In Baking Hows, Whys, and WTFs, food editor Shilpa Uskokovic will answer your burning baking questions and share her tips and tricks for perfect sweets. Today, what’s the best yeast for bread baking?
Sure, buying a sliced loaf at the store will always be easier, but making bread at home feels special. It’s primordial and fun, plus it smells fantastic. It all starts with a tiny living thing: a yeast cell that grows and billows, yawning open with time and heat to create lofty loaves or crackly sheets or squishy rolls. There are so many types of yeast available, like active dry, fresh, rapid-rise, and more. Today, a discussion on which yeast to buy for your next bread project.
The Very Best: Instant Yeast
Instant yeast is the only yeast I ever use in my baking. Always have and always will. The yeast of choice in most restaurant kitchens and commercial bakeries, it’s easy and convenient. Ever seen a bread recipe that asks you to mix the yeast with warm liquid and allow it to bubble first before using? Ever found that incredibly annoying? Instant yeast avoids this step. You simply add it to the rest of your ingredients and let the mixer run. The fine granules of yeast are extremely porous and hydrate, well, instantly. Low in moisture, instant yeast keeps for a great long while. Refrigerated in an airtight container, it stays fresh and active for up to one year so you never have to dash to the store in your slippers when you’ve decided that you simply must bake bread. Instant yeast is powerful so if you’re using it in place of active dry yeast, reduce the amount by 25%. (For example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon active dry yeast, use ¾ teaspoon instant yeast.)
Does the Job: Active Dry Yeast
Active dry yeast is the most commonly available type of yeast in stores, and the yeast you’re probably most familiar with. Invented during World War II as a more practical and shelf-stable alternative to perishable fresh yeast, active dry yeast needs to be revived in warm liquid before adding it to your dough. During the manufacturing process, a dusty layer of dead yeast surrounds each cell and unless this layer is first dissolved in liquid, the yeast is weak and ineffective. The liquid needs to be perfectly warm (around 105 degrees Fahrenheit)––too hot and the yeast will die, too cold and it will lay dormant. Most recipes ask you to wait 10–15 minutes until the yeast foams so you can be sure it’s actually alive. In this stage, called blooming, it’ll bubble and fizz gently, forming a frothy cap like that cappuccino you definitely overpaid for. Active dry yeast is also much slower to ferment than instant or fresh yeast, increasing the dough’s proof time. All told, this yeast is a demanding diva and I, for one, don’t quite have the patience to deal with it.
Nice but Rare: Fresh Yeast
Fresh yeast, with its smooth, waxy complexion, is lovely and nostalgic, but bricks of it are rather uncommon at a local grocery store. Its high moisture content makes it delicate, demanding refrigeration and allowing it to live only a week or so before it becomes a smelly, unusable mess. Some bakers swear the flavor of bread made with fresh yeast is more complex, but the jury’s out on that one.
Skip: So-Called Specialty Yeasts
Sometimes companies like to mess with our feelings and give us a bunch of choices we don’t need. You can find pizza dough yeast, instant sourdough yeast, and bread machine yeast. They’re often filled with additives (like soybean oil or flour) and dough improvers (such as L-Cysteine which makes the dough more flexible and increases the final volume of the bread), or are simply proprietary names for instant yeast. None do anything better than instant or active dry yeast, so just walk past when you see any of these on the shelf.