Yeast cookery

Yeast cookery

Margaret Fulton
30 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Vanessa Levis

Hints & tips

Any cook using yeast for the first time comes under its fascinating spell once the warm, spicy fragrance of freshly baked breads and buns scents the kitchen.

There are few foods as wonderful as chewy-crusted homemade bread. Wholesome, traditionally made breads offer a burst of subtle and complex flavours that are so satisfying and bear little resemblance to their refined, additive-laden counterparts. You might think, ‘Why bother? A loaf of bread is easy to buy and not that expensive’, but take another look. Really good breads are getting more and more expensive as we develop a taste for them. Many are made by artisans who are justified to charge the higher prices over the factories that make pap.

These better breads don’t contain the additives which, though they help keep bread fresh, and give a good colour and elasticity, also cause unpleasant allergic reactions in some people. So why don’t more people bake their own bread? Mostly because the kneading is time-consuming and to some, a little tricky. Yet, on the whole, baking with yeast is easier and more foolproof than many think. We even include a recipe for a no-knead bread.

Cakes, too, can be baked with yeast. Before the introduction of mechanical raising agents such as baking powder and bicarbonate of soda in the mid-nineteenth century, all cakes used either yeast or beaten eggs to leaven them. Stollen, Savarin and Gugelhopf are all types of yeasted cake.

Types of yeast

Fresh yeast, obtainable in compressed form, and sold by the weight, will keep in the refrigerator for 2–3 days. Dehydrated (dry) yeast, sold in packets, and readily available at most supermarkets, will keep for several months if stored in a cool, dry place. For most cooks, dry yeast is the easy option.

When the yeast becomes active it creates the gas that gives bread and buns their light, characteristic texture. The temperature of the liquid used is most important; it must be lukewarm.

Dry yeast is added to the dry ingredients in a bowl and then the liquid ingredients are added. Compressed yeast is dissolved with a little sugar or liquid before the remaining liquid is added; this is known as ‘creaming’ the yeast. When yeast is added to liquid and left to activate, it will foam, double in size and smell yeasty; the resulting mixture is known as the yeast ‘sponge’. If a sponge fails to form, the water may have been too hot, or the yeast too old.


Much bread is made with a special baker’s flour, although plain flour may be used. Cracked wheat, rye or finely processed oats can be added. Whatever the flour used, it should be fresh. For yeasted cakes, brioche, savarins and stollens, plain white flour is recommended. Australian plain flour is a hard wheat flour ideal for bread making.

Basic method for working with yeast doughs

Sift the dry ingredients into a warm bowl, make a well in centre, and pour in the liquids. Mix into a soft dough. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface and knead to a smooth, elastic ball, which will take 5–10 minutes or the time specified in the recipe. Knead in as little extra flour as possible. Kneading is important as it distributes the yeast throughout the mixture, develops the gluten in the flour and influences the texture of the finished loaf. When kneading, use the heels of your hands to smear the dough across the work surface, then pick it up, give it a quarter turn and repeat until it is smooth and elastic.

Put the ball of dough in a clean, greased bowl and turn the dough over, so that the top is lightly greased. This keeps the top soft, allowing it to stretch easily as the dough rises. Cover with a clean tea towel.

The dough now needs to rise. ‘Rising’ is the word used to describe the standing time necessary for the dough to double in bulk before it is shaped. The bowl of dough must stand in a warm place free from draughts while it is rising. A warm place can be: • In a barely warm oven. • In a saucepan containing warm water that comes halfway up the sides of the bowl holding the dough. • On top of an internal hot water cylinder.

Rising the dough will take 1–2 hours, or until it has doubled in bulk. If you are not in a hurry, you can cover the bowl of dough with baking paper, then foil, place in a fridge, and leave overnight. Remember it is heat that kills yeast, not cold. To test, press two fingers lightly and quickly in the top of the dough.

If the dent stays, the dough is ready. If it fills up, leave for 15 minutes longer and test again.

Once the dough has risen, knock it back (this process is also known as ‘punching down’). This means to gently knead it until all the gas has been expelled. Next, knead the dough into its required shape, put into greased tins (or onto greased trays for buns freeform loaves), and leave to rise again in a warm place for 30 minutes to 1 hour (this rising is called ‘proving’). For buns, allow 15–30 minutes, depending on size. The shaped ‘proved’ dough should be close to the final size, as it won’t rise a great deal more once it is put in the oven.

Bake in a hot oven (200°C) for the first 15 minutes so that the heat kills the yeast and the dough won’t over prove. Don’t open the oven during this time.

To test whether it is cooked, tap the base of the bread (turning it out of the tin first) or the buns. If cooked, there will be a hollow sound. Otherwise, return the buns to the tray or the loaf to the tin and cook for a little longer. Home-baked bread is best eaten the same day. It does not keep as long as commercial bread, but it can be wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw at room temperature then refresh in a preheated moderate oven for about 10 minutes. Alternatively slice the loaf before freezing then remove the required number of slices when needed.

Yeast troubleshooting

If you find your efforts with yeast are not successful, the following may explain some of the common failures.

If the yeast mixture does not rise or foam, the yeast was stale; the liquid used for dissolving the yeast was too hot; the dough had too much flour, sugar, fat, salt or eggs; the dough was under-or over-kneaded or mixed; and/or the oven temperature was too low.

If the loaf didn’t rise or rose poorly, the dough had too much liquid or dough rose too much during first rising; the dough did not rise enough before the second rising; and/or the dough was too cold.

If the loaf is over-risen and puffy, and the bread is heavy, dark and misshapen, the dough had too much yeast; it rose at too high a temperature, or rose too much during the second rising; and/or the heat was too low.

If the loaf has uneven colour, the crust is pale and the crumb loose, with open holes, and the loaf is soft and puffy, the dough had too much yeast and rose too much during the second rising; and/or the heat was too low.

Working with sweet yeast mixtures

For savarins, babas and other sweet yeasted mixtures, the dough is often mixed with dried fruits and nuts. These mixtures are delicate, so maintaining the right technique at each stage of work is important, as is the right temperature.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again