“At yeast we have each other” said the flour to the fungus. And lucky they got along, because without this dynamic duo (and a couple of other ingredients) we’d be short one our favourite foods: bread.
Yeast, specifically the kind of yeast found in bread, may seem like an unusual ingredient to get deep into, but at yeast let me explain why it’s here; yeast is a tiny and simple micro-organism that has been the main ingredient to one of the most significant foods all over the world (bakers yeast, for those who want to be exact).
Yeast is considered one of the oldest micro-organisms that people have been using in cooking and food preparation. Egyptians were baking with it at least 4,000 years ago. Traditionally, bakers would make sourdough starters, which was a mix of water and flour and wild yeast would grow in it. They would use a portion of this everyday, and top it up with more flour and water to keep it growing. And most modern sourdough production still uses this process. In the mid 1800s, a scientist by the name Louis Pasteur made some huge discoveries in yeast, mainly discovering that it is a living organism that can be used commercially, and paved the way for modern bread production that we know today.
You could say that we’re all pretty indebted to yeast; not only is it all over and inside our bodies keeping us health, it’s the reason we have beer and bread. And it’s yeast’s ability to make water, flour and salt rise into the lovely loaf of bread that people have been buttering for many, many years that’s brought us here today.
So how does a single micro-organism turn the simplest of ingredients (flour) into one of the most universally loved food items around? Pretty simple actually.
Yeast is a leavening agent, which means that it turns sugar into carbon dioxide. When it’s in dough, it turns the sugar from the flour into carbon dioxide, forming the bubbles that make bread fluffy. All this happens during the process of proofing, which is when you give the yeast some alone time with the dough to do it’s thing. This is when you are letting the dough rise, and you normally want to do this until it is twice its original size. Kneading the dough before letting it proof develops a web of gluten, which traps the carbon dixode, like tiny balloons all through your dough. Once the dough gets in the oven, the yeast has another mini-eruption of carbon dioxide from the heat, which is why things rise again in the oven.
Whilst it might seem confusing, don’t be intimidated because it’s easier to work with yeast than it sounds. It’d be a shame to file yeast into the “too hard, didn’t try” folder as it’s truly a simple ingredient that can take everyday recipes to the next level. The addition of yeast to common recipes has given us miracles such as crumpets, waffles, yeasted pancakes, cakes and even pizza.
So last but not yeast, here are some deliciously easy ways to get yeasty in the kitchen;
Any kind of dry yeast that you can get in the supermarket is easy to use, as it is activated in water. Just follow the directions and rise your cooking skills to the next level.
Already consider yourself well acquainted with yeast? Feel like a real life yeasty boy (or girl)? Tell us all about it in the comments!