Making Bread With Alternative Yeasts: Beer, Distillers, and Champagne
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Due to the pandemic, a lot of people are making their own bread. A portion of these same people are also finding that regular bread yeast, a product that was once abundant, is hard to find in grocery stores and online.
Making bread is a lot easier than you might think. It does require some patience though and it is important to not stray too far from the methods that a recipe calls for.
I didn’t learn to make yeast breads until I was 21 years old and completing my last year of college. I was spending a lot of time at my husband’s parents and eventually wound up living there for 6 months before graduation. During that time I tried to pitch in and cook a portion of the meals. Matt’s mom always made the most wonderful bread. In fact I couldn’t remember ever really eating fresh home baked yeast bread before that.
I wanted to learn and she showed me. I definitely didn’t make a perfect loaf those first few times but it wasn’t inedible either. Sometimes I think people get disappointed when their first loaf doesn’t turn out really great and they give up. For the beginning cook I got news for you. It is rare to get a recipe perfect the first time unless it is something incredibly basic like boiling rice.
Making Bread With Alternative Yeasts: Beer, Distillers, and Champagne
For this experiment I used the following yeasts to make a single loaf of bread throughout the course of the day.
Red Star DADY Distillers Yeast
This yeast is traditionally used to ferment mash for making whiskey, rum, vodka, and other liquors. A little goes a long way. As far as cost goes, it is the best deal you can find if regular baking yeast is not available.
Red Star Bread Yeast
After finding out how expensive it was to buy the small envelopes or jars of bread yeast at the grocery store, I started buying Red Star in big vacuum sealed 1 lb blocks. That is a lot of yeast and before the pandemic, it was enough to last me for a few years. Another good brand at a reasonable cost is Bob’s Red Mill but it is still a lot more expensive than buying Red Star when you can find it. SAF Instant Yeast seems to be more readily available so I am going to include the link here in case you want to buy. It is always cheaper overall to buy big containers of yeast.
Red Star Bread Yeast on the left and DADY Distillers Yeast loaf on the right.
Fermentis American Ale Yeast
This is just the yeast we use for making beer at home. It is less expensive when you buy it by the pound of course. If you want a packet of it you usually have to pay around $3. I think that would make a couple of loaves of bread without doing anything special. I had some loose because we buy it in blocks. Other beer yeasts that come in packets may cost substantially less but you do need to be careful about how much comes in a packet. Lower cost per packet doesn’t always mean a better deal overall.
Fermentis American Ale Yeast rising on the left, Red Star Champagne Yeast rising on the right.
Red Star Premier Blanc Champagne Yeast
We have a vineyard so we always have some wine yeast laying around. I used an old packet of champagne yeast with a best by date that was sometime in 2019. Yeast doesn’t really go bad regardless of the best buy dates on the label so if you run into a good deal on out of date yeast, never worry that it might be bad. Unless someone has baked it in the oven or something really extreme, it is good to go.
The Basic Recipe For Bread
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water with 2 tbsps buttermilk powder mixed in. You can omit the dairy if you don’t have it or cannot eat it. It does add a nice flavor though. You can also use half yogurt and half water or add a tbsp of almond butter to the warm water.
2 tbsps sugar
Mix together the yeast, warm water, and any of the optional dairy or almond butter. Let sit for 10 minutes so that the yeast has time to get going. You can let it sit for even longer if you want but don’t let it sit for less than 10 minutes before proceeding.
Add 3 ¼ cups flour and 1 1/2 tsp salt to the yeast starter you just made.
Add 2 tbsp of butter, coconut oil, or other fats. Times are strange and while I prefer butter, it is important for new home bakers to realize that substitutions are fine and that you might find you prefer using various fats besides butter.
Turn on your stand mixer using the dough hook or your bread machine and knead for 10 minutes. If you are kneading by hand, put on some music and knead for a few songs.
Lightly oil a standard loaf pan. I tend to shape my loaf a little before putting it into the pan. Press into the pan lightly. You can use an oiled spatula to smooth out the top if desired.
Let rise for at least 2 hours. Bake at around 350F. Some ovens cook a little different than others so you should make sure to pay close attention to your bread the first time you use your oven to bake any. You may need to reduce or raise the temperature slightly. If bread starts to brown to quickly on top you can make a tent of aluminum foil and that usually stops it. Some people brush eggs whites or butter on to the top of the loaf before baking. Egg whites make it have a crustier texture.
Rise Times For My Alternative Yeast Experiment
I heated up a toaster oven a little to help facilitate rise time. The rise of the loaf of bread that used the regular bread yeast started at 11:00am while the bread made with distillers yeast didn’t start rising until 11:30 due to doing the whole yeast starter process and kneading again.
I started baking those two loaves at 2:20 pm. So both loaves had around 2.5-3 hours to rise.
Start of rise for beer yeast and wine yeast was 2:45 pm and 3:15 pm. They were both put in the oven at 6:20 pm so they had a similar 2.5-3 hr rise time.
I baked my loaves for about an hour in a convection toaster oven. Your total cook time is going to vary based on your oven.
From left to right: Red Star Bread Yeast, DADY Distillers Yeast, Fermentis American Ale Beer Yeast, and Red Star Blanc Champagne Yeast. The beer and champagne yeasts clearly yielded the best rise and texture surprisingly enough! I am still getting used to my new toaster oven so I allowed the first two loaves to get a little browner on top than I would have liked.
This experiment actually really surprised me. For starters, I expected the distiller’s yeast to at least rise as much as standard yeast because it tends to ferment very fast. It was actually yeast with the least amount of rise to it!
I do have to say that all the yeasts that we tried worked out in that the bread did rise enough to be edible.
The best results by far were the beer yeast and the champagne yeast. Unfortunately, if you are paying standard prices for these yeasts, it is too expensive to use. That being said, sometimes you can find a bargain if yeast is out of date or you may have a buddy that just wants to get rid of some. If that is the case then, by all means, take it and use if for bread if for nothing else!
If you cannot find bread yeast then distillers yeast offers an option that is similar to the prices of bread yeast at the average grocery store but not as good as the price of buying bread yeast in bulk .
All the bread had a good texture and flavor but it varied some.
We ate on all the loaves over the course of the week. My Dad got the loaf made with champagne yeast. He said it was really good but was a little tangier than some bread. More like sour dough. Matt and I thought that the Fermentis Beer Yeast loaf tasted quite like sourdough too. The Distillers Loaf tasted closer to regular bread yeast but still a little different. I would have no problem eating bread from any of the yeasts on a permanent basis.
With a little bit of planning you can stretch yeast out. It is not really that difficult and it is used fairly often with beer makers. To do this you just need to start your yeast out the night before you want to make bread. Here are the steps:
- Pour 1 tbsp yeast into a pot or bowl that you can loosely cover. You want some airflow or your yeast won’t propagate properly. Cheesecloth is a good choice for cover and maximum airflow. You don’t want anything nasty dropping into your culture.
- Add 2 cups of warm water, 3 tbsp sugar, honey, agave syrup, or molasses. It doesn’t matter as long as it is sweet and full of energy!
- Add one cup of the type of flour you plan on using for bread.
Let your “sponge” sit until sometime the next day. Make sure it is in a space that stays at least 70 F for best results. Yeast like it warm but not over 104 F.
The next day use your yeast culture to make 4 loaves of bread. If you don’t want to use it all, add some more sugar and refrigerate for up to a few days. If you don’t refrigerate it will turn into something like sourdough. Results are going to vary some based on the conditions in your house and the type of yeast you use but it won’t make you sick or anything and it will make some type of edible bread.
The type of flour you use makes a difference.
I used Einkorn flour because it is the only wheat flour I can digest without getting severe heartburn and other gastroinstetinal distress. Einkorn is one of those flours where you normally have to use less water or add some extra flour if you are using a bread recipe that calls for traditional wheat.
Heavier grains and flours will not rise light white flour. Einkorn whole wheat flour is quite heavy and since the white version is already a little heavier than regular flour, I have not used it.
If you live a whole wheat style loaf and want a good rise and moderate texture I recommend using no more than 1/2 whole wheat flour.
Bread Books I Recommend
There are some good books out there that can help you on your baking journey. Please note that at the moment due to COVID-1, Amazon is delaying shipping of many books so you might want to choose an alternative seller on their site or just get the electronic version.
This is a fantastic book for beginners. The easy methods and recipes in this book truly show that you don’t need a lot to make great bread. You can mix up a batch of dough and keep it in your fridge for a week, using a little each day. If you keep using the same container to store your dough it will even take on some sourdough characteristics after a bit of time.
I have made bread using the base recipe from this book many times and it has turned out really good. You are not just limited to using the the dough for basic loaves either.
For those that cannot eat traditional wheat or that have a slight gluten sensitivity, Einkorn wheat is an excellent option. It is expensive flour but you can make up for the cost by value-adding and making your own pasta, bread, and more. Here is an article I wrote about Einkorn wheat and baking with it.
Should you buy a bread machine?
I have mixed feelings about bread machines. For starters, it seems like they take up a lot of space in a kitchen for something that does one thing.. The first floor of my house is only 480 sq ft. Matt and I kind of have a rule about kitchen gadgets that are bulky and only useful for a single purpose.
That being said, you can sometimes find a great deal on a bread machine and they do take a lot of the guesswork out of bread making. While you can bake a loaf in the breadmaker, I know plenty of people that prefer to just use it to mix the dough and then they turn the dough out in a pan to rise.
For years I did without a really good stand mixer. I had a very old one that did the job for some things but it really was just for mixing up some light batters and basic tasks. A few summers ago I caught a sale on a professional grade KitchenAid. Just for clarity I want to say that any KitchenAid Stand Mixer will serve you well. Amazon just happened to have a Lightning Deal on the 6 qt Pro Model that retails for $450 or more. I got it for $219 which is a real steal. Right now the basic model of KitchenAid is around $200.
If you decide to get a KitchenAid mixer be sure to check and see if a particular color is on sale. Sometimes you can save over a $100 just by not being so picky about the color you want.
The thing about a KitchenAid is that you can get a ton of different attachments to do a lot of things in the kitchen. Rather than having a ton of appliances with their own electric motors and cords to deal with, you can get a single machine and then buy what you want over time. It came with a whisk, paddle, and dough hook. We later bought the pasta roller so we could make our own pastas and save a little money since Einkorn pasta and gluten-free pastas cost more and the selection is limited.
If you plan on doing a lot of cooking, canning, and bread making, I recommend just getting a KitchenAid and taking a look at the attachments. I plan on buying the meat and grain grinder and the slicer and shredder attachments so that I can more easily process foods for canning and we can make sausage and ground meats when we butcher.
Have you been making a lot of your own bread? Do you have any recipes to share?