Hydrating Active Dry Yeast
I was recently looking at the Julia Child/Danielle Forestier batard videos and was very taken with her use of fresh yeast, which has all but disappeared (if it ever did appear) from the shelves of Southern California groceries. Instead, I've been using Red Star active dry yeast, which I pick up in 2# bags at Costco for $4 or so. One of the major characteristics of active dry yeast (as opposed to the instant/rapid rise variety) is that for best results, it needs to be hydrated before being added to the dough.
So the other day, I decided to recreate fresh yeast from the active dry version, just to see whether it made a noticeable difference in the rise. Although I've yet to do a direct comparison -- which is on my agenda for the next week or so -- my impression from spiking a batch of Jewish rye is that the re-hydrated yeast really has legs. The dough rose massively during both fermentation and proofing -- so much so that my total rise time was something like 50-60% of that recommended in the Nancy Silverton recipes I was following. In order to maintain the same strength as fresh yeast, I mixed water and active dry yeast 1:1, then kneaded it into a nice, smooth, homogeneous mass, wrapped it in cling wrap, and put it in the fridge overnight. My initial lot was 8oz, of which I used about 1.2oz for the rye bread.
I intend to work off this batch for the next 4-6 weeks and see whether there's any noticeable deterioration in quality, and if so, how much.
Has anyone else played with pre-hydrating active dry yeast?