Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yeast Breads

There is nothing quite like coming home to the smell of bread baking! But, yeast seems to be a topic of trepidation to some.  This post is to serve as a guide to beginners and may have some useful information for seasoned bread bakers as well. 

Know that there is nothing to be scared of.  Failed attempts can be saved as yummy scones, and no one will ever know it didn't rise!  No ingredients will be wasted.  You may be frustrated, but don't give up.  With a little knowledge and practice, breads can be made reliably.

First, it is important to understand that there are different kinds of yeast out there.  The three kinds I see most on the grocery store shelf are Active Dry Yeast, Rapid Rise Yeast (some companies label this Instant yeast), and Bread Machine Yeast.  All I will say about Bread Machine Yeast here, is that it is formulated for use in a bread machine and should be used according to your machine's instructions.  We will look more closely at Active Dry and Rapid Rise Yeast. They are really the same item, but Rapid Rise Yeast has been dried by a different process that allows it to be rehydrated quite easily.  Active Dry yeast must be dissolved in lukewarm water and the temperature is key.  If it is too cold or too hot it can kill the yeast.  This is where beginning bakers can save a whole lot of heartache!  Buy Rapid Rise yeast instead!  You have to know how to tweak your recipe for using this yeast, but it is easy, faster, and very reliable.  I have used it exclusively for years and I am a huge fan!

So, how is it done?  The method for most bread recipes you will run into starts by combining Active Dry Yeast and water and sugar and letting the yeast ferment for about 5 minutes. Then you begin to add ingredients and make a dough.  With Rapid Rise Yeast, you combine your dry ingredients, usually some of the flour, the salt, and the yeast.  Then add your oil and water, but here, you want to add very hot water! Let your tap run until it is hot, then measure the hot water into your dry ingredients.  Because your yeast is surrounded by flour, the hot water doesn't kill the yeast, but the extra heat will allow the dough to rise faster!  (It takes about 1/2 the time for a rapid rise product to double in size!) At this point, you will add the remaining flour for kneading.

Kneading is quite simple and can be done by hand effectively, but a superior product is made by using a mixer with a dough hook.  If you have a mixer with dough hook, you simply turn it on to knead for the allotted time in your recipe.  After a few minutes kneading, the dough should form a ball and pull away from the sides of the bowl.  If it does not, you need to add some more flour, a little at a time, until it does. If you don't have a mixer, dust your hands with flour, gather the dough into a ball, fold it in half, and press down on the fold with the heel of your hand.  Turn the dough a quarter of a turn and repeat.  Work flour into the dough as you go, not adding any more than you need to work with it.  It will take 8-10 minutes of working with the dough to do this.  You know it is done when the dough becomes elastic and blisters will form as you knead.  A good test is to poke it.  If it bounces right back, it is ready.  Use this test if you are working with dough in a mixer too.

The dough must have a warm environment to rise, but it should not dry out at all.  You can dribble a little oil in a bowl, turn the dough in this to coat, and place it somewhere warm.  If you need to create a warm environment for it, preheat your oven to 100 degrees, then turn it off.  Place your bowl of dough in the oven with a small dish of water, to keep the air in there moist. Don't use plastic containers for this method. Dough is ready when it has doubled in size.

It is a lot of fun to shape dough, so don't limit yourself to just putting it in a pan.  Children love to help too.  I will dedicate another post to that when I can post some pictures.  The recipes here on my blog are adjusted to the Rapid Rise Yeast method.  Any others you come across can be adapted by using the steps above.  A good, basic recipe to start with is 90 Minute Bread. Good Luck!  Happy Baking and Success to You are my wishes!
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If you are visiting, welcome! I am in the process of a Vulcan Mind Meld with my computer to put all of my right hand recipes for feeding my family on here as fast as possible. Please come back often and stay awhile. There are so many exciting things to come!

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