I’ve been baking bread and pizza doughs for decades, either sourdough or with instant yeast (I buy a brick of SAF instant yeast). On looking at various recipes, I see that most call for “Active Dry Yeast,” and indicated there is a stage of proofing the yeast in lukewarm water. Instant yeast, though, does not call for proofing.
It surprises me that I haven’t asked this question, but: why the hell would anyone not use instant yeast and save a step in cooking?
I’d also welcome any information on fresh baker’s yeast, which I’ve never used nor even seen.
A very long time ago I got fresh yeast from a small Italian store. It was a grey brick of clay like consistency. At the time I was sure it made the bread much much better but it could have been wishful thinking. Some bakeries still use it and might sell you a piece.
I occasionally see fresh yeast at a local Italian market in the spring. Honestly, I haven’t really noticed a major difference in taste or overall results, but I just like handling the fresh yeast better. It has that beautiful yeast smell. You need more fresh yeast to the dry (I believe about double). The other thing about the fresh yeast is that unless you bake a lot, you probably won’t go through a block before it molds.
I use instant yeast mostly for cakes and pastries and fresh yeast for brioche. Husband uses fresh yeast for pizza dough. I have used instant yeast for bread and pizza in the past, and found the texture too regular and compact for my liking. (NB. I couldn’t rule out the possibility of mediocre recipes). If you read further online, it was the hydration of the dough that creates irregular holes. Both yeast are industrial, the difference shouldn’t be obvious.
I have not tried making levain myself, I think this would really make a difference in smell, taste and texture.
I’m fairly certain that recipes calling for you to proof any yeast in warm water before carrying on with the recipe only do so to allow you ascertain that your yeast hasn’t died. I have used Active Dry Yeast without proofing it many times without issue - as long as it is alive, it activates as soon as it hits any liquid in the recipe.
Specific to your query on Instant Yeast vs Active Dry Yeast, here are some tips and reasons why I prefer Active Dry Yeast. For regular people, I agree, Instant Yeast is preferred.
First, if your recipe has enough hydration, you can use Active Dry Yeast just like you would Instant, i.e., just throw it in there without proofing. In fact, I do this every week in the fall, winter, and spring. However, Active Dry Yeast mixed this way will take longer to work. If a recipe was tested with Active Dry Yeast, and has a proofing step, then I would use ADY and do the proofing step the first time so you can follow the timings as a rough guide and understand what the dough is supposed to feel like. Later, you can switch to Instant Yeast – or with sufficient hydration just mix in the ADY without proofing – and go by sight and feel.
Second, my understanding is that Instant Yeast is a finer granule size and, therefore, dissolves easier. This is why a proofing step isn’t needed. However, unlike with ADY, I have never found Instant Yeast without sorbitan monostearate. I think it’s because the smaller granules are at more risk of drying out. Regardless, I’m a purist type of cook/baker, and I don’t want extra ingredients. Additionally, Instant Yeast will often contain ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Ascorbic acid acts as a preservative and also gives you taller loaves. Again, I don’t want the extra ingredient, plus as a hobbyist, that’s qualifies as “cheating” for me.
In fact, I used to buy bread flour with ascorbic acid in the ingredients and when I switched to King Arthur Bread Flour, it took me a while to figure out why there was a difference in my loaves. Some recipes will specifically rely on the ascorbic acid, so you have to be careful. I think it was the Dominique Ansel book (or a similarly high profile pastry cookbook) where I had to switch to Instant Yeast for the recipes to work. Ascorbic acid for baking can also be purchased separately where it is usually labeled as “Dough Conditioner”.
I don’t know whether or not I belong to the “regular people,” but I do use instant yeast, mostly because it was highly recommended by Maggie Glezer in her books. I do not know if active dry yeast is available here. We can get blocks of fresh, or compressed, yeast, but that requires advance planning. The instant stuff can stay in the cupboard for years and still work.
Until I read your post I had never considered the ingredients in my instant yeast. Now that I have looked, I see that it contains sorbitan monostearate as you said. It is labeled here as “Emulgator E491,” so that people won’t know what they are buying. So will I continue to use it? Probably yes. Most of my baking is done with my own sourdough culture, so the instant yeast doesn’t play a role. And if I can plan ahead, I’ll go for the fresh stuff. And I wil look around and see if active dry yeast is available. Thanks for the heads-up.
Sorry, I don’t know how else to say I’m very particular and it’s a hobby for me. I mean, I bought fresh local grapes from the farmer’s market for my starter because the Bien Cuit book told me to do so. By my definition, if you are using sourdough, then you are not regular people, just for the record. Joking aside, I didn’t mean any offense by it.
I should warn that even ADY yeast usually contains sorbitan monostearate, but I have found two brands that don’t.
I think I’ll look into trying fresh yeast at last. Not sure where I’ll find it, but worth a look now that Winter is coming, which is prime time for my making crusty loaves and pizza doughs. Esp. if freezing extra is an option, as naf says, it seems a go.
It only took once years ago. Mixing up bread dough, kneading by hand for 10 minutes. Waiting, waiting, hoping the dough would rise only to realize the active dry yeast had probably been doa even though the expiration date still had quite a ways to go.
I’ve been proofing with a healthy pinch of sugar ever since just to be on the safe side. And it does seem to jumpstart the rising process so you’re really not out any time.
the tl;dr version is one is only intended for a single rise and might die on the shelf before you bring it home. I’ve never noticed a difference in my end results, but I play fast and loose with bread recipes.