Yeast + Salt = ?

Reader Philip writes:

In the first picture [of the Making Kringle post] you seem to have put the sugar and salt on one side of the flour and the yeast on the other. Our British telly cooks tell us we must do it this way, as letting the salt come into contact with the yeast will kill the yeast. And yet once we switch the machine on the salt and the yeast are mixed together. Is this another kitchen myth?

Terrific question, Philip. Way to pick up on the details! It depends on the type of yeast. It’s true that concentrated sugar or salt will sap the moisture from live yeast and effectively kill it. Whether it has the same effect on dry, dormant yeast is open to question. Makers of instant yeast (the yeast I use almost exclusively) claim that you can pour their product on a heap of salt or sugar with no ill effects. That strikes me as probably true, though out of habit (or caution) I generally separate them.

Once they’re in the mix it’s inevitable that some live yeast will come into contact with some salt or sugar. It’s inevitable attrition that often has a purpose. Namely, of preventing the yeast from growing too quickly and puffing up the dough before the real flavor creators — the bacteria and enzymes — have a chance to do their work. Thanks again, Philip!

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12 Responses to Yeast + Salt = ?

  1. Rachel says:

    Why do you prefer instant? Also, I have active dry @ home and would like to make the kringle. Should I just dissolve the yeast in warmed milk?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Rachel! I prefer instant because you just pitch it in like you would any other ingredient. You don’t have to go to the trouble of proofing. Once it’s hydrated, it’s in action. But yes, with active dry you can just proof it in the warmed milk, exactly.

      - Joe

  2. Hi Jo,

    Most yeast (apart from ‘live’ yeast) is going to be sitting in a dormant state, as you say – it’s surrounded by a protective coat, basically, that allows it to stay in suspended animation until we provide the right environment for it to start growing again. This coat will definitely protect against sugar and salt, in my experience – I would hazard a guess that the advice to separate the ingredients stems from the days when live yeast was the only type of yeast available, and that would have been sensitive to osmotic pressures from sugar and salt :)

    cheers
    Chris

  3. Paul says:

    As I’ve always understood it, all yeast is alive. That being said, we have chucked in all sorts of yeast (fresh, instant, and active dry) into mixes without proving with never any ill effects. I guess yeast has come a long way and I wouldn’t bother proving it unless it was old (something which never happens around here.)

    I too prefer instant for its simplicity, shelf life, and ease of storage. To me, yeast is yeast. It is not directly interchangeable in its various forms, but they all do the job. We simplified the adjustments by using 1/3 as much instant (by weight) as fresh, and 1/2 active dry as fresh. You can do the math to convert instant from active etc.

    Before any purists whine…. I know these are not the “accurate” conversions. They are approximations that are more intuitively calculated.

    We, too, separate salt from yeast. Maybe we need to, maybe we don’t. But you have to put them somewhere so why not play it safe and put them on either side of the bowl? It take no more effort or time.

    As to what type I prefer, I leave the choice to they guy using it. Exception, when doing sweet doughs (danish, brioche, etc) we use either osmotolerant or fresh.

    Cheers

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks for that, Paul!

      I used to order osmotolerant yeast for sweet doughs here in my home kitchen, but I noticed I was always throwing it away after a few months. For my purposes instant is the perfect all-around product. Still I think you’re right that in a professional bakery situation live or osmotolerant gives you a stronger rise. How I miss those days!

      - Joe

  4. Susan says:

    Thank you for a reasonable explanation for this. I’ve come to your conclusion after years of bread making, but still the old fear persisted. So fearful was I that I wasted time by adding the salt after mixing in the first cup of flour and allowed that to rest a few minutes before incorporating the salt. Didn’t hurt, but it does hold up the process a bit!

    • joepastry says:

      Thanks Susan! I used to do something similar myself. I think it was residual fear from my bakery days, where we used nothing but live yeast in blocks. That was cool, but it really doesn’t offer much of an advantage in my opinion. Instant yeast, to me, is something of a miracle!

      - Joe

      • Paul says:

        Amen Brother!

        I just did an experiment. I took 100g of fresh yeast, 33g of intsant, and 50g of active dry. I then dissolved each in 30og (300ml) of water.

        They all look exactly the same.

        Now I mixed up three batches of straight baguette dough. I’ll post the results in a few hours.

        I wonder if anyone will be able to tell which baguettes came from which type of yeast.

        Cheers

  5. Brad says:

    Dry active yeast typically has a moisture content of 7%. Dry instant, 4-6%. So, I guess it would be a good idea to keep the sweet and salty away from the yeast.

    Speaking of yeast, Joe, have you done anything with yeasted cakes?

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