Breaking Bread: The Basics Of Yeast Breads

Breaking Bread: The Basics Of Yeast Breads

Yeast breads encompass a wider range of information than quick breads due to added levels of complexity. Preparing yeast breads is a purer form of baking that requires understanding of yeast, kneading, and the 10 steps to yeast bread baking. In this topic, we will cover yeast, the types of yeast, production stages for yeast breads, using washes, slashing, and determining doneness.

Understanding these principles will help you bring out your inner baker in ways you’ve never thought of before. The methods described here are to help you form a system to apply every time you begin creating yeast breads to come out with a consistent, delicious product.

Essential Tools


There are 3 different types of yeast that we will deal with when it comes to baking. They are:

  • Compressed Yeast (Fresh)
  • Active Dry Yeast
  • Instant Dry Yeast

Compressed yeast is a fresh yeast that must be kept refrigerated to retain its moisture and freshness. It is considered active.

Active dry yeast is the most common yeast and it differs from compressed due to the moisture being completely removed. This renders the yeast dormant and must be activated using warm water prior to combining.

Instant dry yeast is popular due to its ease of use and is added directly to the dry ingredients without rehydrating. You can activate it using water if you so choose and many bakers do just that.

Yeast becomes dormant, active, and destroyed under certain temperatures and it is good to know what these temperatures are so you are aware of potential dangers. Yeast is quite sensitive to temperature, and proper care must be used when activating or storing.

Yeast Development

2C (34F) – Inactive
16-21C (60-70F) – Slow Action
21-32C (70-90F) – Best temperature for growth of fresh yeast
41-46C (105-115F) – Best temperature for growth of active dry yeast
52-54C (125-130F) – Best temperature for activating instant yeast
59C (138F) – Yeast dies

When coming across a formula that calls for a certain yeast, you’ll want to know the different ratios to use when converting from compressed to active, or instant to compressed, and so on. These ratios are:

Compressed x 0.54 = Active dry yeast
Compressed x 0.33 = Instant yeast
Active dry x 2 = Compressed yeast
Active dry x 0.75 = Instant yeast
Instant yeast x 3 = Compressed yeast
Instant yeast x 1.33 = Active dry yeast

The flavors of dry and compressed yeast are virtually indistinguishable, however dry yeasts are about twice as strong. Because using too much yeast can destroy a bread, always remember to reduce the specified weight of compressed yeast when substituting for active dry/instant. The former is also true when substituting active dry/instant for compressed.

The 10 Stages of Yeast Production

These 10 stages are tried and true and should be memorized so you never forget a step in the baking process. This list separates those who are amateurs from the professionals, and goes all the way to Mise En Place and organization. Having and applying the best practices taught in the culinary arts will make you heads above anyone else without similar education.

These are the 10 stages of yeast production:

  1. Scaling the Ingredients
  2. Mixing and Kneading the Dough
  3. Fermenting the Dough
  4. Punching Down the Dough
  5. Portioning the Dough
  6. Rounding the Portions
  7. Shaping the Portions
  8. Proofing the Products
  9. Baking the Products
  10. Cooling the Products

Scaling – Gathering your mise en place and scaling out your ingredients prior to beginning is the foundation to all cooking
Mixing and Kneading – This stage defines how your bread will turn out. There are two mixing methods that can be applied to this stage. Straight Dough Method and Sponge Method. The straight dough method is just combining all ingredients and mixing. The sponge method has two stages; in the first stage, yeast, liquid and approx 1/2 of flour are combined to create a thick batter which is allowed to rise. The second stage involves adding the fat, salt, sugar and remaining flour and is kneaded and allowed to rise again.
Fermenting the dough – Fermenting is allowing the yeast to develop enough CO2 to give rise to the dough. This is called the First Rise. Fermentation is completed when the dough has doubled in size.
Punching down the dough – Once the dough has doubled in size, you’re going to literally punch out all the excess air that has built up inside the dough. This helps to remove cavernous air pockets that can affect the final baked product.
Portioning the Dough – Once punched down, the dough is then portioned out into the sizes you require.
Rounding the Portions – The portions are then rounded into smooth, round balls. This helps stretch the gluten to help hold in the gasses and give a smooth surface. Unrounded rolls rise unevenly and have rough, lumpy surfaces.
Shaping the portions – If you are further shaping the dough into ribbons, twists, or other shapes, you will shape them at this point.
Proofing the products – After the portions have been rounded, they are left to proof in either a proofing oven, an oven that has proofing, or covered with plastic and placed in a warm spot. This is also called the Second Rise. You want to allow the product to double in size like it did in the First Rise.
Baking the products – When the rounded dough has been proofed, it is put into the oven where you will see one final rise called the Oven Rise. The intense heat will make the dough rise again due to moisture and steam adding their leavening power to the dough. At this point, the yeast dies.
Cooling the products – After baking, the products are placed on an elevated wire rack so that moisture does not create a soggy texture underneath the products. Not removing from pans, and or leaving them without a perforated surface can cause the products to have water condensation appear under the bottom.

Dough Washes

Right before your baking product goes into the oven, you have the option to wash the surface in order to gain certain attributes such as sheen, browning, or texturizing. This is achieved by using what is called an Egg Wash, and can be used for any baked product. Do not apply egg washes to products after baking, as the egg will be raw. Here are the various washes and the effects that are produced:

  • Whole Egg + Water = Shine and Color
  • Whole Egg + Milk = Shine, Color, and Soft Crust
  • Egg White + Water = Shine with Firm Crust
  • Water = Crisp Crust
  • Flour = Texture & Contrast
  • Milk or Cream = Color with Soft Crust

Typically baguettes are steam injected with water to create a very firm crust. This is achieved by using a spray bottle to add moisture while the item is in the oven baking.


You can change the appearance of most baked items by slashing the top of the bread with a knife prior to baking. This gives the product a distinct look and texture. Some breads require slashing, especially those with hard crusts. Slashing these breads will allow the bread to continue to rise with a hard crust without cracking down the sides or top.

Hopefully by utilizing these techniques you will have gained a new understanding of how yeast breads work underneath the surface.

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