The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Fresh compressed yeast vs. Starter/preferment?

DaveK's picture

Fresh compressed yeast vs. Starter/preferment?

I've always had predictable results with dry active yeast from years gone past but just got an order in from the "New York Baker" of fresh yeast in cake form. Hamelman's book does have a ton of recipes that call for yeast instead of starters  so I'm wondering what the difference is between starters/yeast in general? Can you classify a difference in end result if you use one vs. the other? I always had the feeling that starters can just fall flat on their face at times.  I'm am really happy with the bread I'm making lately with a starter I've had going for 8 months now but if I can move more toward a less hassle faster method while making good bread, I may consider that. BUt it's just been a nagging thought in the back of my head if yeast is better than starters or maybe just different?

Thanks for any help!


Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

But here is my take. A "starter" is not only yeast but also bacteria. Exactly which ones you have, you need some lab work to find out. Commercial yeast is just one strand of yeast developed to do one thing.. raise bread and do it quickly. What does that mean? My opinion: you probably can get more consistent results using commercial yeast - thats why the industrial food complex uses it. Dump it in, it works and works fast.

The problem with that approach is the "real" flavor of bread is developed over time with a longer fermentation and if you are using a starter, the work of those bacteria. I am temped to bite on your question and say one is better (starter for me) but won't, and will go with different. It really depends on what you are after.

People who have a good starter and have developed a routine can get consistently fantastic bread, with little hassle and a ton of health and taste benefits. 

drogon's picture

II'm assuming your (8-month) starter is what we'd generally call a sourdough starter - that will be full of natural yeasts rather than the commercial yeasts present in fresh & dried yeast. The commercial yeasts work faster than natural yeasts at the expense of bread flavour, texture, longevity, etc. the starter giving you more "stuff" because it works much slower. Using commercial yeast you can go from flour to cooked bread in under 3 hours typically.

You can get some of the flavour & texture effect with commercial yeast (fried or fresh) by making  pre-ferment the day before (ie. poolish or sponge) then using that in the main mix. (with a little more commercial yeast) This is a common way to make some breads - e.g. ciabatta. I make my pre-ferments out of my sourdough starters, then use a little bit of dried yeast in the main mix when making ciabatta. That might negate your desire to speed up the process though.

I think that if you want a faster process, then the only real way is to start using commercial yeast (either fresh or dried) but your breads above look really nice - so personally I'd stick to the same process you currently use. You could take it to the ultimate level of the Chorleywood bread process, but that produces lifeless bread with so many unnecessary additives it's just not worth it IMO.


DaveK's picture

Awesome, thanks guys! Makes sense to me but I am excited to try the cake yeast and perhaps doing the pre-ferment with it is the way to go.

DaveK's picture

Well just to follow up, I got the book "my bread" which has the no knead 16 hour formula which also calls for 1 gram of yeast. I followed it exactly yesterday and will cook it later today but the dough looks amazing. I'm gonna use banneton baskets to hopefully hold it together for the final rise and this is the first time I've used yeast in a very long time. Not sure why I can't get pic to rotate properly.... sorry.


yozzause's picture

Long fermentation is still possible with cake and dry yeast, you just use a whole lot less of it as you have in the last picture. You can start having problems with gluten degradation with the really long fermentation periods, and whole wheat doughs don't seem to benefit from long fermentation periods.

Making a poolish where you use 1/3 of the total flour with an equal amount of water and small amounts of yeast just bought together as a shaggy mass or (not mixed and developed) and allowed to ferment over a long period to the point that the rising tide is just starting to recede and then mixed with the rest of the ingredients is an excellent way to get flavour into your bread.

Your  picture above is a good example of what im saying if you look carefully you will see that the bubbles are starting to collapse into mini sink holes and around the edge of the bowl the mix is no longer cresting with a bit of a head but rather starting to hang, "tide receding".

Keeping notes will be very helpful here and you will soon be able to build up your database and know what percentage of yeast  in the poolish at what temperature takes what amount of time to mature. This is important when you want things to go like clockwork,  ie overnight poolish  or whilst at work poolish. You will also be able to build up knowledge on how long the bulk fermentation will take with no further additions of yeast ( they will have bred and multiplied) or whether you want to reduce that time with additonal yeast being added to the mix. So good old Saccharomyces cereviciae  Bakers yeast,cake or dried a mighty servant to mankind.

kind regards Derek