My cinnamon rolls and my upcoming bread project use…. shudder …Yeast. I’ve always been intimidated by Yeast – if I see “Yeast” in a recipe ingredient list, I turn the page. But with this Learning to Bake thing going on, the Yeast Phobia must be banished. Knowledge is power, as they say, so I did a little research.
First I hit my kitchen bookcase. Then I used Google. I’m not afraid anymore.
I consulted Funk & Wagnalls Cook’s & Diner’s Dictionary (an out-of-print book I love, in part because I could read the introduction by M.F.K. Fisher monthly and never tire of it). Here I learn that Yeast consists of “tiny cells of ascomycetous fungi” that produce carbon dioxide when making raised dough for bread, rolls and the like. (They’ll also ferment and produce alcohol in the making of beer and wine – my next project, perhaps?)
Next I looked at my other food reference book, Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Food Encyclopedia. He notes that the use of “dry” yeast (not compressed cakes) went back 40 years at the time of this 1985 encyclopedia.
On to practical matters, which is where the advice bakers on the Internet came in handy. I visited a new-to-me site, joyofbaking.com, where a page is devoted to Yeast. Here I learn that the fungi that is Yeast needs three things to get moving – moisture (like when I put the Yeast in the water), food – either sugar or flour, and warmth – (that water was warm, as was the kitchen when my dough was rising). That “proofing” of the Yeast before moving ahead with the rest of the recipe isn’t always called for, and its main purpose is to make sure the Yeast is still good. If no foam bubbles up, the Yeast is dead.
According to joyofbaking.com, yeast isn’t active below 50 degrees, and it will die at 138 degrees. The site says 90 degrees to 100 degrees is the best temperature range to activate Yeast.
I put my Yeast in 110 degree water, the temperature recommended on some other web sites, including one from Hodgson Mill.
Can I just say I love the first tip Hodgson Mill gives on temperature control and yeast:
Have a positive attitude – remember you are working with living ingredients. Think warm, think alive, and you will create a hospitable environment for your bread.
OK, it could be a tad New Agey, depending on who is saying it. But I think that tip could extend to a few other things in my life! Meanwhile, I can already see my flour-covered self chanting “think warm, think alive, create a hospitable environment for the freaking bread!” in my kitchen.
And in case you’re wondering, my Yeast Phobia is cured. Kaput. Done and Dusted. From now on, I’m the Fungi Queen. Yeast Queen? There’s something about the word Yeast and feminine infections that makes me not want to claim this title. Anyway – Bring on those little foil packets. I am ready.