The savage yeast

A baking book can do two things to make me cry. One is printing cup measures instead of weights. The other is calling for active dry yeast.

At least in the case of cup measure, there’s a genuine reason for the madness: most Americans don’t own a kitchen scale and are too stubborn to buy one. Hey, that’s cool. I can relate. I’m cheap and lazy, too, as you’ll see in a minute.

But active dry yeast? There’s no excuse. Instant yeast is sold in every supermarket, and it is cheaper (because you can use less) and easier to use than active dry, with absolutely no compromise in flavor. Using active dry is like sticking with canned peas after frozen peas were introduced. (Readers: this is your cue to stand up for canned peas in the comments.)

What’s the difference? Instant yeast (which is the same as “rapid-rise” or “bread machine” yeast) is processed differently at the factory in such a way that fewer yeast cells are killed, and you don’t have to proof it. Proofing yeast is one of those things that is just annoying enough to be a major barrier between you and delicious things you want to make. I don’t like to think of myself as the kind of person who would blow off an entire recipe just because I have to warm some water, empty a package of yeast into it, and wait a few minutes for it to bubble, but I’m totally that kind of person.

With instant yeast, you just toss it in with the flour and go. It’s a little more potent than active dry, so you can substitute by reducing the quantity by a third and skipping the proofing step.

Good baking books like Baking Illustrated only use instant yeast. So should you. Buy one of those little jars–around here they often go on sale for about $4 at this time of year–and keep it in the freezer. Then make raised waffles, bagels, pizza dough, and all that good stuff.

10 thoughts on “The savage yeast

  1. Wendy

    Well, what’s the yeast I buy from a big refrigerated jug at the natural foods store labeled “YEAST”? ‘Cause I’ve never found anything cheaper than that. Is it instant, too? After numerous successful proofing attempts starting in college, I’ve stopped proofing. I have issues with the pea analogy: frozen peas are superior in every way, including flavor, to canned… How about, um… like continuing to cut up a head of iceberg lettuce for salad after bagged salad was invented?

  2. Wendy

    It’s little… pellets, sort of… dry… and sometimes I swear, out of the corner of my eye, I can see them moving independently. You know, it’s only one step from that until they start getting organized.

  3. Carolyn

    I’ve been meaning to buy some to try that new no-knead bread recipe…. Sounds like a good use for baby-food jars. Can I borrow one of your old ones?

  4. mamster Post author

    Carolyn, there’s no way I can say this without sounding haughty, but we never used baby food jars.

  5. Carolyn

    So sorry, should have added an “LOL” or some such to that…. I meant it in a “tongue in cheek way!”

  6. IanKnauer

    My first choice in yeast is fresh yeast. It makes a huge difference. Crumble it in your hands and breath in. It smells like green apples and beer. That said, it’s hard to come by, although the pizza guy on my block sees me coming and lobs of a chunk. I offer him a buck, but he always turns me down. THAT said, when I can’t get any fresh yeast, I use active dry, a 1/4 teaspoon for a loaf. I let it rise for a long time, I don’t proof, I end up with great bread.
    Try the no kneed method it’s great. Also check out Richard Bertinet’s book: DOUGH, it’s also great.

  7. Kimberly

    When I saw the title of your post, I thought that you were going to write about the no-knead bread. I know everyone’s doing it, but the results are truly wonderful.

Comments are closed.