Tips for Working with Yeast in Gluten-Free Baking
You may think that, on a gluten-free diet, your days of baking cinnamon rolls are gone forever. Not so! You can make sweet gluten-free yeast breads that are foolproof and delicious.
Yeast can be a tricky creature. And it is a creature: a one-celled organism that uses sugar and water to multiply fruitfully. As it grows, yeast gives off carbon dioxide, which makes yeast breads rise. The yeast also ferments the sugar in the batter or dough, imparting the distinctive and characteristic flavor that only comes from these types of recipes.
Here are a few rules to follow when working with yeast:
Before you even start mixing the dough, make sure your yeast is fresh. Active dry yeast packets have expiration dates stamped clearly on them. Abide by these dates, as the yeast isn’t as lively after the dates have passed.
You can depend on those expiration dates, but if you want to make sure, proof the yeast before you start. To proof — or reactivate — yeast, mix it with a bit of water or milk from the recipe, along with a pinch of sugar. After about 10 minutes, if the mixture is puffy, then your yeast is active and can be used.
Be careful about temperatures when working with yeast. You shouldn’t expose active dry yeast to temperatures over 110 degrees. Fresh compressed yeast, which is more difficult to find, must stay below 110 degrees also. When dry yeast is mixed with flour, the temperature of the liquid in the recipe can get to 120 degrees before you run into problems.
Make sure the breads rise in a warm, draft-free place. Because most gluten-free bread doughs aren’t kneaded, one rise is all they get. If your house is cool, you can put the breads into an oven with a pilot light on. Or turn on the oven for a few minutes, turn it off (be sure to turn it off!), and add the proofing bread dough.
Any ingredient in the bread dough or batter other than flour slows down the yeast fermentation. Sugar speeds the process, up to a point. Lots of sugar actually slows yeast growth. Salt is added even to sweet yeast breads to temper the yeast growth. Doughs and batters made with eggs, fat, dairy products, and other ingredients take longer to rise.
Enjoy the process when you’re making yeast breads. There’s something very contemplative about working with yeast. Baking yeast breads is an ancient art. And get your family involved in the process, too. Nothing’s cozier than baking a sweet yeast bread on a snowy morning.
Make sure that you measure all the ingredients carefully when making yeast breads. Weighing the flour when working with yeast doughs and batters is particularly important. If you don’t use a scale to measure flours and mixes, always measure by spooning the flour lightly into a measuring cup and leveling off the top with the back of a knife.