The Different Types of Baking Yeast, and When to Use Them

The name Saccharomyces Cerevisiae may sound sinister, but it is simply the name for the organism that makes our bread rise. You won’t find this scientific name on the packets of Yeast in supermarkets. You’ll instead see terms such as active dry Yeast or instant Yeast. Which one is best for baking? How do they work, and what are the benefits? All types of Yeast can be used to make bread, but I have some tips and suggestions.

What is Yeast?

I won’t go into too much biology, but like us, Yeast is happy when there is food, oxygen, water, and a warm, cozy environment. When Yeast is content, it starts to ferment. Carbon dioxide gas is a by-product. This gas is trapped in gluten bubbles, which causes the bread to rise and expand. To get good bread, we have to collaborate with our microscopical colleagues. Learn more about the people we can hire to bake great bread.

Active Dry Yeast

Since Fleischmann’s began producing this product in 1940, most American bakers have been familiar with active dry yeast packets on the shelves of their local grocery store. In most recipes, active dry Yeast is dissolved in milk or warm water. Sometimes, sugar is added. The Yeast will “prove” its life by foaming up after five to ten minutes.

Some people claim that the most common type of Yeast in grocery stores is active dry, but I have seen instant Yeast next to active dry at my local supermarkets. Always check the expiration date when using active dry Yeast. Expired Yeast won’t rise to the occasion. My experience has shown that you will need about 25% more active dried Yeast than instant Yeast. However, you must first dissolve and prove it. When I first started baking bread, I used active dry Yeast. My bread was much denser than I had hoped when it came out of my oven. Instant Yeast increased my success rate.

Instant Yeast

Instant Yeast is the commercial Yeast I prefer, and it’s the Yeast that many homebread bakers II use. LeSaffre began selling instant Yeast back in the 1970s. This is a more recent product than active-dry Yeast. It is cheaper (per ounce), it works faster, and it’s the most reliable. It is smaller than active dry and does not require proofing or dissolving in liquid. Mix the Yeast with the flour, and then add liquid ingredients. I recommend buying a large, vacuum-sealed instant yeast package from a reputable brand like SAF. Once you’ve opened it, store it in an airtight freezer container. Instant Yeast can be frozen for up to two years. It can be added to dough right from the freezer. Don’t worry if your recipe calls for active dry Yeast. You can substitute instant Yeast but reduce the amount by 25 percent.

Fresh Yeast

Fresh Yeast comes in the form of a brick of compressed cells. Fresh Yeast is the most effective commercial Yeast in my experience. Fresh Yeast is used in many European bread recipes. I never understood why until I made my Christmas Stollen. There were no Stollen recipes I could find that reminded me of the Stollens I had eaten in the past. The recipes I translated for Dresdner Stollen were all for fresh Yeast. I developed the recipe until I got one that I liked. I then wondered if Instant Yeast would work as well. I made two batches: one with instant Yeast and the other with fresh Yeast. Stollen is rich and dense by nature, but my loaf with fresh Yeast rose more than the one made with instant. Both were delicious, but the one made with fresh Yeast was my favorite.

Use fresh Yeast instead of instant or active dry Yeast in any recipe. Use three times as much fresh Yeast by weight in place of instant or active-dry Yeast. I crumble the Yeast into the liquid and whisk it to dissolve before adding the dry ingredients. Fresh Yeast is best for enriched doughs with a higher sugar content. It keeps the dough a little softer and gives it more volume. Jeffrey Hamelman, in his Bread, explains that dry yeasts, like active or instant Yeast, are more sensitive to doughs with a higher sugar content. When baking Germanic and sweet loaves, I use fresh Yeast because the recipes require it.

You can find fresh Yeast in many supermarkets, usually near the butter or cinnamon roll dough. You can ask someone in the store to assist you. Fresh Yeast is alive and has a short shelf life (usually less than two weeks). Fresh Yeast should only be purchased if you intend to use it within the next few weeks. Check the expiration date, and don’t use Yeast that is past the date. You can try calling local bakeries to see if you can get some fresh yeast if you cannot find it at your local grocery store. Fresh Yeast is usually available at grocers who cater to Central and Eastern European cultures.

Natural leavening

This type of learner is also known as sourdough. Because sourdough cultures contain more than Yeast, I won’t call it “natural yeast.” By mixing flour and water, natural leavening can capture the yeasts (and other microbes that are in the air) that are present. After adding flour and water for several days, the natural Yeast will grow and become active enough to leaven bread.

Sourdough Starters can be likened to a pet. To keep them alive, you need to water and feed them regularly. If you make sourdough only occasionally (like I do), you can store your starter in the fridge and provide it once a week. Start feeding your starter more often a few days before baking your bread. The dough made with sourdough Yeast is more unpredictable and takes longer to rise. Sourdough is more flavorful and lasts longer. If I had time and patience, I’d make all my bread with my sourdough (named Pauline, like many bakers I called mine). You can learn more about sourdough and how to get started by reading The Perfect Loaf. You can also bake and learn while you are at it.

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