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What is Dough Stretching?

Reader Jane happened to mention dough stretching in the comment fields of the below post on sourdough starters. The comment elicited several follow-up questions about dough stretching and yeast in general, which I thought I’d answer here on the main page instead of in the comment fields.

So let’s get down to business: what is dough stretching? It’s pretty much as it sounds — a process by which you gently tug bread dough into an elongated shape as it rises, and then fold it or roll it back up into a lump and let it rise some more. You generally start the stretching at about the mid-point of the initial rise (after mixing your bread dough, but before you shape the loaf).


Osmotolerant Yeast

I don’t have a picture of this because I don’t have any and you have to special order it in bulk. What, you think I’m made of money? This is a highly specialized form of instant yeast, actually a different yeast species called Pichia sorbitophila. It was discovered in 1980 infecting a container full of 70% sorbitol, a sugar alcohol. That’s a heck of an unfriendly environment for any small critter, and when it was discovered that sorbitophila produced as much CO2 as other fermenting yeast species (Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Zygosaccharomyces rouxii, Debaryomyces hansenii) a product was born.


Pizza Yeast

This is a new, you might say “novelty”, yeast the was introduced to the American market in 2010. It’s a form of rapid-rise yeast which as the name implies is specifically intended for pizza makers, more specifically inexperienced pizza makers who want a quick dough that they can mix, shape and bake in 30 minutes. It’s an interesting idea…I don’t know how well it’s selling but it’s received a lot of positive reviews.


Why use packaged yeast at all?

Several readers have written in to ask this question, and it’s a good one. Now that home bakers are so widely using bread starters and preferments, why bother with the packaged stuff since it delivers inferior flavor even if the rise is faster? I can think of a few reasons.

Concentrated yeast cultures — brewer’s yeast or packaged yeast — work faster and so create lighter, fluffier breads. Bakers, especially those living in cities, have known this for centuries. These urban dwellers are people who’ve historically had access to brewery leftovers as well as more finely-milled flours. That’s why in general their breads tended to be more toothsome (at least when they weren’t full of sawdust and mice) if not the most flavorful.


Rapid Rise Yeast

As the name implies this is the fastest-rising of all the various packaged yeasts. A version of instant yeast, it’s made via similar methods but the granules are even narrower and thinner…almost rod-like if you can see them. That means they absorb moisture and dissolve even faster, so they start working, reproducing and making CO2 almost immediately.


Instant Yeast

Instant yeast is a form of active dry yeast, just a bit more technologically advanced. Like active dry it’s grown in the fermenting tank, then centrifuged and filtered to remove much of the water. Then it’s mixed with a little oil and extruded in thin threads which are then dried, cut and packaged. The difference is that in the case of instant yeast, the mixture that’s extruded has more live cells, a result of a faster drying process that’s not as stressful on the critters.


Active Dry Yeast

Active dry yeast undergoes a few more processing steps than compressed yeast. After the live yeast is spun out of the fermentation vat and a good deal of the water is removed, it’s mixed with a small amount of oil and extruded in extremely thin little ribbons. Those ribbons are cut up into granules, then the granules are tossed in a powder of some, shall we say, “detritus”…dead yeast cells mostly, to give them a protective coat. At that point they’re fully dried, packed and shipped.


Fresh Compressed Yeast

Also called “cake” yeast, this form of yeast is a living culture, taken straight from the fermentation vat — actually spun out via a centrifuge. Water is removed, then the live yeast is mixed with a little cottonseed oil, a few emulsifiers, then pressed to shape. It’s available in most larger supermarkets and is usually found on an upper shelf near the cream cheese (in the States).

The nice thing about fresh yeast is that it’s active when you buy it. It doesn’t need to “wake up” in order to be used, and a lot of people find that reassuring. Add it to a dough and you get a very fast and lively rise with it.


Yeast Likes and Dislikes

Being a living thing, yeast has needs if it’s going to survive in the kitchen or anywhere else. Obviously it needs food (simple sugars) and water. Beyond that it has temperature requirements. It grows and produces CO2 most prodigiously at about 92 degrees Fahrenheit. It slows to the point of dormancy at 40 degrees and goes completely dormant below the freezing point of water. If it’s frozen for long, some of its population dies, about 10% per month. Similarly, yeast activity starts to slow down when the temperature gets over about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and stops completely at 135 degrees, at which point it dies.