Yeast Bread Ingredients

Basic Procedure for Bread Making: Start with a yeast solution and add that to a liquid. A sweetening for the yeasties to feed on is helpful, plus some shortening, salt if you want, other things in the fruit and vegetable kingdoms, and finally your flours, the kneading process, and the rising, punching down, second rising, and baking. yeast: Use sourdough (homemade) or store-bought. There are different kinds of commercial yeast. "Brewer's yeast" won't raise bread. Neither will the dry yeast sold as a vitamin and protein supplement in health food stores. Commercial Yeast Containers. You can buy yeast in a bulk 2-lb. package, a 4-oz. jar, or 2,/> t. at a time in little foil packages. Don't buy the 2-lb. container unless you know you're going to use it all up reasonably soon. Yeast is alive, but it can live only so long confined to a jar. The 4-oz. jar is large enough to be more economical and small enough that the yeast will probably stay alive until you've used up the last of it. If you seldom make bread, buy those individual foil packets of yeast. One package is the equivalent of 1 T. yeast in any recipe. When I was younger, yeast was also sold in moist foil-wrapped cakes. Those are uncommon now, replaced by dry yeast. Substitute 1 pkg. dry for 1 cake of compressed. When we used the yeast cakes, we had to crumble them into the warm liquid. With the dry yeast, you just pour it in and stir it up.

Yeast Storage. Store any yeast in the refrigerator for the short term, or in the freezer for the long term. Unopened yeast in ajar or foil packet survives best in cool, dry storage. So don't keep it near your stove. In your fridge is best. There is an expiration date stamped on it, which is 1 year after packaging. But using it sooner is better. Don't open the foil packets until you're ready to use them. Once you've opened the jar, refrigerate. Best results if used up within 4-6 months. The moist compressed yeast keeps only 4-6 weeks, and that's only if it's kept refrigerated. If wet yeast breaks easily, it's okay to use. If it feels mushy and soft, throw it out.

"Proofing" the Yeast. "Proofing" means testing yeast for life and liveliness. Mix yeast with your warm water and a little sweetener. Let it set about 20 minutes. If it is starting to get bubbly, it's okay; proceed. If it's just sitting there doing nothing, throw it out and restart with some different yeast. Yeast Temperature. Yeast is a living organism, so don't pour really hot water in on top of it or you'll kill it. If it is too cold, it won't do any work for you either. A temperature on the warmish side of lukewarm is best—110-115°F It is important to have your bread liquid the right temperature when you combine it with yeast—not just the liquid you dissolve the yeast in, but all of it, because if you throw in a lot of cold milk or water, you chill down the whole dough. You can warm a liquid very quickly and easily, but it takes a long time for a dough to warm up once you've got the flour in. Yeast Food. A working yeast consumes some variety of sugar in order to manufacture its by-product—carbon dioxide bubbles. Its main product, of course, is more yeast, and that's why the action may start slowly and then get faster. The more yeast you start out with, the faster the bread will rise. Given time enough, even a little yeast can do the job. However, if you take too long, wild yeast will start working in there, and you may have a sourdough taste when you didn't plan on it. By "too long," I mean hours and hours. As yeast grows, it eats sugar and produces alcohol plus carbon dioxide gas. The alcohol will bake away, but the bubbles of gas get baked into position, and that makes your bread light and porous—which is the whole reason for bothering with yeast, although it does add some food value to your bread as well.

Secrets of Making Yeast Breads

1. Warm up all your ingredients before combining, including the yeast—but not so hot as to kill it. It helps to use a thermometer until you get familiar with what works.

2. Dissolve dry yeast by sprinkling it over water—not any other liquid—to start it! Just substitute lA c. warm water per 2Vi t. dry yeast for lA c. other liquid in the recipe. Stir the yeast into the water. Add lh t. honey or sugar. After 5 minutes, stir that yeast-water mix into your other recipe liquid.

3. The commercial dry yeast dissolves best into

110-115°F water, but hotter water kills it. The best room temperature for raising your yeast dough is 80-90°F. Too low a temperature can result in a souring of the dough, which is okay if you like sourdough. Don't put your rising bowl right onto a radiator or wood-stove top, because that can get hot enough to kill the yeast.

4. The tiny plant cells that are "yeast" feed on the sugars in your dough. More sweetness feeds them better.

5. Blending or beating doesn't harm yeast.

6. A lot of dried fruits, eggs, nuts, salt, shortening, and/or sugar will hold back the rising. If you want light bread, dry ingredients (aside from wheat flour) should be no more than 25 percent by volume.

7. Breads made from all whole wheat flour take longer to rise and make heavier, denser loaves because the white part is the part that contains the gluten, and whole flour has a smaller percentage of the inner (white) kernel. Also, breads made from home-ground whole wheat flour will be as much harder to leaven as the grind is coarser than your familiar commercially milled bread flour.

8. A good kneading helps get good gluten development. When you've finished kneading, the dough feels smooth and elastic and pops back out when poked. But too much kneading can interfere with gluten's bubble-holding ability Fifteen minutes max.

9. When your dough has doubled in size, it's full of bubbles. You can't measure rising by time. Time to double depends on temperature and humidity. But you can test for doubling by pressing the tips of 2 fingers quickly, lightly into your dough. If the dent they make disappears right away, the dough should rise more. If it stays put, the doubling is accomplished. Now do something with it: bake it, or punch it down and shape and then let rise for baking. If you don't do one of those 2 things reasonably soon, the dough may fall.

10. Punching down breaks up oversized bubbles and gives you a finished bread with a finer texture. liquid: The more liquid you start out with, the more bread you'll end up with. Your basic choice is milk, water, or fruit juice. Water bread has a wheaty flavor and a lovely crust. It keeps better than milk bread. Potato water makes wonderful bread. (You can make potato water especially for your bread base. Just peel, dice, and boil the spuds. Then mash or blend the potatoes and their water together.) If you make the bread with milk, it has more food value and delicious flavor when fresh. Milk also gives it a fine texture. Using syrup, molasses, or honey for your sweeteners will help make a moist bread that stays soft and edible longer than it would otherwise.

Lukewarm Liquid. Make sure your liquids are warm. Many people scald unpasteurized milk to destroy an enzyme that supposedly makes bread gummy. I gave up doing that years ago when I got rushed for time and couldn't seem to see the difference anyway. To "scald" means to heat until bubbles form around the rim of the pan, not to actually boil. Then you have the problem of getting it cooled down so you can proceed with the bread making. I used to solve that by plopping my butter, which was right out of the refrigerator, into the middle of the scalded milk. That way the butter melted and milk cooled, and it pretty much came out the right temperature for adding the yeast solution.

Enough Liquid? At this point, I take a second look to see if I have enough liquid. If not, I add more. The volume of the final dough batch will be the same as my liquid plus almost half. With good rising, that amount doubled will be the final amount of baked bread, but usually it doesn't all rise that high.

sweetening: Sweetness feeds your yeast. Add any sort of sugar—white, brown, powdered, confectioners', candy dissolved in water, fruit juice, honey, maple syrup, or molasses. Keith Berringer, Midway, BC, Canada, told me that if he uses honey to start the yeast, he first boils the honey together with some water. Otherwise, he says, the enzymes are hard on the yeast. Molasses, honey, or sorghum syrup in a brown bread recipe makes the crust softer and helps keep it moist as well as sweet. Adding raisins or any fruit to the bread brings in quite a bit of sweetening too. Or you can make the yeast tough it out and find some natural sugars in the flour, which they can do.

shortening: Any fat is "shortening": lard, butter, bacon grease, margarine, olive oil, and other vegetable oils. Any solid shortening should be melted before adding. Or you can use mashed banana or avocado, which are high-fat fruits. I know people who won't use any shortening and make beautiful breads, but if I try to do completely without it, the bread is too crumbly. The exact amount is really very flexible. salt: When the bread is spread with butter or other toppings, there's enough salt that way. You can leave all the salt out of any bread recipe and make perfectly delicious breads. On the other hand, if you like the taste of it but wonder how much to use, lA t. salt per 2 c. flour is about standard if you're not comfortable with "to taste." other Things: If you want your bread to rise well, limit other things in the recipe to no more than 25 percent of the volume of your wheat flour. I've reached the point in my bread making where I don't make a bread without some "other things." A whole wheat bread is improved so much by the addition of a quite large part of fruit, vegetable, or both. When I get ready to make bread, I start out by thoroughly searching the refrigerator and cupboards to see what I have: cereals, rice, corn bread or crusts, extra eggs (as we have in spring), leftover mashed potatoes, cooked squash or pumpkin, or canned fruit like apricots or peaches.

In egg season I can make a rich, delicious bread resembling the famous Jewish Challah by putting in a dozen eggs. For special occasions I use a lot of fruit. I pit canned cherries and use them with apricots or whatever fruit I have lots of. Raisins and nuts, if you have them, will be a welcome addition to the bread too. Leftover vegetables are fine. Mash any fruit or vegetable well before you put it in. My bread is never quite the same. I've turned out some batches that were so heavenly that I've been wishing ever since that I could do it again. I served one bread that was just loaded with applesauce, and I think it had some apple plum butter in it too, to Mike's boss and his family for dinner. Boss told his wife to "get that recipe." I couldn't tell her how. I wished I knew myself.

Sometimes we play guessing games on guests. What do you suppose is in the bread? They're unlikely to come up with such ingredients as the scrapings of a jar of peanut butter and half a box of tapioca. But I go very easy with ingredients like peanut butter and tomatoes. And I've never added meat, although I suppose a person could if it were precooked and ground. But come to think of it, "meat loaf'

is usually a meat/grain mixture; it can be a lot more grain than meat! And it's good.

flour: The last ingredient you add to your yeast bread dough will be the flour. Part of that must be wheat flour. That's so you'll have gluten in the mix. Gluten. When your liquid meets your wheat flour, the proteins in that flour begin bonding together in a special way that forms the wonderful substance called "gluten." (See "Special Breads.") Gluten is elastic and will hold bubbles and expand with them like bubble gum. It's contained in the white, starchy part of the wheat kernel. No matter how able a strain of yeast you have, the only dough it can make rise is one with wheat flour in it. You couldn't make barley flour or pea flour rise if you used a whole quart of yeast. White flour rises more readily than brown flour. A mixture of whole wheat flour and rolled oats and rye won't rise nearly as well as straight whole wheat flour. And the only part of the wheat flour the yeast can make rise is the starchy, white center of the kernel, so you can't make bread that rises out of wheat bran only. Whole wheat flour doesn't rise as high as all-white because its percentage of the white endosperm is lower, since it also contains all the outer non-gluten part of the kernel ground up in there—the part with the vitamins!

Have at least three-fourths of your flour be wheat flour for a light bread, one-half for a heavy one. But for the other one-fourth or one-half, you can use all kinds of grains. I've used leftover cooked cereals of all sorts, leftover puddings, dry cereals of all sorts that I figured weren't going to get eaten before they got stale, tapioca base, cornmeal, oatmeal, farina, and any sort of flour you can think of. It usually turns out fine. My favorite flavoring is a dollop of rye flour in the bread. Just a little adds a really nice taste. Breads that include flours that won't leaven don't rise so high or easily but, on the other hand, they have a close-grained moist quality and keep much longer than regular bread.

Phyllis Vallette wrote me from Burkina Faso, "Non-gluten grains can be substituted freely. If you're looking for recipes to use an unusual grain—trying to find uses for oat flour, which I hear is a new trend, or if you're given a bushel of barley or live by a sorghum field—you should definitely read through the recipes for corn, rye, etc., and try out anything interesting with the grain you have. With our local millet, I make a delicious spoon bread (i.e., souffle) that's sometimes pure millet, sometimes half corn meal. I use a corn chip recipe to make millet crackers. I sometimes use millet flour in my bread, using as much millet as you'd use of rye in rye bread—and so on." Flour Consistencies. Consistencies have varied over the years and with the brand. If you're using a recipe that says "flour" but doesn't say how much, it's always safe to add flour like this:

• Add 1 measure flour per 1 measure liquid for pour batters.

• Add 2 measures flour per 1 measure liquid for drop batters.

• Add 3 measures flour per 1 measure liquid for a dough.

Or like this:

• A crepe batter should be watery, a pancake batter thin, a waffle batter thin enough to pour—but thick enough to clump voluntarily on the waffle iron and not run over.

• Quick bread batters should be thick with just enough thinness to pour into the pan.

• Kneaded bread doughs should be thick and dry enough to handle without stickiness.

Adding Flour. I mix the bread with one hand, scooping up flour and pouring it in as needed with the other hand. Anybody else would use a spoon, but I'm the sort to just plunge right in there with my fist. I end up that way, anyway. The odd variety flours and other dry ingredients go in first. Then the basic whole wheat flour, since I want at least 50 percent of that. You learn when the dough has just the right amount of flour by experience. Add enough flour so the dough stops being sticky on your hands, and quit adding before it gets so tough and hard you can't knead it. The feel of the dough—and the look of it—will tell you.

Continue reading here: Kneading and Rising

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