Last week’s column dealt with several questions from our readers. As often happens, one question leads to another. That column generated even more inquiries and comments about baking.
Q. I can make a pretty good loaf of bread but I can’t always tell if it is done. You mentioned using a thermometer to tell if the bread was cooked in the middle. What is the temperature when the bread is done? And what kind of thermometer do you use?
A. I use an instant-read thermometer, which is one that registers the temperature quickly and is very efficient. They are usually in the $15 range and are useful to test many kinds of food.
Most breads are finished baking at 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Richer bread doughs (those enriched with butter, eggs and milk) usually are finished baking when they reach the internal temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit. When using a thermometer to see if the bread is done, insert it in the middle of the loaf, being careful not to touch the pan.
Q. I buy yeast in the jar or even sometimes a pound bag from a warehouse store. It seems like after it is opened awhile, it does not rise as well even though it is not past the expiration date. Why is that?
A. Yeast is vacuum-packed with the oxygen removed. That is why it has a long shelf life. Once the seal is broken, oxygen enters the package, and the yeast eventually deteriorates. To preserve it better, seal it tightly after use, pushing out as much air as possible. Then freeze. Freezing does not kill the yeast but retards its growth. Before using, remove the yeast from the freezer, measure out the amount you need and set it aside until it reaches room temperature. Seal and return the package to the freezer. Yeast will keep well for a very long time if sealed properly and frozen.
Q. I’ve been experimenting with baking for the first time on a cinnamon raisin bread recipe. It tasted wonderful, but the bread was very heavy. I know it’s much more likely me than the recipe, but what in general can you do to make a lighter bread?
A. Too much flour will create a heavy bread. When I teach a cinnamon roll class, I remind my students the dough should still feel soft, not stiff with flour. Use only enough flour to make a workable dough. You may be using yeast that is old; check the expiration date. To test the yeast to see if it is still active, mix one teaspoon yeast with a cup of lukewarm water along with 1 teaspoon of sugar. If it foams in a few minutes, it is alive and well. If not, don’t use it, because your bread will not rise sufficiently.