Y is for Yeast


multigrain-gluten-free-brown-bread-baked-in-bowls photo by vsimon

Baking yeast that is. Necessary for yeast bread, that elusive, infuriating staple of other peoples’ lives. Good gluten free bread is a challenge. It is expensive to buy readymade. And tricky to make yourself. Every batch of bread feels like an adventure.

Never the less, making your own bread is the best way to enjoy good gluten free yeast bread. But you will have to make friends with yeast. Like any good relationship, caring for yeast requires some time and attention.

Yeast are single celled creatures that eat, produce gas, multiply, and die. They like a pleasant climate. Not too cold, not to hot. They prefer to be surrounded by their favorite foods: carbohydrates and moisture. That sounds like some of us.

Kinds of Yeast

The many choices of yeast at the grocery store are bewildering. Do I want active dry, rapid rise, perfect rise, bread machine, fast rising, quick rise, instant, or compressed cake?

Really, commercial baker’s yeast comes in just three types. Compressed cake is fresh and very perishable. It must be refrigerated at all times. It comes in little grayish soft cubes, wrapped in foil. Compressed yeast can be added to the liquid or dry ingredients. Look for it in the dairy section and make sure it is not past its use date. I do not use this anymore because it does not stay fresh long enough for me.

Active dry is dormant yeast and can be stored at room temperature. It comes as tan granules, packaged in tri-fold foil pouches that hold ¼ ounce in each pouch (7 grams). This measures about 2 teaspoons. Often one pouch is not enough yeast for gluten free bread recipes, so you have to use one pouch and part of another. I just wrap up the remainder and store it in the fridge. Buying yeast in these pouches is fine if you do not bake bread frequently. But if you do, active dry yeast also comes in brown jars that hold several ounces. I store these in the fridge too.

Active dry yeast is added to the liquid in the recipe to activate it, before adding to the flour.

Instant yeast has smaller granules that are added to the dry ingredients. Liquids are warmed before adding to the flour mix. With its small granules and warm liquids, this yeast activates quickly as the batter is beaten. So instant yeast shortens the rising time. Instant yeast is available in pouches or jars.

How do you choose?

Each of these types of yeast will work in your bread. The type may affect how the yeast is added to the batter and the total rise time. One cube of compressed yeast is equivalent to one pouch of active dry or instant yeast.

Follow the directions on the package and stick with a brand that makes you happy.


frothy-proofing-yeast photo by inuyaki.com


Proofing is fun! Add the yeast to warm liquid with a bit of sweetener and watch it grow.

Warm the liquid to 100-105 degrees. Use liquid and sweetener from the recipe, not additional. If there is no sweetener in the recipe, just a few grains of sugar will feed the yeast as they wake up.

In 5 to 10 minutes, the yeast will bubble, foam, and froth. You can see and smell that the yeast is alive.

Not all recipes call for proofing. But you can do it with any recipe. If you are nervous about the vitality of the yeast, proof it. Or if you want a faster rise, proof it. You will start with millions more yeasties.

Favorite climate

Yeast goes into hibernation below 50 degrees. Temperatures above 140 degrees kills yeast. Yeast is most productive at 80-90 degrees.

The more the merrier

Gluten free bread recipes have more yeast than wheat bread recipes. And they may have more sweeteners to add flavor. More and sweeter can make the rise go fast. Especially in warm weather, the batter can rise from just right to over done in 10 minutes. Make sure you preheat the oven long before you think you will need it. If you notice the batter has risen to the top of the pan, or is starting to crack, get the bread in the hot oven right now. It is so discouraging to watch over risen batter deflate right before your eyes. It is better to under rise than over rise. The bread will rise a bit in the oven too.

Fitting yeast bread baking into a hectic life

Most gluten free yeast bread recipes have only one rise. So they are quicker to make than many wheat breads. That is a plus!

But, say, you are really in a hurry. The rising time in the recipe is “about an hour”. And you want to be at a yoga class in two and a half hours. That is cutting it pretty close. To speed up the rise, put the bread batter in a warm place.

Try on top of the fridge. Or in the oven with a bowl of hot water on the rack below. You can also warm a cup of water in the microwave, then put the bread batter alongside it.

Or, school calls and your kid is sick and needs to go to the doctor. Put the bread batter in the fridge to slow it down. It will wait for a few hours. Put the pan of batter on the counter to warm up to room temperature and finish rising before baking.

If you are experimenting with recipes

Increasing the amount of salt will slow the rise. As will reducing the amount of yeast.

Slow rises improve flavor. If you have time, it can be desirable to have a cool rise. I have refrigerated batter overnight. This improves the flavor of the bread, but it does not rise well. It is a trade off.

Yeast is often happy doing its own thing. Still, you do need to keep an eye on it. Yeast is a living, growing helper in bread baking. Getting it to do what you want requires the skillful interplay of time, temperature, type, amount, and other ingredients. Start a yeast baking adventure! Understand its needs, treat it well and it will reward you.