Yeast is a live organism that when combined with water, sugar and flour makes baking magic by creating crusty, airy bread. Unfortunately, yeast remains fresh for about one year before it begins to lose potency. If you've had disappointing results with bread making, try using fresh yeast. If that doesn't work, you can add a bit more yeast to the recipe, but doing so may alter the taste and texture.
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When yeast combines with warm water and sugar, it dissolves and releases carbon dioxide bubbles and alcohol. The carbon dioxide bubbles cause the bread to rise, while the alcohol gives flavor to the bread. Yeast also aids the formation of gluten, which strengthens bread dough. As flour and water are kneaded together, proteins in the flour combine with the water to create gluten. Gluten is what gives bread its soft, elastic texture and allows it to rise. As the carbon dioxide bubbles form, they help combine the proteins and water so more gluten develops. How much yeast you add determines how quickly and vigorously these processes take place.
If you add more yeast to a bread dough, the dough will rise faster. Adding a bit more yeast is helpful if you're in a hurry and want to get the dough in the oven quickly. However, several negative things can happen if you add too much yeast. The dough may rise too quickly and produce too much gluten. When this happens, the dough may collapse -- similar to a balloon bursting when it's filled with too much air. Another thing to consider is taste. Slower rises allow more alcohol to develop, which gives yeast breads their delicious flavor. If you add too much yeast, the yeast flavor in the bread may be stronger than you'd like.
Healthy Whole Grains
Whole-grain breads have more fiber and nutrients than white bread, but making them can be frustrating. They're slower to rise and they're usually denser than white bread. Adding more yeast, though, rarely solves this problem. In most cases, you should add only the amount of yeast called for in the recipe. Allow the bread to rise until double, which may take more time than a loaf of white bread. Knead the bread well to help develop gluten. Start by using one part white flour to one part whole-wheat flour. As you gain experience, you can use more wheat flour. Whole-wheat flour doesn't contain as much gluten as white flour, which is one reason breads made with it are often dense. Add a bit of vital wheat gluten -- available online or in the baking section of grocery stores. This highly concentrated gluten flour can soften even breads made with 100 percent whole-wheat flour. Any ingredient that adds moisture can also soften wheat bread, such as honey, butter or mashed potatoes.
Tips for Success
If you want to reduce the time it takes to make bread, you can add a bit more yeast -- up to 1/2 teaspoon -- but in general, it's best to stick with the amount of yeast called for in a recipe. To accelerate bread making, be sure to use very warm water -- up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the bread dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a towel and place it in a warm location. In some cases, you'll want to reduce the amount of yeast you use in a recipe. This is true if you live at high altitude, where bread dough naturally rises more quickly. If you use instant yeast, rather than active yeast, you can probably decrease the amount of yeast you use. If you bake bread often, you likely have wild yeast spores naturally occurring in your kitchen. In this case, you can use less yeast. Finally, if you want a slow, long rise to develop flavor and create a crusty, chewy bread, cut down the yeast to less than 1 teaspoon.