Baking With Yeast: 12 Tips for Beginners

My mother was an excellent baker. She made cakes, pies, muffins, cupcakes, and biscuits from scratch. But she never baked with yeast. "I do not use it because it's scary," she explained. Since my mother did not use it, I did not either, until I had been married for about 10 years. Though I expected to run into trouble, I did not, and my first attempt at bread baking was successful.

Just a few tips can make your efforts successful, too. You may want to start with something easy, like cinnamon rolls.

Before you start, keep in mind that yeast comes from the air and is alive. It's a member of the fungus family. According to an article on the Joy of Baking website, the word yeast comes from the Sanskrit word "yas," which means to seethe or boil.

King Arthur flour has posted a "Yeast Bread Primer" on its website. The primer is a bit long because it covers every baking step and includes recipes. As the primer explains, bread has only five ingredients: water, yeast, sugar, flour, and salt. The primer tells how to avoid two hurdles – proofing (activating) and adding water.

Warm water and sugar are added to yeast to wake up the mold. You may use tap water and, to make sure it's the right temperature, put some on your wrist. The water should feel warm, but not hot. After a few minutes, the yeast should start to bubble. If it does not bubble your water was too hot or the yeast was too old.

Pillsbury has posted baking tips on its website, "Secrets for Baking with Yeast." What are some of the secrets? Checking the expiration date is one of them. An old package will not rise as high or may not rise at all. The article also gives measurement substitutions. One packet of dry yeast equals two and a half teaspoons of bulk yeast or one-third of a cake.

After years of baking, these are the tips I follow

1. Experiment with yeast and find the type you like best. I prefer the dry.

2. Use pre-sifted flour for a light product.

3. Do not scoop the flour from the bag or canister because this compresses it. Instead, spoon the flour into the measuring cup.

4. Measure carefully and level off the flour with your finger or a knife.

5. Humidity affects flour, so do not add all of it right away. Add some of the flour and see how wet or dry the dough becomes.

6. Knead the dough properly. I gather the dough into a ball and knead it with the palms of my hands, pushing it forward and turning it.

7. Check the consistency of the dough, which should be elastic, not sticky.

8. Butter the bowl or coat with baking spray before you put the dough in to rise.

9. Let the dough rise in a warm place, or your oven. I pre-heat the oven to about 85 degrees, turn off the heat, and turn on the light. The warm bulb is just right for rising.

10. If a recipe calls for steam, I put a pan of ice cubes on the bottom rack of the oven.

11. Slash the dough with a sharp knife (sometimes I use kitchen shears), so the steam can escape.

12. Coat the top of the dough with egg wash, or cream, or cooking spray before baking. Enjoy your culinary masterpiece!

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson