Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Rise to the Occasion

I have always loved to bake - cookies, cakes, pies, quick breads, muffins - you name it. But until about 10 years ago, if I ever saw a recipe that called for yeast, I avoided it. If you haven't worked much, or at all, with yeast, it can be intimidating...all the kneading, rising, punching, waiting. But, these days I have a healthy collection of recipes with yeast. Since I got my super duper wheat grinder a couple of years ago, I'm making a dent in our wheat food storage, and I make two loaves of bread about every other week.
The key with working with yeast is temperature and the ratio of yeast, flour and liquid. Here are some tips to consider:
  1. If a recipe calls for an actual measurement of yeast but you only have packets, one packet is equal to a scant tablespoon.
  2. "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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


  1. I'm totally going to make you pizza tonight!

  2. Well I'm seeing this a bit late to make tonight but am excited that I have all the ingred. already and will make for tomorrow! Do your kids eat this? Thanks for all the great bread tips! I actually have avoided anything with yeast as it never turns out but......since starting the fitness challenge I have decided to start making some home made whole wheat bread cuz let's face it it's better for us and man does it taste good!!! So last Sunday I made my first batch of homemade rolls ever....I won't tell you how old I am :) but I was proud of myself. They were yummy but I think their has to be better recipes out there so please feel free to share your favorite bread or roll recipes with us!!! Thanks!!!

  3. Mmm, thanks for sharing the tips and the recipe. Funny, I was just looking up wheat grinders today! I want one so bad!

  4. Special K - glad to hear you're venturing out! I'll post some bread recipes in the near future. A standard favorite is "60 Minute Rolls."

    Gena - I love my Wondermill. I also have a hand grinder in our emergency stuff, and it grinds it more coarse for cracked wheat hot cereal. Good luck!

  5. Yum, Jen--this looks good! You always have great recipes for me to try. The humidity here in GA affects yeast-items, but usually in the summer. So I should be able to make more bread this winter, huh? Love ya!

  6. We made your pizza dough/crust tonight - yum! Thanks for sharing the recipe. (We also, come to think of it, had your orzo frittata last night - it's Jen week at our house! :)