Think about what makes bread so delicious, airy and light - yeast. They are the little guys that help breads rise and give flavor. Unlike baking soda or baking powder, yeast is a living organism in the same family as mushrooms. When provided with water, food (in the form of sugar), warmth and some time, yeast makes our bread doughrise by releasing carbon dioxide gas, which creates those tiny holes that turns bread light and airy.
But if you have ever wanted to try your hand at baking bread at home, you would have probably been confronted in the supermarket by the many different types of yeasts to choose from - active dry, instant or fresh. For a first-time baker it can be pretty confusing, so here is the information on the three main types. Find the one that works the best for you.
Active dry yeast: Active dry yeast is probably the most widely used yeast by home bread bakers. It typically comes in single-use packets, little jars or packages. This type of yeast is basically fresh yeast that has been dehydrated into tiny granules. The yeast is dormant so it requires proofing, which means it needs to be dissolved in warm water with a bit of sugar. Once foamed, it can be mixed in your ingredients.
Instant yeast: Instant yeast has many different names depending on the brand. It can be called “rapid rise,” or “quick rise” or “fast rise”. Instant yeast is made in a similar manner as active dry but the tiny granules formed are more porous and do not require proofing to activate which means you can straight away add them to your ingredients. Most manufacturers claim instant yeast works 50 percent faster than active dry yeast. Store it in a cool and dry place and do not use after the expiry date.
Fresh yeast: As the name implies, fresh yeast is fresh. It comes in little squares that are found in refrigerator section of your grocery store. Fresh yeast can be crumbled right into your baking ingredients or mixed with lukewarm water. Store fresh yeast in your refrigerator for no more than two weeks and discard if the yeast has hardened, turned brown or is moldy.
Tips for working with yeast:
Store dry yeast in the freezer: Yeast will last almost indefinitely when frozen.
You do not need hot water to activate the yeast: A small amount of room-temperature or slightly warm water works best. Let it sit for a minute or two and then stir with a spoon or a fork until the yeast is completely dissolved. It should be smooth and silky.
A pinch of sugar is all you need: This is ahalf-true old tale leftover from when yeast was not preserved as well as it is now. A pinch of sugar is enough to bubble yeast up, thus proving that the yeast is still active and has not expired.
Yeast feeds and reproduces best between 20 to 26 degrees C: If your house is too cold, turn on the stove for just two minutes and then let your dough rise in there. If your house is too warm, find a cooler place for it to rise.
Fat, eggs, dairy, salt, and cold conditions slow down yeast activity: Lean dough made of mostly flour and water will rise faster than rich dough, which is made with the addition of more fat, eggs, or dairy. Rich dough such as used in cinnamon rolls, monkey bread, and brioche may not rise as much or may simply take longer to rise than other leaner dough.