What happens when you add too much yeast to bread and should you put less yeast in your bread, what are the signs that you should cut back on the yeast? I'm going to answer all of these questions. But first, I want to share with you how I transitioned to using too much yeast into an artisan baker.
Back in the noughties when I first learnt to bake, the idea of putting less yeast in my bread wasn't even considered! We would often double or triple the amount of yeast that was supposed to go into the recipe.
Partly to get the range out quicker.
Partly for fun.
What happens when you add too much yeast to bread?
I soon realised it wasn’t the best idea. The bread doesn't very look good and there was less flavour from the flour.
Fortunately for me I later learnt more about artisan baking. I fell in love with it. Doing so changed my ideology about yeast.
Less is better!!
What happens when you add less yeast?
Putting less yeast in a bread recipe slows the development of the dough.
Slowly fermented bread made with less yeast makes a better loaf of bread. Baking like this extracts more flavour and brings out a deep aroma from the flour.
It also makes a stronger gluten network which gives the bread a better crust and crumb.
But if you're curious to know why, let's take a look in more detail…
How many bakers (including me!) approach yeast
So before artisan became a “thing”, us bakers were passionate about the volume of bread we could knock out and not a lot else.
Quality wasn’t important. Well, not in the company I kept anyway.
These days, it's not that way anymore. There’s a new culture now. The cowboy bakers that most bakeries homed have moved or swapped careers.
The industry has changed and bread quality is the premium focus.
Artisan bread baking basics
The way artisan baking has hit the mainstream over recent years is impossible to hide. Baking the artisan way uses natural ingredients, cooler temperatures and slow fermentation to extract the most flavour.
Typically just flour, water, salt and yeast are used in artisan bread recipes. There are of course several breads that call for fats or sweeteners to enhance the bread.
Natural ingredients are the base of these breads. There is no need for enzymes or emulsifiers in an artisan bakers pantry. Artisan bakers use manipulation of temperature, time and technique to create difference in types of bread.
How important is baking the traditional way?
Artisan baking is fascinating, romantic even. For customers and those in the food industry.
Being a baker is now a well respected job again, even more so when the bakers name is above the door.
When I eat a bread from an elite bakery it leads to a personal discovery of passion, personality and desire. It explores the boundaries and pushes an experience of flavour beyond what I thought was previously possible. Have you tried a Poilâne bread?
It’s a fantastic industry to be in.
The current world of baking bread
Let’s go back to being a non-elite baker as not every baker houses those abilities.
Many have come from the previous era, during a period when pushing it through at rapid pace was the motivation of the baker.
But those that would have been described as the roughest jewels a few years ago, have been forced to care about quality.
To do that, before they learn to become bread pioneers, they need to be consistent. They need to follow a recipe.
Our relationship with bread in Britain
In the UK the idea of visiting a local Boulangerie to buy un Croissant and deux baguettes is very distant. We'll leave that for the French. The way of living in this country isn’t based around food experiences like across the channel.
We love it. But it's not important for us to associate personalities of the creators of food.
Even with artisan bread, a sourdough’s a sourdough, we don’t pay attention to the age of the levain, the choice of wheat or the bakers experience.
Its just a Sourdough.
Even if the information is available, we say, “it’s good, I’ll have it again from their.”
That's about it. In contrast to our continental cousins who demand to know more of the story.
Perhaps we’re too busy. Maybe ignorant. Or possibly there’s a level of gratitude missing of the person whose life experience has led them to creating the product that's in front of us.
I don’t know.
Tv chef Jamie Oliver changed a lot of people’s attitude about food. Love him or hate him, he has had a massive impact on the food we eat in this country. Using common language and cheeky phrases he showed the nation just how easy it is to embrace foreign cuisine.
This philosophy extended to all food culture. And in the bread world, foreign staples such as ciabatta, pizza and sourdough became less exotic.
As they became more widespread, they became more accurate in their traditional description. The days of foodies being satisfied with frozen “pain de cuisine” loafs reheated in supermarket bakeries is over.
They want the real deal.
Naturally, the competition of bread quality has heated up.
Supermarkets produced “artisan” ranges, whilst bakeries in the capital popped up everywhere influenced on Parisian culture.
The country embraced quality bread!
The bread is still a long way off from the demanding quality expected by our continental cousins. But if we look for it, we can find it.
How my outlook of bread production has changed
One of the biggest explosions over the past decade or two has been Sourdough bread. I admit, I hadn't come across it until my mid twenties. Despite its heritage, as far as I was concerned, before 23, it didn’t exist.
At that time I had bought a bake book. It mentioned no need for ascorbic acid and used tiny amounts of yeast, it made no sense! I had been baking for supermarkets for years and it contradicted my experience.
In the end, I found a recipe to work with and gave it a go.
The result was uninspiring.
Without any knowledge of what's going on I made a few mistakes.
The bread turned out to be a complete bomb.
How I learnt to bake like an artisan
My first experience in baking with natural ingredients was a disaster. The second was pretty pants too.
I realised that I should either give up or get some training.
I was determined to learn advanced skills of baking. So I decided to take an artisan baking course.
I gained the ability to understand what was really going on when baking bread.
…. Ahhh the bake book made sense now!!
Following a sourdough bread recipe, or…. well… any artisan bread recipe extracts structure and flavour from fermentation.
To get the most out of flour and yeast fermentation the baker should control the temperature, and development time.
This is where the amount of yeast in the dough comes to the fold.
How does yeast work?
Yeast is a type of levain, which is a product that raises bread. Different types of levain include bakers yeast, dried yeast, sourdough, poolishs’, bigas' and bicarbonate of soda.
Yeast reacts with the moistened starch (sugar) in the flour which creates carbon dioxide (gas) and ethanol.
The gas gets trapped in the gluten structure and raises the bread.
Most of the ethanol burns away in the oven however some still remains to add flavour. In bread that has too much yeast, the yeast and ethanol flavour remains in the bread. This makes the bread unpleasant. If you notice this in your bread then it's a good idea to reduce the amount of yeast in the recipe or perhaps the fermentation time.
Here's a more comprehensive guide on the dough fermentation process.
How has yeast played a part in bread culture
The ancient Egyptians made bread by leaving flour mixed with water in the warmth to rise. Just like sourdough!
They didn’t use a yeast, they created their own levain.
So really, despite its recent popularity, sourdough is not a new thing.
It was around for centuries before yeasted bread appeared.
These days manufactured sliced bread has high levels of yeast which encourages a quick proof time, typically in half an hour.
It requires the addition of other ingredients and enzymes to give the bread structure, flavour and keeping quality - there’s an article about how to use bread improvers that will tell you more.
But this isn’t the way an artisan bakes bread. For he or she are lovers of giving bread time to develop naturally.
How using less yeast can improve your bread
One of the golden rules and philosophies of artisan bakers is to give the dough time to develop slowly. This creates flavoursome bread that is sweeter. The sweetness is provided from starches that have complicated structures having enough time to bread down into sugars.
Some of my favourite bakes take 2-4 days to develop, turning into the perfect loaf. A long development time creates an intense density of texture and flavour in the bread.
To slow down the fermentation time you can do two things:
-Reduce the amount of yeast
-Drop the temperature
Many bakers choose to do both.
How much yeast should I add to my bread
The typical start point is a ratio of 2% of the flour.
This can increase to perhaps 3% in heavy doughs for instance rye bread or when baking with laminated doughs which contain added fats and sugar.
It can also be dropped to 1-1.5% or even less for longer fermentation times.
As mentioned, it’s best to use the least amount of yeast required for maximum flavour.
If you're planning to use a long development time then you should reduce the amount of yeast to gain the most flavour and texture.
Yeast multiplies it’s activity much like a virus. A small amount amount of yeast when active in the dough will be strong enough to raise a large amount of dough.
It just takes a bit longer to get going.
Using less yeast slow the development time.
Using less reduces the overpowering flavour that yeast adds.
The flavour of nicely fermented flour is allowed to shine through.
What happens when you add too much yeast to bread?
Adding too much yeast forces the development time to quicken. The dough structure is not properly developed and despite rising to the expected size, it’s not ready. It's not developed enough.
Bread made this way usually has issues with the crumb. Bread made with too much yeast often has holes through it. These can vary from one big one, to several smaller ones either in one area or right through the whole of the crumb. The holes are formed as the gluten structure has not had enough time to develop, forming an imbalance between yeast fermentation and the flours fermentation. The structure is not strong enough to retain gas as it should.
During the oven spring the bread shoots up erratically, expanding the smaller breaks in the gluten structure and creating other ones. This is how we get holes in the crumb.
Not only does over-yeasted bread creates holes and diminish flavour in the bread. There is another issue that happens when you add too much yeast to bread, a weak crust.
If a bubble of gas appears near the crust, it becomes weak and often separates from the rest of the bread. It's quite likely to happen as the outside of the bread absorbs heat before the core. This creates more erratic behaviour from the yeast when the bread oven springs at the start of baking. This forces the crust big bubbles of air between the crust and crumb. A separated crust is an easy to tell sign that there is too much yeast in the bread.
Should I add more yeast to bread ever?
Yes, sometimes it can be helpful if you want your bread to have less flavour. Typically a sandwich bread is designed to be less intense as the flavour of the filling is the celebration.
By decreasing the development time the bread will have a weakened structure. To counteract this the baker may need to add more salt to the recipe.
Salt strengthens the gluten strands which aids the dough to hold its shape. That said, don't add too much that you get holes through your bread, 2.5% is the max without using other bread improvers.
What happens when you add too much yeast to bread when the breads in the oven?
A big oven spring
Putting a ridiculous amount of yeast in bread like I did in my cowboy stage does not give a good product. As the yeast ratio was out of balance, I’d find the bread would shoot up in the oven uncontrollably. They got massive!
I would have to put the dough in the oven when it was smaller than it usually was.
When I forgot, we would often have to use some cardboard to protect the top of the crust as we tugged them out of the oven door. We would do this whilst hoping not to damage the crust too much, it never really worked as mentioned above the crust is weaker in heavily yeasted bread and would often shatter easily.
The oven spring from a bread with too much yeast in it is too great. This is what happens when you add too much yeast to bread, disaster!
Should I add yeast to Sourdough bread dough?
Not really. Yeast and sourdough work in completely different ways.
Yeast works with the starch in the flour to create carbon dioxide and ethanol.
Sourdough works by having a contrasting Ph factor that reacts to push the bread up. They don’t work together.
But adding both will speed it up fermentation. What happens when you add too much yeast to bread made from sourdough is a really light bread, often with a thick crust. The bread loses a lot of the sourdough flavour which is why I don't recommend doing so. If you have a new levain, you could add some to give it a boast.
f you want some fermented dough in your bread, try a preferment or a pâte fermentée. These will give the bread more strength, structure, flavour and increase the keeping quality.
Further reading: What is a levain?
An example of using a poolish preferment to raise bread
You may choose to create a prefement called a poolish to your bread dough.
A poolish is an equal amount of water to flour with a tiny amount of yeast. It’s then lightly mixed for around a minute before being left to develop for 12-18 hours, or longer if put in the fridge.
It’s a Polish method that was accepted by French bakers years ago and is now a common technique used across the world.
During the development time the yeast multiplies whilst the water and the flour combine to create a strong gluten structure.
The poolish is then added to the bread dough and no more -sometimes a tiny bit- yeast is added. This technique reduces the amount of yeast needed and creates a strong crumb structure.
This process is common in artisan baking. When making baguettes or bread with large holes in it, it essential.
A biga is from the Italians and works in much the same way. The flour to water ratio can be adapted.
Any tips on buying yeast?
I recommend you choose a particular yeast and stick to it. Changing the brand or even how the same product is stored will affect the properties of your bread.
I prefer to buy my yeast from Sainsbury's, it's not he best for artisan bread but for the little amount that I buy it's the best way to do it in my opinion. It has to be one of the larger stores which have a fresh bakery. Just ask at the counter for some fresh yeast, click here to find your nearest store.