Ola Rokita

Hi! I am Ola and I want to share with you my simple baking recipes that can change your life and how you feel.
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Yeast Cake Baking – Best Practices

Ola Rokita04 June 2020Comments (2)

Cinnamon Babka

Many people are intimidated by yeast cake baking and to work with yeast. Some think it’s too complicated while others find it 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 for many, 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

Yeast cake baking, 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 [click HERE to BUY].

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!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jakub Krzaczek March 30, 2021 at 12:16

Great recipes Ola!
Where can I find the one for the cake from your first photo here. It looks amazing and I couldn’t find it anywhere on your blog.
I don’t even know what to look for.
Cheers from Cracow!

Reply

Ola Rokita March 31, 2021 at 23:22

Hi Jakub,

Thanks for visiting my site. I’m happy that like my recipes. Many of them are connected to my childhood.

As far as the cake recipe is concerned, are you referring to the glazed “Babka” filled with cheese and raisins? If so, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients for the yeast dough:
4¼ cups wheat flour Polish type 550, “Luksusowa” or All-Purpose
1 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp lemon zest or orange zest
½ tsp salt

Ingredients for the filling:
1 cup raisins (soaked over night)
1 whole egg
2 cups farmers cheese or 2% “Twarog”
3 tbsp cane sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients for the Glaze:

2 tbsp of powdered sugar
1 tsp of water or lemon juice

Instructions:
In a small pot, lightly warm up the milk, egg yolks, whole eggs, and sugar over a low heat. Heat them just until the ingredients reach about 100° Fahrenheit or 38° Celsius. Make sure you don’t overheat your ingredients past 120° Fahrenheit or 49° Celsius, otherwise the yeast will not be as active and your dough will not rise as well.
Once warmed up, add the yeast and stir it with a whisk.
Let the mixture rest about 3-4 minutes until you start noticing bubbles forming on the surface. Once you see small bubbles it means your yeast is active and working.
In a small pot, melt the butter over a low heat, just until it melts. Avoid burning the butter.
Set the butter aside to cool off.
While the mixture is resting and the butter is cooling, using a stand mixer bowl, add the flour, lemon zest, vanilla, and salt, and mix all them using a spoon.
Add the earlier prepared liquid mixture, made up of milk, eggs, sugar, and yeast and stir all the ingredients together with the flour.
Using a dough hook, mix the dough at medium speed for 5-8 minutes, or until the dough starts pealing off the bowl’s walls.
Once the dough is uniform, elasic, and peals easily off the walls of the bowl, reduce the speed of the stand mixer, slowly add the butter and continue mixing on a low speed until the butter starts being absorbed by the dugh. Increase the speed to medium, and continue mixing for 3-5 minutes.
Set the dough aside to rest on the kitchen counter for about 45 to 60 minutes, covered with a clean dish towel.
Prepare the filling: Using a fork, mix the farmers cheese or “twarog” with eggs, vanilla and sugar until well combined. Add the soaked raisins and mix it some more.
Once the dough doubles is size, put it on a clean counter and divide it into 2 pieces. Use one portion and cover the other one and use it later.
Using a roller pin, roll out the dough into a flat rectangle, about 20″ wide and 12″ tall, or 50 cm x 30 cm.

Using a large spoon, add the cheese filling by spreading it on top of the rolled out rectangle.
Using your hands, gently roll the rectangle with the filling into a tube.
Shape it into a circle by connecting the two ends and gently transfer it to a lined spring baking form.
With a sharp knife cut small openings on top, about 6-7.
Cover the cake with a clean dish cloth and let it rest for 45-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 340° Fahrenheit or 170° Celsius.
After the cake has rested, gently glaze it with the left over egg white, and bake it for about 25 minutes. Check at 20 minutes to ensure it’s nicely bronzing and not getting too brown. If it looks pale, bake the for additional 5 minutes. If too brown, reduce the heat to 320 degrees or 160 Celsius.
Once baked, let it cool for 15-20 minutes. While it’s cooling, prepare the glaze by heating up the sugar with the water.
Using a brush, glaze the top of the baked babka and serve.

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