- If a recipe calls for an actual measurement of yeast but you only have packets, one packet is equal to a scant tablespoon.
- "Proof" your yeast. Combine yeast and water in a ratio of 1 tablespoon yeast to 1/2 cup of warm water. "Warm" is relative, so it should be around 110 to 120 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, it's similar to the temperature you'd make a baby bottle. Any warmer than 140 degrees and you risk "killing" the yeast and it won't rise. You can add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar to the yeast and water to help speed up the bubbling action. You might think it makes sense to add the salt now too. Yeast doesn't like salt and will be happier if you add it after you stir in the first cup of flour. Also, if you mix the yeast, water and salt as directed and nothing happens, you probably have old yeast and will need to get some new and start again.
- Whether you're making a stiffer dough for bread or a softer dough for pizza dough or rolls, it should always be kneaded until it's smooth, elastic-like, and free of lumps. Of course, this is easy to do with a mixer fitted with a dough hook, but think of those awesome arms you'll get doing it by hand!
- Let it rise. There are usually two stages of rising. The first is after the dough is kneaded. Put it in an oiled bowl (I just use the same bowl I mixed it in) and put it in a warm place. There's that word "warm" again. What does that mean? Basically anywhere away from cool drafts. I put my bowl in a sink of hot water and cover the top loosely with a kitchen towel. The warmth accelerates the release of carbon dioxide and causes the dough to grow, usually until it's double in size. The second rising is after you've shaped it into bread, rolls, etc. and it's usually a shorter time, just before you put it in the oven to bake.
- You’ll find that on rainy or stormy days (great days for baking anyway), when the barometric pressure is low, your dough will rise more quickly than it does ordinarily. This is because it doesn’t have as much air to “push” against. The air is not as dense or heavy as it is on clear days. This is the same reason you don’t need as much yeast or baking powder at high altitudes where the air is thinner and lighter.
So there you have it. A few tips on baking with yeast. Rather than post my bread recipe, I'll leave you with this one, which I made for dinner last night. If you've never made your own pizza dough, do it! Sure it takes a little longer, but with a little bit of advanced planning, you'll be rewarded with the most deliciously light and puffy pillow to sink your teeth into - something you don't find in the grocery store's frozen section or the neighborhood take-out joint. Enjoy!
Chicken Pesto Pizza
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Beat in the flour, oil and salt. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in bowl coated with a little oil, turning once to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 each small green, sweet red and yellow peppers, julienned
1/2 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
3 tablespoons prepared pesto
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the chicken, onion, peppers and mushrooms in a little olive oil until chicken is no longer pink and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat; set aside. Punch dough down; roll into a 15-inch circle. Transfer to a pizza pan and build edges up slightly. Prick all over with a fork to avoid bubbles during baking. Spread with pesto. Top with cheese and chicken mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for 18-20 minutes or until crust and cheese are lightly browned.