Monday, February 11, 2013

Baking With Fresh Yeast

First, a little info on active dry yeast...

Most of my yeast doughs are made using regular active dry yeast. It is quite inexpensive when purchased in one or two pound vacuum packed bags (see Red Star Yeast below) and lasts a long time. When I open a new bag, I transfer a portion to a recycled 4 oz. yeast jar for easier handling. The rest of the yeast, in its original container, goes into a plastic bag sealed with a twist tie. I store the jar and bag in the fridge. It lasts quite a long time, but if you see your dough taking longer and longer to rise, it may be time for a new purchase. Even if the bag is only half used, it's still cheaper than buying in small quantities. However, I probably use more yeast than the average person.
Active Dry Yeast and Fresh (compressed) Yeast


Spinach bread rising in homemade proof box

Now, about fresh yeast...

Today's article, however is on using fresh yeast, which I'll refer to as either fresh or compressed. Unfortunately, it may be difficult for many to purchase good quality fresh compressed yeast, which has a very short shelf life. The kind that used to be available in the grocery stores in one or two ounce little foil blocks have just about disappeared and they weren't very good to begin with. This yeast is not the same as commercially available block fresh yeast which doesn't have added starch. Starch was added to the grocery store yeast so that Mrs. Housewife could just add warm water and the yeast would grow. (At least that's my opinion). Of course, the yeast needs food, but you can add that yourself when you're ready to use it.

The yeast that I used to make the dough used in the bagels and spinach bread seen in the pictures here is  commercial compressed yeast, sometimes referred to as wet or fresh yeast. It comes in on pound blocks, needs to be kept refrigerated, and is relatively inexpensive if you do enough baking to use the  majority of it before it goes bad. It can be difficult to ascertain the freshness when purchased in loose blocks, unlike a bakery or pizza place that may purchase a case. When fresh, the yeast should have a pleasant yeasty odor, but not the smell of dirty feet. It shouldn't be dry on the surface, but that is hard to tell because it is wrapped as you see in the picture. I get mine from a cash and carry supply store that sells wholesale and retail food supplies.

Now I'll get to the part of why you would want to bother using fresh yeast. When it is truly fresh, it is the best and easiest stuff to use! I would recommend weighing the yeast, because unlike active dry yeast, which can be accurately measured by volume (with teaspoons, etc.), fresh yeast is crumbly and can only be measured approximately by volume. When substituting fresh for dry, I use about 1 oz. of compressed yeast in exchange for 1 tablespoon active dry yeast or .3 oz. fresh for one teaspoon dry. One ounce of the compressed yeast is about 1/4 cup fresh, compressed yeast, loosely crumbled.
The real advantage in using the fresh yeast is that for most bread and pizza doughs, you don't need to dissolve or soften the yeast first. Just lightly crumble the yeast and add directly to the flour before adding your liquids, etc. That saves you a step and eliminates dirtying another bowl or cup for dissolving (softening) the yeast. This yeast is very alive and not dried out into little grains that need to be brought back to life.



 The recipe for the dough used in this video and pictures is very simple:

2 pounds of bread flour (about 7 cups)*
1 oz. fresh compressed yeast
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
19 fl.oz. warm water

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large mixer bowl and mix on speed one with a dough hook until the dough is formed. Continue to mix for 10 minutes more. You need a large stand mixer for this size batch, of at at least a 6 qt. capacity. For hand kneading,  just mix the dough by hand until the ingredients all come together and then knead for about 6-8 minutes. You can view my pizza dough video to see the hand kneading method in action.
  2. Allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 15-20 minutes, covered. Round the dough and cover again, allowing it to rise until double. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on your room temperature and the temperature of the dough. (see, How long does it take for the dough to rise?).
  3. The dough can now be divided and made into your desired products. Here is my bagel recipe and here is my Spinach Bread recipe. The spinach bread shown on this page are quite large. I used 4 oz. of dough for each!
Bagels baking on stone


Spinach bread baking -tray is set on the preheated stone
Ready to eat!

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