not good enough (dense me, huh?) to even bother with. If you have not baked bread yet or been struggling with bad yeast, this post may be of help.
The below information has been compiled with reference to Champa's blog, Baking 911 and The King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Book.
Varieties of yeast: First things first. We have 3 types of yeast, Active Dried yeast, Instant Dried yeast and fresh yeast.
Active Dried Yeast : Is fresh yeast which has been compressed and dried until the moisture content is highly reduced. This yeast is available in the form of large granules in India, examples are Eagle, Kwality and a lot of other brands we see in our super-markets here. This kind of yeast needs to be dissolved in warm water and sugar for the yeast to be active again, this is called as proofing. Proofing is a test done to make sure the yeast is still active and good. If the yeast, fails this test, please discard and get yourself some good yeast. My experience has been really bad with these brands we get here as even the ones manufactured a couple of months earlier don't proof. It has worked once or twice for me, but not very reliable. So not worth trying out at all in my opinion. The one I got from the US (these are smaller granules) work fine.
Instant Yeast: This yeast, a relatively new thing, comes in tiny granules. I had been struggling with Active Dried yeast we get here and then got instant yeast. It looked almost like powder to me since the granules are really tiny. The way it looks when it proofs also a little different as compared to Active dried yeast. This yeast does not need to be proofed and can be added directly to the flour, liquid and rest of the ingredients of a bread recipe. However, it does not hurt to proof this yeast. This yeast also has a long shelf life. This yeast works even if you use cool water and no sugar, but of course the time it will take to rise and develop will be much much longer. As in this recipe.
As instant yeast does not need the kick-start with warm water and sugar to become active, this one is a safer bet when you are just starting. Because even if you err with the water being less than lukewarm, the yeast will still work, albeit a little slower than what is mentioned in your recipe. And when you bake bread, you can just add all the ingredients together and mix the dough. I love using this yeast.
Fresh yeast: Also called as cake yeast or compressed yeast or bakers yeast. Comes in small squares, is soft and moist and crumbles easily, stored in the refrigerator. This yeast has a short life of 2 weeks in the refrigerator and needs to be proofed before using. If frozen, you need to thaw the yeast in the fridge before proofing. Some of our local bakeries use this yeast. I have never seen or used fresh yeast. Supposedly quite potent and best used in breads needing long rises.
Choosing your yeast : Take a good brand of yeast, preferably instant or Active Dried. I prefer instant yeast and am very partial to a brand called Gloripan. If you do not access to good yeast here, beg someone coming form the US to get some yeast for you! To repeat and bore you, do not bother with our local brands of Active Dried yeast. And be wary of repacked instant yeast if you are buying from an unknown or new source.
Proofing: The test to determine if the yeast is good and active. If using a brand of yeast for the first time and you have never baked bread before, even before you gather all your ingredients and get ready to bake - proof the yeast. Take 1 tablespoon sugar in a bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of yeast over it. Add some warm water say about 1/4 cup . The water must be warm(110 F to 115 F) - not hot. If the water is too warm or hot, it will kill the yeast. The water must feel like tepid bath water and feel comfortable on your wrist.
If the yeast is good, it will start to foam and you can see bubbles over the surface. This starts to happen in about 2-3 minutes if the yeast is really good. This must happen within 10 minutes. If it does, you have found your 'good' yeast. Treasure it and spread the word! If it takes longer to foam, its not good enough - discard. A bubble or some froth here and there or too little froth are no good.
If using instant yeast, the bubbles will be really small, almost like whitish kind of froth. With Active dry yeast with larger granules, the bubbles will be bigger. And the yeast is going to just foam and not froth 'wildly' so do not have over-expectations, have a heart!
The below picture is instant yeast proofed. Its foamy.
This is active dried yeast proofed, if the granules are big, you will see the foam as well as some large bubbles.
This is poor quality which has not proofed its worth!! You can see foam here and there and this does not work well. From my experience!!
After you proof : Once you have found your brand of good yeast, you are all set to bake bread. Keep all your ingredients ready before you proof the yeast. You should add the rest of the dough ingredients preferably within 10 minutes of proofing the yeast. If you proof, find it good, leave it aside for a good 20 minutes and then proceed, the yeast will have lost its potency. So don't hunt for ingredients after you proof the yeast. Mise en place really pays!
Storing yeast: Store an opened pack in the refrigerator. Even if its good yeast and you store an open pack at room temperature for months, it may not be very effective.
One envelope of yeast : Is equal to 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast
Using ADY and Instant yeast interchangeably : If a recipe mentions ADY, you can use instant yeast in its place safely. Then you can skip the proofing process and continue with the recipe. If a recipe calls for instant yeast (a recipe with warm water and sugar), then you can use ADY in its place, but you will need to proof it. In recipes which use cool water and no sugar you can't use active dried yeast here in place of instant yeast.
More yeast in a dough : Ideally its 2 1/4 tsp yeast for 3 to 3 1/4 cups of flour. If you use a little more than this, the rise will be faster. But if you use way too much, the bread will smell yeasty and funny.
If you use less, no harm, the rise will be slow. I am itching to bake with a slow over-night rise in the refrigerator. Slower rising breads are supposed to be much more flavorful. Isn't that such a welcome thought?
Sources in Bangalore: You can buy instant yeast from IBCA and General Food Additives, also check The Brown Tree, Godrej Natures Basket. You could also check other whole sale shops which sell baking supplies. Most of them stock large packs of 500 grams. I find it convenient to buy multiple 100 gram packs. IBCA couriers within India. Gloripan, Angel and Eagle instant yeast (not Eagle active dried) have worked for me.
World Bread Day is on 16th October. Shall we roll up our sleeves and start working with yeast?
Disclaimer : This post is merely intended as information to identify good yeast and not with the intention of bashing a particular brand or a paid review for promoting another brand.