Who knew that your choice of yeast could be such a hot topic fraught with flame wars and deprecations?
First and foremost, I’m going to state up front that I use Fleishmanns, both in active dry yeast and instant, and I have done so for years. I get no kickback from Fleishmanns; it’s simply the brand I know, and therefore because I’ve got years of working experience with it, the one I stick to. It also bears mentioning that Fleishmanns fully admits that there is no difference between Rapid Rise and Instant yeast, it’s just a difference between bulk and package labeling. Do other brands consider instant and rapid rise the same? I cannot say. At any rate, I like Fleishmanns, I know how it works, and I trust the brand. Moving right along.
I’ve mentioned somewhere along the way that you can treat instant yeast like active dry, but not vice versa. It’s still true, and you can still swap one for the other (accommodating their differences in recipe, of course) but where I’m standing today, I’ve decided I’m becoming somewhat partial to using instant yeast, even though I’m not using a bread machine.
Some people say that you only really have to hydrate your active dry yeast before you start mixing. But I believe, and all my experimentation (so far) hasn’t run contrary to this, that regardless of which yeast you choose, you’re doing no harm to proof your yeast before hand especially when it’s new yeast or has been some time between the last successful batch baked from your yeast. This means putting it in warm water to activate, with something sweet for it to feed on (sugar, honey, or maple syrup, etc.) and making sure it’s a living, viable organism. Instant yeast does allow for you to add it directly to the ingredients without proofing, but honestly, I couldn’t think of anything more frustrating than realizing my bread isn’t rising in the oven because the yeast is dead, and a pound or so of my organic ingredients is in the garbage.
So why am I becoming a fan of instant, if I still believe in proofing? Well, in addition to be able to treat it almost exactly like active dry yeast (if I choose), there are a couple of benefits.
Temperature: There’s a “safe range” for yeast that won’t kill it. We know this to be true because it can continue producing C02 in temperatures as cool as the fridge, and in warm up to about 130-140F, at which point it dies off. Active dry yeast has an ideal temperature range cooler than instant: about 95-110F versus 120-130F. So if you are operating without a thermometer, you have a bit more latitude.
Rising: With many doughs, using active dry yeast requires two risings. You knead, rise, punch down, shape, and rise. With instant yeast, you can replace the first rising with a 10 minute resting period, and go straight to cutting and shaping after the resting period. I’ve successfully done this with my classic white bread, shaving a whole hour off of my weekly baking time.
Downsides?: There are reportedly downsides, though I must admit, I haven’t really encountered them. First and loudest among complaints is that instant yeast is inconsistent between brands, unlike with active dry. I have had no problems alternating between the two with the brand I use, and indeed, find them to be mostly interchangeable.
Instant yeast is supposed to be a bit more potent, and suggested conversions from active dry to instant call for 20-25% less yeast when using instant yeast in a recipe made for active dry, but I have had no difficulties at a 1:1 ratio. The dough rises sometimes a little faster, but only by a few minutes.
Instant yeast doesn’t have as strong a rise. It’s not meant for protracted rising periods in the manner that fresh cake yeast and even to some extent that active dry is. But I’m a home baker and a stay-at-home mom, and I’m making sandwich bread and pizza dough more often than highly-fermented slow-rise artisan breads. For these things, instant yeast has proved to be more than sufficient.
Lastly, instant costs a wee bit more. Sometimes. I buy in bulk, and not in packets. My local grocery store doesn’t even stock a bulk foil package for active dry yeast; the largest quantity available for active dry is in the jar format, and so per 100g, instant for me is actually cheaper.
In the end, of course, it’s going to be a matter of preference. Opinions are like… rear orifices… everyone’s got one, even me. If you’re comfortable using one type, then know yourself. If you have room in the fridge and have therefore mastered the overnight fridge rising technique, as I have not yet bothered to do, then what does a second rise really matter?
Determine what works best for your schedule and needs, and definitely don’t let anybody tell you that using instant yeast makes you less of a baker. 🙂 You’re making your food at home! Without all those horrible dough conditioners and preservatives! Stand proud. You have fresh bread.