I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to baking. I know the difference between all-purpose flour and self-rising flour and I can follow a recipe, then pray that it turns out well. But when it comes to expert-level baking questions? Well, I defer to the experts.
Just such a question came from one of my colleagues the other day. Here’s what she wrote:
“Hey, could you ask your blog readers where to find fresh yeast? I have a friend whose mom just moved here. She makes this incredible Polish sweet bread around the holidays but says she can only make it using fresh yeast. She’s called around the grocery stores and nobody seems to carry it. When I checked online I saw some suggestions for inquiring at a local pizza shop or bakery that might sell her some. But maybe a blog reader might point me to one they know does this or have another option.”
Situations such as this are perfect examples of why I love being a journalist. I often get an opportunity to learn right along with my readers. First, let’s begin with the basics (thanks to help from the trusty Food Lover’s Companion, otherwise known to me as the Food Bible).
What IS yeast? Yeast is a tiny living single-cell organism. As these organisms multiply and grow, they convert food into alcohol and – in the case of breads – carbon dioxide. This fermentation is what causes doughs to rise. The two commercially available kinds of yeast are baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast.
What’s the difference? Brewer’s yeast is used to make beer. Baker’s yeast is used as a leavener. There are three kinds of baker’s yeast: active dry yeast, compressed fresh yeast and yeast starters.
Active dry yeast is dehydrated and is still alive, but the organisms are dormant. To wake them up, they have to be mixed with warm liquid. You can get active dry yeast in regular or quick-rising form.
Yeast starter is a mix of flour, water, sugar and yeast – like a batter – that is fermented. After fermentation, a portion of it is used to make some kind of bread recipe, but the starter can be fed flour and water periodically and can last for a loooong time (like years) if stored in the proper environment and properly fed. Has anyone ever given you one of those Amish friendship bread starters? It’s like a chain letter, except if you follow all of the instructions it results in some tasty bread instead of good luck for life or true love. That’s kind of like a yeast starter.
Compressed fresh yeast is, well … it’s alive! It is moist and very perishable. Over time, the active dry yeast has largely replaced the use of fresh yeast (one cake of fresh yeast = one envelope of dry yeast, according to the Food Bible). But I can understand why some recipes just shouldn’t be altered. So if the Polish mom’s out-of-this-world sweet bread has always been made with fresh yeast, then by golly why not try as hard as possible to find some fresh yeast?
So there you have it. And there’s a lot more detailed information about yeast on Joy of Baking. But if you are a professional baker or a baker by hobby and you have some idea as to where fresh yeast can be found, then please let me know! You can leave a comment on this entry or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If I hear from someone outside of this blog community who knows where it can be found, I’ll be sure to pass it along. Because, you know, that would be the yeast I could do.