Yeast is the micro-organism that produces gas and rises your dough, creating the fresh, crusty breads we know and love. Yeast can be found as fresh, dried, active or in sourdough starters – so what type of yeast should you bake your bread with?
What types of yeast are there?
Yeast is generally available to buy in four forms: fresh, dried, active dried and sourdough.
Fresh yeast: Comes as a pink-grey solid ‘cake’ and must be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Fresh yeast will only last about 2 weeks in the fridge before it starts turning to an inactive sludge. Fresh yeast can be frozen in blocks but may lose some of its activity on defrosting.
Dried yeast: Yeast dried into fairly large granules that must be re-hydrated in water before being used in your recipe. Can be stored in the cupboard or fridge and will last up to a year.
Active dried yeast: Yeast dried into tiny particles that can be added straight into flour when making your recipe. Likely to contain other additives such as an anti-caking agent and Vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Can be stored in the cupboard or fridge and will last up to a year.
Sourdough: A paste of flour and water in which the natural yeasts present, as well as ‘good’ bacteria, are encouraged to flourish through regular ‘feeds’ of additional flour and water. This sourdough starter can be stored at room temperature (with regular feeds) or in the fridge. Will last indefinitely.
Your personal preferences, for a certain type of loaf, for taste, and to fit within the time you have available, are all going to play a major part in the type of yeast you use in your bread baking. For quicker results, having dried or dried active yeast to hand is likely to be best. These yeasts generally perform well (if they haven’t been stored too long) and will rise dough efficiently. Some people find they prefer the taste of a loaf made with fresh yeast so, if you can source fresh yeast, do try making a dough with it and see what you think. If you have plenty of time and want to experiment with flavour from your yeast, then starting and maintaining a sourdough starter with which to bake bread will be preferable.
As mentioned above, different types of yeast are stored and used in different ways. If you don’t bake bread that often, it might not make sense to use fresh yeast as it goes off relatively quickly. Having a tin of dried or active dried yeast in the cupboard may be preferable. Active dried yeast can also be added straight into your flour with no additional steps, further increasing convenience. Whilst your sourdough starter can be stored in the fridge, you will then need to factor in time to bring it back to an active, bubbly state before using it to bake bread.
The type of bread you plan to bake
One benefit of using fresh yeast is that it can be more robust, and produce gas better, when used in enriched doughs. These are doughs made with fats, eggs and sugar (or a combination of the three), such as for croissants and brioche. Enriching a dough can make the water in the dough less ‘available’ for use by the yeast – for example sugar dissolves in the water. Fresh yeast, and in particular strains that are osmotolerant – that work better in an environment with less water – can act more efficiently to rise an enriched dough.
What type of yeast do you use to bake bread? Do let me know in the comments.
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