Baking bread from scratch is a pleasurable task but it can become rather frustrating when the product comes out flat. 99% of the time this happens, the problem lies with the yeast used. The quality might be compromised, or you might have applied it incorrectly, or under poor cooking conditions. Read on for why your yeast is not working as it should and what you can do to avoid it.
Baking bread is only successful when you enjoy the entire process and most importantly, it comes out perfectly cooked, soft and fluffy. Although there are many bread recipes readily available to everyone, most don't tackle frequently asked questions about yeast.
Yeast can be a rather difficult ingredient because it only works best when it is used under certain conditions (temperature, humidity, etc). If your bread doesn't rise properly, check out the following common yeast mistakes and what to do instead:
A common misconception is that the higher the quantity of sugar in the dough, the better the rise. Contrary to that opinion, sweet dough won't rise properly unless you allow it to rest for a longer period than usual. That's because sugar absorbs the liquid in the dough, leaving very little for the yeast to feed on. Subsequently, the yeast dries out, becomes ineffective and the overall product comes out flat.
To avoid this: give sweet doughs enough time to rise properly or use a special type of yeast, the osmotolerant yeast which requires lower amounts of liquid, and so is the perfect fit for such doughs.
When proofing yeast, you must ensure that the temperature of the water isn't higher than 115ºF. If you don't already know, yeast are living organisms and at temperatures higher than that, they're killed off.
Note that the expert temperature recommendation for proofing is between 105 and 115ºF.
It is an important rule that you check the expiry date of your ingredients when baking and that also applies to bread making. If the yeast you’re using is expired, chances are you will not get a good rise (if any at all) from it. Don't forget that yeast is a microorganism and does have a definite life span.
The best environment for baking bread is humid and warm, preventing the dough from running dry and allowing the yeast to work efficiently. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't bake during winter!
If you find that your kitchen is too cold, you can crank up the thermostat while proofing your bread. Other easy solutions are to place the dough in an oven (make sure it is off!) and place a pan of boiling water in the oven along with it. The warmth and steam from the water provide the perfect conditions for proofing.
Nutritionists recommend sticking to whole grain breads for your health but they aren't very easy to do. White flour, the base for most bread, creates all gluten strands that give bread its airy texture. But, on the other hand, whole wheat and other alternative flours don't develop gluten as easily or at all, giving it little to no lift.
So, if you absolutely have to go gluten-free, make sure to follow a good recipe that is specially created for baking bread with alternative flours.
Like sugar, salt kills yeast. Although you'll find a little bit of salt included in most bread recipes, adding too much of the ingredient can render the yeast ineffective. Therefore, always ensure that you measure correctly as stated in the recipe and avoid pouring yeast and salt directly over each other before mixing.
Using the correct pan size to bake bread isn't talked about enough despite its importance to getting the perfect rise. Most yeast bread recipes require an 8½” x 4½” pan which helps them achieve that great height and square size that’s perfect for sandwiches.
Always avoid using a 9″ x 5″ pan, commonly used for quick breads. If you bake your yeasted bread in this larger pan, the bread will still rise, but it will be wider and shorter giving the appearance that the bread didn't rise properly.
Another important rule when baking is to use correct amounts of the ingredients. If you add too much flour to the bread dough, it turns stiff and dry. Ultimately, the yeast also dries out, producing bread with poor (if any at all!) rise.
Tip: Invest in a good kitchen scale; you can never go wrong with your measurements with one!