Without yeast, breads would all be flat and somewhat tasteless. A single-celled fungus, yeast consumes sugar and turns it into carbon dioxide. When the resulting bubbles get trapped by gluten in the flour, the dough rises. Most recipes today call for active or instant yeast.
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Sold dry, active yeast must be activated in warm water before being added to a bread recipe. Instant yeast granules, sometimes called bread-machine yeast, can be added to the other dry ingredients right out of the envelope.
Both active and instant yeast store well. Neither requires the constant maintenance of a live yeast culture, called a starter or a sponge. And both come in easy-to-use packets or larger resealable containers.
To substitute yeast varieties between recipes, simply adjust the amount of liquid used. To convert a recipe from active to instant yeast, for example, add an equivalent amount of liquid to compensate for the loss of the water that would have been used to activate the yeast. To convert from instant to active, reduce the total amount of liquid by the volume that will be used to activate the yeast. Doughs with instant yeast will only need to rise once.
Dead yeast won't produce the carbon dioxide necessary for bread dough to rise. Be sure to store it in a cool, dry place and use it before the expiration date.
A living single-celled fungus, yeast produces alcohol as it consumes sugars and starches in a process called fermentation. The small amount of alcohol produced by baker's yeast gets cooked off, but brewer's yeast, used to make wine and alcohol, generates enough to create the warm buzz associated with the consumption of booze.
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