The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Handbook Comments

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proth5's picture

Handbook Comments

The discussion on baking vocabulary has gotten me to thinking...

It has also gotten me to combing through my vast collection of old bread recipes and I've found some interesting things.

For example, in the Ingredients section there is a confident statement that active dry yeast must be "proofed" in water before using it in a bread formula.

Well, we did that in 1950 and even in 1970, yet, I find that at least by 1981 no less of an authority than the Fleishman's Yeast company has us dispense with that step for active dry yeast (there was no other kind of dry yeast back then, Rapid Rise was not fully developed until 1984) and mix it directly into the flour.

I've already gone down the rabbit hole with the term "proof" so I will take my medication and calm down about that.

Not bringing this up to be a know it all, but I know that you are trying to be an accurate source for serious or beginning home bakers and what has happened is that there is now one more source on the "inter web" that tells us baking folklore that really isn't true.

The definition of autolyse follows the same vein.  It is good for what it is, but it is not defintive as it does not deal with the very real question of adding or not adding pre-ferments.

My advanced age and long years of home baking perhaps give me a different perspective.

Is there some kind of peer review process to which handbook entries will be subject?  Is this the means?

I'm glad to put some of my time and effort into doing this.  Perhaps you could have definitions and explanations but have sidebars containing "controversy and additional discussion."  Just a random thought.

Let me know how I can be of help.



Floydm's picture

Yes, this is the best way to give feedback on the Handbook.  I probably move the Handbook threads down into the "Advanced Topics" section below, but discussing it in this forum is the best way to discuss Handbook content.

I'll look into the specific section you are concerned about later this evening, but my knee-jerk response is that while an inaccuracy that'll cause a new baker difficulties is not acceptable, slight over-simplification and erring on the side of caution in the Handbook is fine.   Preferred even.  As I said in my kick off message about the Handbook, in my mind "the goal of the Handbook is not to be exhaustive. Rather it is to provide something that an enthusiastic new baker could sit down and read in one evening and, upon completion, feel excited and well-prepared to start baking artisan breads."

So, in this case, is a new baker going to be harmed if they think they need to proof their active dry yeast even if that isn't 100% factually accurate?  I doubt it.  But I can guarentee they'd be disappointed if they didn't proof their yeast and their loaves failed to rise.  I'd suggest the new baker stick with conventional wisdom and proof it first (or use instant yeast).

This reminds me of the distinction between undergraduate and graduate level courses at a lot of colleges.  A good part of the graduate experience is being told "Remember when we told you that X always meant Y?  Well, it is actually a lot more complicated than that..."  Let's save the graduate experience for a later date, once we feel like we've nailed Baking 101 in the Handbook.


proth5's picture

I did read the goal and considered that when I posted.

I go back and forth about how and when we make things more complex by trying to make them more simple (I do a lot of training in my field - which is not baking -  and have often had to carefully walk this line.)  However, that being said I have only a distant, fading memory of being a beginning baker, so it's hard for me to put myself in the place of someone who is just starting out.

I guess that I'd argue that putting an extra step in the baking process ("proofing" yeast) makes it more complex not less so.  For a beginning baker, I would say "check the expiration date on your yeast."

And of course, since we don't tell the beginner to "proof" instant yeast, the same disappointment would result if the yeast were not viable should the beginner use instant yeast.  (The only reason that active dry yeast was ever "proofed' in the first place was to check its viability. It  was never a requirement in the baking process as many recipes from the Fleishman's Yeast company have shown us.  "Proofing" may be conventional wisdom on this site, but when a major yeast company says "you don't need to do that" I'm going to argue that they might know what  they are talking about. This is what I mean about baking folklore.)

Like I say, I don't know when it gets more complicated when we simplify and when it does not.

But, you are the host.  I am only here to offer any help that you would like.


Floydm's picture

I did a couple of hours of edits to the handbook this weekend and intend to spend more time on it again soon.   I certainly will be go back and reread the section on yeast with this in mind.  So your feedback and feedback from the rest of the folks here is appreciated and gets taken into consideration even if the suggested changes aren't made immediately.



proth5's picture

I'm into digging around through reference material these days and here is what I find.

The Handbook says that active dry yeast needs to be "proofed" by  dissolving it in water at 90 degrees or so.  What has happened here is that a couple of different concepts have gotten mixed.

There is a mixing method that allows you to add active dry yeast directly to the flour.  This may be a "graduate topic."  These recipes were once published by Fleishman's Yeast, but are no longer.  I used that method for many years prior to the common distribution of instant yeast and it never failed me, but again, I have experience under my belt.

What they currently advise is that active dry yeast be dissolved in 100-110F water (1/4 cup to a package) but that this is distinctly not "proofing."  They are adamant in telling us that "proofing" is not required with modern yeasts (although they are happy to tell us how to do it).  As I say, you've got to believe they know what they are talking about.

So dissolve the active dry yeast - yes.  Water temp - perhaps a little low in the handbook  "Proofing" - no (and actual "proofing" is not what the Handbook describes.)

Why start a beginning baker off with information that is less than the best available at the current time?  Why add to the body of confusion on the word "proofing?" (And I would still emphasize "Check the expiration date on your yeast" for all yeasts especially for beginning bakers.  Yes, I can check the viability of my instant yeast - I know how to do that and how to adjust things.  I would have to say, though, that for a beginning baker this "obvious to me" step might be something you want to bring up.)

Autolyse is another area where the definition may be too simple.  There has been a lot of raging debate on this topic on these pages, but what isn't included in the glossary is that if you have used a 100% hydration preferment (poolish) you must add it to the water and flour in the bowl even though this will add some leaven as well.  Subtle? Not really.  If a beginning baker tries the autolyse technique without knowing this, they will "fail."  They will have a mess on their hands and will wonder why "everyone" loves this technique so much.   I know it happens because I have answered questions from beginning bakers on these pages that have had a problem with the autolyse technique because they listened to the adamant "don't add leaven" folks and didn't include the poolish.

Hope this is helpful.  I know that you put much work into this site and I appreciate it.    

charbono's picture


There is a distinction between hydrating and proofing active dry yeast (ADY) that should be made clear in the handbook.


Both Fleischmann and Lallemand recommend hydrating ADY in warm water, in order to minimize glutathione loss.  Those who skip this step will have a more extensible dough, which may or may not be desirable.


Proofing the hydrating yeast by adding a little sugar is completely optional and is for those who are worried about the viability of their yeast.