If you're a big fan of breads with fluffy interiors like me, yeast will be your best friend.
There's nothing like the warm, well yeasty smell of yeast to let you know you're on your way to making bread. When I first started making bread, yeast was the most intimidating factor. My overthinking mind was flooded with so many what if questions. What if it doesn't grow? What if I add too much or too little? What if the water is too hot or told cold? And so on.
Let's start off talking about what yeast is and why it's important. When yeast interacts with water, it grows and comes to life. In bread dough, it releases carbon dioxide, increases the elasticity in bread and allows the bread to rise.
So, what's the difference between active dry and instant yeast? Besides the color of the package? Many things. Active dry yeast requires that you activate or proof it before using which takes an extra 10 minutes more in the bread making process. Instant yeast requires no activation and can be incorporated in the dough from the get-go. I'm old fashioned and love using active dry yeast. It's what I remember my mom using when she baked breads. It's also a way to ensure that your yeast is not dead (more on this below). Plus it's kind of satisfying watching the yeast blossom and grow.
Okay, so individual packages or a jar? If you think you're going to be experimenting with bread a lot more, get the jar. This needs to be refrigerated after opening, though. The packages are helpful if you plan on making bread a few times. Or, if you're a bread dork like me, you carry a package around with you when you travel to see family. You never know when there's going to be an impromptu bread-making party.
Does the expiration date matter? Yes. Sometimes the expiration dates are wrong especially on the individual packages. If you're not sure, test it out first.
How do I start off with this yeast business? We begin with a cup, a mug, a measuring cup; anything that can hold at least 2 cups of liquid (in case of overspill). Fill it with a 1/4 C of lukewarm water.
How hot is too hot? If you burn your finger, it's definitely too hot. Water temperature for yeast is one of the major factors for yeast mishaps. I would describe the temperature as one that you would bathe a baby or dog in. It should be neither burning nor ice cold. Check the temperature by dipping your index finger in the water. It should be pleasantly warm. If you like to be exact, 110 degrees Fahrenheit is where you should be.
Sugar or no sugar? Sugar makes yeast happy and activates it, therefore it definitely doesn't hurt to add a little bit in there. Like 1/2 teaspoon or so. It doesn't have to be exact.
How much yeast? Most recipes call for one package of yeast which equals 2 1/4 teaspoons. Again, you don't have to be terribly exact. A little more than 2 teaspoons works just fine.
Which goes first? Warm water. Sugar. Yeast. Stir. Patience. It takes about 10 minutes for the yeast to fully activate. Do some dishes or some push-ups. Stare out the window. Start prepping the other ingredients. It'll get there, don't worry. If it doesn't look like the image below, start again. There's nothing worse than bread that doesn't rise, trust me. It's quite a sad experience.
**Note: The yeast does not have to proof as much as the image below. At the very least, it should start to bubble and foam.
Yeast (a recipe of sorts)
Yields: Enough for most standard bread recipes. (i.e. 2 loaves, a dozen rolls, 1 sheet pan of focaccia etc)
Active Dry Yeast
Pour a ¼ cup of lukewarm water in a cup, a mug or measuring cup.
Stir in about a ½ teaspoon of sugar.
Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water and sugar.
Stir to dissolve.
Let sit and proof for 10 minutes.