The Italian Larder
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Yeast (Lievito per pane / Lievito di birra / Lievito di panificazione / Compresso, Lievito madre / Crescente / Criscenti / Criscolo / Biga / Pasta acida, Lievito naturale)
Equivalent: 6 grams fresh yeast = 3 grams active dry yeast = 2 grams instant / quick yeast
1 packet dry yeast = 7 grams
Yeast is a microscopic plant that produces enzymes to create a fermentation which changes sugar into carbon dioxide (and alcohol) that leaves bread and rustic cakes. Any alcohol created by the fermentation evaporated during the baking process.
Buy: Baker’s yeast is available fresh or dried. Traditionally fresh yeast was used and remains the preference of traditional professional bakers today. It is not easy to find and is more difficult to store so most home bakers use dried yeast. Starters are made at home and add flavour to breads although they require more maintenance and advanced planning.
Baker’s yeast (Lievito di birra / Lievito di panificazione / Compresso) (Saccromyces cerevisiae)
Fresh yeast / Compressed yeast / Cake yeast is pale beige, of pasty texture and easily crumbles. It should smell clean and fruity.
Dried granular yeast is the most commonly used household yeast. It can be stored sealed in a cold, dry place for several months. It is activated by contact with liquid.
Active dried yeast is more popular than any other type of yeast for home baking.
Instant yeast / Quick yeast / Easy-blend yeast / Fast-acting yeast/Fast-rising yeast has very small grains. It reduces the time it takes the dough to rise by half (unless there is a lot of sugar in the dough). It is not recommended for refrigerated or frozen dough methods.
Starter / Leavened dough (Biga) is leftover dough from the previous day which is used to make country-style breads. It helps the fermentation accelerate and improves flavour. It is made with yeast, flour and water and is either stored in the refrigerator or in a cool place. Cover with a tea towel, and a dash of olive oil to inhibit a skin forming. It has a pH level of between 3.5 to 4.
Sourdough starter (Lievito natural / Lievito madre / Crescente / Criscenti / Criscolo / Pasta acida) is made from water, flour and wild yeast (extracted from vegetables, grapes, fruit, yoghurt or from the air), and then left in a warm place (27 to 30˚C) to ferment for several days. It is often made with a mixture of flour, wholemeal flour and water and may include honey, olive oil, or grape must. This starter makes breads with good flavour and aroma which keeps longer and is more easily digestible (because the lactic acid has broken down the gluten). It has a pH level of 5.
To make the starter, mix 100 grams flour, 50 ml water, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and 1 teaspoon honey and knead until firm and smooth. Place in a terracotta container loosely covered with a plate at 15-20˚C for 48 hours. Take 100 grams of this mixture and add 100 grams of flour and 45 ml of water. Knead until firm and smooth and add back to the container until it doubles in size. It can then be kept in a cool place (15-20˚C) or the refrigerator and refresh as in the second step every 2 days if in a cool place or 5 days if refrigerated.
Store: Yeast is sensitive to air, moisture, or heat so it needs to be stored under the proper conditions.
Dry yeast can be kept unopened at room temperature, refrigerated, or frozen. Once opened, it needs to be kept sealed in the refrigerator (for up to 4 months) or freezer (for up to 6 months). If there is a concern that the yeast may no longer be active, mix 7 grams of dry yeast with 100 mls tepid water (43 to 46˚C) and 1 teaspoon of sugar in a clear measuring cup. Wait for 4 minutes and it should have doubled in volume to reach the 200 ml line if the yeast is active.
Fresh yeast can be kept well-sealed for up to two weeks in the refrigerator (7˚C), or for up to 3 months in the freezer.
Starters can be held for up to 2 days if in a cool place in a cool place (15-20˚C), or up to 5 days if refrigerated. It needs to be fed 100 grams of flour and 45 mls of water to nourish it.
Prepare: Yeast should be brought back to room temperature before using. All yeast can be mixed with water before using, but only active dried yeast requires it. The ideal water temperature is 37˚C although if the room temperature is quite hot, cooler water (20˚C) can be added to slow down the fermentation and allow the bread to rise at a normal rate. If adding yeast directly to the dry ingredients then increase the temperature of the liquids to 54˚C. If yeast or starters are heated above 60˚C they will die or subjected to temperatures lower than 3˚C, they will become inactive. Yeast is also sensitive to salt and too much sugar so when mixing the ingredients, add salt and large quantities of sugar later in the process so it does not directly contact the yeast. If there is more than 100 grams of sugar per 500 grams of flour then add an extra 7 grams of active dry yeast.
Eat: Yeast is an essential ingredient in most breads, pizza, calzone, yeasted cakes and some fritters.
Yellow onion – See Onion