Baking with yeast — which gives bread its structure, rise and flavor — is an art that can only be learned by doing. So ditch the shortcuts and try making bread the old-fashioned way. With practice, you'll experience the unmatched satisfaction — not to mention the taste and smell — that accompanies a fresh-baked loaf of bread.
Conquering A Baker's Fear Of Yeast
Mia Morgenstern for NPR
The time comes in every baker's life when yeast must be confronted. We can only eat so many cookies, cakes and pastries before we long for bread. From burgers to brioche bread pudding, from morning toast to dinner rolls, bread plays a role in many of the meals we eat.
Nonetheless, even accomplished home cooks approach yeast bread with trepidation. Until a few months ago, I was one of these yeast-fearing cooks. Although I could whip up a batch of cookies in the blink of an eye and make muffins in my sleep, anything with yeast was relegated to put-it-on-the-grocery-list territory.
There are, of course, plenty of quick-fix bread remedies for the yeast-averse. Bread machines do all the hard work for you, and you can find homely, par-baked loaves in the grocery store that only require a quick stint in the oven between freezer and dinner table. However, the only way to truly overcome the fear of yeast is to ditch the shortcuts and make bread the old-fashioned way. Baking with yeast — which gives bread its structure, rise and flavor — is one of those arts that can only be learned by doing.
Like any novice baker, I've had my fair share of bread failures. I've baked rock-solid loaves, killed my yeast and allowed my dough to over-rise. I call them "learning experiences," and they've given me plenty of opportunities to make homemade croutons and fresh bread crumbs. However, I have some advice for anyone looking to minimize the "experiences" while maximizing the learning.
First, get over the fear of failed bread. Yes, it will happen, but once you pull a perfect loaf out of the oven, you will forget that anything bad ever came from working with yeast.
Second, keep it simple. Find a basic recipe, such as a white or whole-wheat sandwich loaf, that you won't mind making (and eating) many times. If you can get one basic recipe down, it will be easier to move on to more exciting challenges. Working repeatedly with one recipe will help you work out all the kinks in your baking process, from kneading to testing for doneness. From there, you can stick with the loaves you are comfortable with, or move on to things such as sourdough starters.
Finally, think outside the loaf pan. The world of yeasted bread encompasses everything from focaccia to English muffins to naan to pita, so why limit bread-baking to sandwich bread? Successful flatbreads depend less on proper gluten development than high-rising loaves do, so breads like pitas and pizza crusts are great for building up confidence with yeast.
While flatbreads can be made by hand, a stand-mixer is best for some recipes. These mixers usually come with a paddle attachment and sometimes come with dough hooks. Recipes call for instant yeast that can be mixed directly with the dry ingredients, or active yeast that must be "bloomed" in liquid before it's mixed in with the rest of the ingredients.
Like anything worth doing, baking bread requires a bit of time and patience, but the satisfaction — not to mention the taste and smell — that accompanies a fresh-baked loaf is unmatched. And don't worry — all of those (unintentional) croutons and bread crumbs tucked in your freezer are sure to come in handy.