Ola Rokita

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Best Practices for Yeast Cake Baking

Ola Rokita04 June 2020Comments (0)

Cinnamon Babka

Many people are intimidated to bake yeast cakes and to work with yeast. Some think it’s too complicated while others don’t like how it’s too time consuming. True, yeast is a temperamental animal, but once you learn how to handle it, the rewards will be bountiful.

Whenever possible, I highly recommend baking yeast cakes because it’s typically a healthier baking option and yeast cakes are easier to digest. Yeast also has many essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins from B group, vitamin E or iodine.

To get started with your yeast cake baking adventure, start with few key ingredients that go into making a simple yeast dough:

 

  • Wheat flour (all-purpose or Polish type 550),
  • Yeast (instant, rapid-rise, or fresh bakers yeast)
  • Milk or water
  • Eggs
  • Sugar
  • Butter or olive oil
  • Salt

Baking yeast cakes, typically follows a FIVE-STEP process:

 

  1. MIX and KNEAD the dough until smooth and satiny
  2. REST the dough for about one hour so that it doubles in size
  3. SHAPE the dough into the desired pastry
  4. REST the dough for another 30 to 60 minutes
  5. BAKE for at least 25 minutes

baked buns

In addition to these basics, below are a few best practices for yeast cake baking to remember:

 

Yeast loves warmth

Make sure your dough has a warm place to rest, but avoid extremes, not too hot and not too cold. The ideal temperature is somewhere between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (around 20-25 degrees Celsius).

Anything above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius) will prevent the yeast from being active.

Baking Temperature

The ideal baking temperature for yeast cakes is between 325-350 degrees Fahrenheit (160-180 degrees Celsius).

For less sweeter breads, such as pizza or dinner rolls, the temperature can be a lot higher. The more sugar, the quicker the bread or cake will burn.

Go easy on the sugar

Too much sugar will cause your yeast cakes to brown too much on the surface while the inside can remain underdone. Typically I use maximum one tablespoon of sugar for each cup of flour depending on what I am baking.

If I am baking Challah, I use no more than 3/4 tablespoon per one cup of flour. For Babka, I use one tablespoon, and for pizza dough only one tablespoon per four cups of flour.

More egg yolks and fewer egg whites

 

egg yolks

 

For yeast-based recipes calling for eggs, like babka, challah, or donuts, use only half of the egg whites. For example, in recipes listing four eggs, I use 4 egg yolks and only two egg whites.

I save the egg whites for glazing my cakes right before baking. Having higher ratio of egg yolks to egg whites helps make the cakes airier and plump.

Portion your Grease

Abundant quantity of grease can impact the freshness of your pastry. Too much grease accelerates how quickly the pastry will go stale. Most yeast cake recipes don’t require a lot of butter or oil. Typically somewhere around one to three tablespoons of butter or olive oil should hit the spot.

There are several grease options available, but butter and olive oil add the optimum taste to this delicate pastry. Before adding melted butter or oil to your dough, make sure you knead it for some time so that the dough peals off the walls of the bowl before adding butter or oil.

 

knead the dough

 

Keep track of the resting time

 

risen dough

 

For delicate breads, like challah, the first resting period should not last more than one and a half hours. If you let the dough rest for too long, the dough will start losing its elasticity and the surface will look faded and small cracks will appear after baking.

Add Salt

Typically, a pinch of salt will give the dough a little more elasticity and accent additional flavors, especially when baking Babka.

Also, if you add a little bit of salt to egg yolks and beat them separately, salt will intensify the yellow color of your pastry.

Knead your Dough Well

 

dough netting

 

Kneading is very important for yeast pastries because it helps develop a type of netting that traps the air and helps the dough expand. The dough should be smooth, have a light sheen to it and be elastic.

More flour is not the answer

 

Flour

 

At first, when you start kneading your dough, you may find that it’s very sticky. Before adding more flour, make sure you knead the dough for a while. The dough should start pealing off the walls of your bowl and hands after about 8-10 minutes of kneading.

Too much flour will make the dough break easier when you pull it. Too little flour will make the dough too sticky and harder to shape. For every cup of liquid plus 3 egg yolks, you’ll need about two and a half cups of flour.

Choose the Ideal Flour for baking yeast pastries

Although for those in the US,  all-purpose wheat flour will work just fine for baking yeast pastries, I highly recommend using “luksusowa” wheat flour type 550 from Poland.

After experimenting with different flours from Europe and the US, I found that when I use the all-purpose US flour, the color of my pastries is less intense and the taste is not as rich, or rather, as authentic. It’s hard to explain, you just have to taste it.

There is a specific light wheat taste that comes through when using the Polish flour that creates a unique flavor that’s missing when I tried the all-purpose US flour. Also, the smell has slight buttery undertones, complementing the wheat-like taste perfectly.

Even though the US all-purpose flour is more forgiving of the amount of sugar I can add, allowing me to make the dough sweeter without causing it to burn too much, I found that the taste is more bland compared to the yeast pastries baked with the Polish 550 type flour.

Overall, if you want to bake more authentic Challah and Babka, I highly recommend trying to bake with the 550 type wheat flour. Not just to refine the taste and add more character, but for other reasons I have covered in my post about enriched All-Purpose wheat flour produced in the US.

It might take you a few tries to get all of this right, but keep on trying. Once you find the magic formula you’ll be addicted to baking and eating yeast-based pastries!

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