What Does Yeast Mean?
Yeast is a single-celled, microscopic organism belonging to the fungi kingdom. It is a diverse group of microorganisms with over 1,500 known species. The most common type of yeast used in baking and fermentation is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which metabolizes carbohydrates, specifically sugar, to produce carbon dioxide and ethanol. This process, known as fermentation, is the basis for its use in baking, brewing, and winemaking.
What is Yeast?
In baking, yeast acts as a leavening agent, producing carbon dioxide gas that causes the dough to rise and becomes light and airy. This is achieved by breaking down sugars in the dough, creating bubbles trapped by the gluten network, and giving the bread its structure.
Yeast in Pizza Dough
You can choose between fresh, instant, or active dry yeast for pizza dough, depending on your preference and availability. Fresh yeast, also known as cake or compressed yeast, has a high moisture content and is typically used by professional bakers.
It must be dissolved in warm water before adding it to the dough. Instant or fast-rising or rapid-rise yeast is convenient as it does not require prior activation and can be directly mixed with dry ingredients.
On the other hand, active dry yeast needs to be activated by dissolving it in warm water with a pinch of sugar and allowing it to sit until it becomes frothy. Despite these differences in preparation, all three types of yeast will yield a delicious pizza with a light and airy crust when used and handled correctly.
To use yeast for pizza, follow these steps:
- Choose the right yeast: For pizza dough, instant yeast, active dry yeast, or fresh yeast can be used. Instant yeast is the most convenient, as it doesn’t require activation and can be added directly to the dough.
- Prepare the dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, and instant yeast. If using active dry yeast, dissolve it in warm water (105-110°F) with a pinch of sugar and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it becomes frothy. Then, add this mixture to the flour.
- Add water and oil: Gradually add warm water and a small amount of olive oil to the dry ingredients, mixing until a shaggy dough forms.
- Knead the dough: Transfer it to a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour; if it’s too dry, add a bit more water.
- First rise: Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with a damp cloth or plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1-2 hours or until it doubles in size.
- Shape the pizza: After the first rise, punch down the dough to release the gas, then divide it into equal portions (if making multiple pizzas). Shape each portion into a ball, cover it, and let it rest for 15-30 minutes. Then, stretch or roll out each dough ball into a thin circle, using a little flour to prevent sticking.
- Top and bake: Preheat your oven to its highest temperature, ideally 500°F or higher. If you have a pizza stone or steel, preheat it as well. Add your desired toppings to the shaped pizza dough, then transfer the pizza to the preheated stone or steel using a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.
By following these steps, you can create a delicious pizza with a light, airy, and chewy crust using yeast as the leavening agent.