Working with Yeast
Updated: Jun 22, 2019
In this post we are covering general points for successful baking with yeast.
Proofing and kneading yeast dough looks more complicated than it really is.
It’s worth to put some effort upfront and read few hints to check where are those little points where things can go less than ideal! :) Once you know that, there will be nothing stopping you!
Ok, so - to the point. Few hints:
1. Active bulk dry yeast or instant yeast in packets - use whichever you prefer. I like to work with active bulk dry yeast in some recipes (Babka) and in others packets are OK (buns, some breads). The main thing here is: 7g of yeast in packets = 25g of active bulk dry yeast. The rule of thumb is that you need 25g of bulk dry yeast (or 7g/1 packet dry instant) for every 500g of flour. I would recommend to proof both yeast versions. Especially if you get active quick rise instant yeast which has bigger granules. Keep your yeast refrigerated and watch BBE date.
2. Yeast is fickle with temperature. It likes some TLC. Check out this website which gives good guidelines about fermentation process. To sum it up: yeast likes warm environment, but not too warm! Optimal temperature is 35C (just a little bit less than your body temperature which is a good test). In higher temperatures it stops working. So once proofing, milk or water has to be at around 35-38C. If you proof yeast and it does not froth or create bubbles after 5-10 minutes then start again. The yeast might have been old or temperature was too cold/too hot.
3. Why are you asked to cover tightly the dough? Few reasons: yeast loves warm, dark environment with minimal air circulation and... sugar. By covering the dough you are creating just that perfect environment which will encourage vivid fermentation. Secondly, the dough may quickly dry out if not covered properly. What's best to use to cover the dough? This is all down to your preference - you can use cling film or clean kitchen towel (with a string to wrap around bowl's parameter - more environment friendly option; this was the way yeast was proofed in the past so don't worry - it will work). You may also use reusable plastic bag (or freezer bag) and tightly zip it or wrap it with a string.
4. Once you proof yeast and mix in all ingredients choose warm place. It can be a top of your cooker or you can switch on the oven just for 1 minute to make it just about warm. There is a fine balance between under proofing and over proofing the dough. If unsure, always go with recipe guidelines. Once you get more practice you will know how to run finger dent test (for breads) or just notice when the dough is ready to proceed with shaping. Remember that recipes give general guidelines - yeast works based on environment in which it's proofing so the time may be longer or shorter than stated. Hence, in recipes you will also find references to dough texture, size and very often a reference to bulk and final dough temperature.
5. Once the dough doubles or triples in size (always specified in the recipe) you will proceed to de-gasing and gentle kneading. Why do you want to do this? a) if not done you get yeasty aftertaste b) it relaxes the dough and prepares for shaping c) it’s therapeutical? :D This especially applies to sweet dough. Bread doughs are handled slightly different (all will be marked in recipes, depending on flour/hydration/yeast or fermentation technique used, sometimes only minimum touch time may be required). Saying this - there are certain sweet dough recipes which require frequent dough de-gasing and aeration already in first hour of the rest - all to achieve the best, airy texture (yeast pancakes, drozdzowka, babka). Clear as mud? Probably - but the main point is that there is no one golden formula for de-gasing, kneading or dough consistency. All will depend on the final texture the recipe is going for. All we ask you as a reader is to be open to different suggestions. Quick example is Babka and Polish drozdzowka - by frequent de-gasing in first hour you will get plump texture.
6. In some recipes I will suggest to repeat resting/punching/kneading 3 times (!). Some recipes love kneading (Babka, Brioche, certain types of breads, certain types of rugelach) and some are OK with minimal effort or delicate stretching and folding only (Kanelbullar, cinnamon buns, certain breads). For recipes like Babka you need to sense the dough literally growing and rising in your hands and have fairly airy, buttery texture. Kanelbullar, which is spiced up with cardamom, tastes actually better when this process is short and gentle.
7. Watch the recipe in terms of recommended amount of flour. Preparing the dough is a sticky job (especially when done by hand) but after few minutes the dough will form nicely, to eventually become elastic and pull away from your hand. Some recipes will call for more sticky texture while other for more formed dough (there is no, one and uniform look!). Kneading = 8-10 minutes of work (for Brioche even up to 20 minutes) so don’t panic if after 2 minutes the dough is still thin. Some highly hydrated doughs will naturally be fairly loose before shaping and folding. Any excess flour will result in hard baked good.
8. Final proofing. After shaping and just before baking let formed babka/buns/rugelach/bread rest. At this stage you kneaded the dough nicely, released the gas from the dough but you still want some fluffy/soft texture. That last resting phase is doing just that. At this stage there is also a fine balance between under and over proofing. If unsure, always go with recipe guidelines. Over proofing is almost as bad as under proofing - especially in certain highly hydrated doughs (when shaped roll/bread/bun may collapse).
9. You can easily use stand mixer with dough hook attachment. However, in some recipes I will mark that the recipe works out better when the dough is kneaded by hand. Especially for certain types of breads. If you work with dough hook attachment make sure the bowl is placed at the right height and you are not left with unmixed flour residue at the bottom of the bowl.
10. You can slow down fermentation by refrigerating mixed dough for up to 2 days. Certain bread recipes will specify exact time but for sweet dough 2 days is a norm. Once you are ready, progress to bulk fermentation, shaping and final proofing. In some recipes you may refrigerate the dough after bulk fermentation and shaping (to finish final proofing next morning).
11. Jazzing up - don't be afraid to experiment with dough recipe - play around with dough hydration, fat content, richness of the dough (eggs! - remember full eggs are binding the texture while egg yolks are enriching it), sweetness, spices etc.
These are just few general notes on baking with yeast to get you started. Every recipe will have its own requirements in terms of kneading, proofing technique and shaping.