Without yeast, there would not be two things that I truly love.  There would not be bread to make my favorite food which is any kind of sandwich, and there wouldn’t be beer.  Okay, okay I know you can make sandwiches out of unleavened bread, but I still love bread!  And I love beer.

Yeast is a living, single-cell organism that as it grows, converts its food into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  This I pretty much knew but it was put so nicely into these words in the Food Lovers Companion, so many thanks to it.  There would be no alcohol for making beer and wine without yeast, and there would be no bubbles (effervescence) for beer or sparkling wine without the carbon dioxide.  When making bread, the bubbles created by the carbon dioxide cause bread to rise.

Yeast needs the right environment in which to grow.  Moisture, a food source, and the proper temperature all factor into the success of yeast.  Yeast feeds on sugars and starches and reproduces best at lukewarm temperatures, 80-85F.  Temperatures much higher can kill the yeast, and the yeast at much lower temperatures remains dormant.  Lukewarm means warm, not hot, not cold—comfortable to the touch.

What is cool is that wild yeast spores are constantly floating around in the air, waiting to land and live. People have been using yeast for leavening since at least the Egyptian times.  Yeast was used to make fermented beverages thousands of years before that.  These days people have figured out which yeasts work best for particular uses and have isolated them to help control the quality of their products and make it consistent.  The two main categories of yeast are baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast.  Go ahead, take a stab at which is used for what.

Brewer’s yeasts are non-leavening yeasts that are also used as a food supplement.  I have enjoyed Brewer’s yeast as a flavoring for freshly pan-popped popcorn.  But I don’t make beer.  I buy beer.  I figure they have it all figured out.

Baker’s yeast is used for baking.  It keeps well.  I buy it by the pound and I keep it in an airtight container in a cool, cold or frozen place.  It stays fresh and dormant for a long time, many, many months.  If you have any doubt as to whether the yeast you have is still alive, proof it.  Put the yeast in a bowl, add a pinch of sugar and some water.  Stir a bit then let it sit for five to ten minutes to see if the yeast starts to give off some carbon dioxide.  If it does, proceed to use, if it doesn’t, make flatbread.

Here are two favorite recipes using beer and yeast to make soup and bread.

Cheddar and Beer Soup

4 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, minced

4 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 bottles flat Pilsner, (3 cups)

4 cups loosely packed grated cheddar cheese

Method:  Cook the shallot with the butter until the shallot has sweated, (gotten soft.)  Add the flour and mustard, cook stirring until the mixture is bubbling and smooth.  Off the heat, add the Pilsner and stir or whisk to combine.  Return to the heat and bring to a gentle boil.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook 5 minutes.  Stirring constantly, slowly add the cheese.  Serve as desired.

Dijon Beer Breadsticks

Try this with freshly sliced rare roast beef and caramelized onions or Beer and Cheese Soup

2 teaspoons dry yeast

¾ cup strong flavorful warm beer

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon cumin (optional)

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

Method:  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Combine the yeast and beer in a bowl.  Stir to dissolve the yeast.  Wait a few moments to proof the yeast, (make sure it is alive, it will begin to foam).  Add the mustard, cumin and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Add the flour and form into a dough ball.  Place the dough on the counter and knead until smooth.  Add a little more flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Roll into even sized Bread Sticks, place on a parchment lined sheet tray, let rise 15 minutes in a warm place and bake 8-12 minutes until golden brown.

Thanks to Tom Schmock for the great photo.

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