Babies are born with 3 fears – heights, loud noises, and falling. It’s not until much later that we add the fear of yeast.
For many people, one of the most intimidating kitchen skills is working with yeast. It’s a mysterious beast. Too cold and it won’t wake up; too hot and it’ll wither and die. Either way and you end up with a flat, brick of a loaf.
Keep a few simple rules in mind and you’ll find you can be confident when working with yeast.
~ Make sure your yeast is current. Each packet is stamped with a date. If it’s post-date, don’t even bother with it.
~ Check the temperature of your liquid with a thermometer. Usually the recipe states the desired temperature, if not, it should be about 120°F.
~ Be sure that you’re using the type of yeast called for in the recipe. Fresh yeast, dry active yeast, and instant yeast each behave differently and can’t be straight substituted for one another.
I’ll walk you through a simple yeast dough recipe and when you’re done you’ll have a beautiful, delicious bread that you can proudly serve for an Easter brunch and say, “It is risen, indeed!”
Recipe: Easter Egg Bread
– adapted from Taste of Home
For the dough:
- 6 to 6-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 packages (1/4 oz each) active dry yeast
- 1 to 2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp salt
- 1-1/2 cups milk
- 6 Tbsp butter, cubed
- 3 eggs
For the decoration and glaze:
- 3 to 6 hardboiled eggs, dyed (optional) -Side Note: Megan wrote a great post on coloring eggs with natural dyes.
- Vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp cold water
1- In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, cardamom, and salt.
2- In a saucepan over medium heat, warm milk and butter to 120 to 130°F. Check this with an instant read thermometer.
3- Add the warm milk to the dry ingredients; beat just until moistened. Add the 3 raw eggs and beat until smooth.
4- Stir in enough of the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to form a soft dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
5- Turn the dough onto a floured surface at a good working height. About waist height is ideal for kneading…
Once you have formed the dough comes the next mysterious part about working with yeast – kneading. It’s simply working the gluten (the protein in the flour) to make long strands that give your bread structure. There are many ways to knead, but the right way for you is what is comfortable for you.
Start by pushing the heel of your right hand into the dough, down and at an angle away from you. Then curl your fingers around the dough you’ve just pushed and fold it over on itself. The repeat that step with your left hand. Take turns with your hands, pushing and folding, pushing and folding. As you get more comfortable with the process, you establish a rocking rhythm, back and forth, back and forth.
If the dough is sticky, add more flour in small amounts. Work that flour into the dough and then see if it needs more. The amount of flour a dough absorbs varies according to the humidity of the day and of your kitchen.
Watch for descriptor words in your recipe. Is your dough supposed to feel smooth, firm, sticky, elastic, or supple? For this recipe, knead until the dough feels smooth and elastic. My 9th grade home economics teacher told me the dough should feel smooth as a baby’s bottom. I remember this and pat the dough when I’m done kneading.
6- Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled. This should take about 45 minutes. Don’t panic if it doesn’t happen in that time; that usually means that your kitchen is on the cool side. In the winter my kitchen is quite chilly, so I put my dough to rise under a warming light. A very briefly warmed oven also works well.
7- Lightly rub the dyed eggs with oil. Punch down the dough with your fist (this is my kids’ favorite part to do). The dough will softly deflate. Turn it onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into three equal parts. Shape each portion into a 24-inch rope.
8- Place the ropes side by side on a greased baking sheet and braid. I find it’s easiest to start in the middle, braid to the end, and then braid up the other end. Bring the braid ends together to form a ring. Pinch the ends together to seal.
9- Gently separate the braided ropes and tuck the dyed eggs into the openings. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 20 minutes (see notes on rising above). While the ring is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the center of the oven.
10- Beat water and egg together and gently brush this over the dough with a pastry brush. Bake for 28 to 31 minutes or until golden brown. Loosen the ring with a spatula and carefully move it to a wire rack to cool.
The leftovers should be refrigerated (unless you don’t put in the dyed eggs).
Now do you feel ready to tackle some yeast?