Yeast is the one ingredient a pizza dough needs the most. Yeast is the primary leavening agent in dough, which means it’s what causes the pizza dough to rise. The best pizza dough recipes produce dough that rises quickly, making for an airy and bubbly crust. Many people know what yeast does and what types of recipes usually call for it, but how yeast works is another story. In this blog we’ll cover how yeast works and what types of yeasts are used to make pizza dough.
How Yeast Works
Yeast is essentially part of the fungus family, and the way it works is actually quite fascinating. Yeast creates carbon dioxide by feeding on fermentable sugars within the dough’s ingredients. Carbon dioxide creates air pockets in the dough, and during the baking process the heat kills the yeast. This leaves the air pockets trapped in the dough, which creates an airy, fluffy crust. When you see a pizza dough recipe that calls for sugar, it’s because added sugar can help the yeast’s feeding process. Whether or not this extra step is necessary is arguable, but in my experience I’ve made plenty of batches of great dough without sugar.
Types of Yeast
When it comes to pizza dough, you’ll see a few different types of yeast used in recipes. Here’s a basic run down of some of the different types.
Believe it or not, yeast can be found nearly everywhere. Wild yeast spores are floating all around us in the air. Although wild yeast may be slightly different than what you buy in the store, it’s just as good as any other yeast you’ve used (and in some cases it’s even better). Starter, more commonly known as sourdough starter, is one of my favorite types of yeast. This yeast is captured from the air by using rye (or wheat) flour and just a little bit of patience. The flour is mixed with purified water and left out at room temperature (about 70°F) for 5 days. Periodically more flour is “fed” into the starter until it is ready. At each of the “feedings,” half of the starter is first discarded so that it doesn’t grow too big in size.
Active Dry Yeast
Active dry yeast is yeast that has been dried out so that it’s shelf stable. Typically this yeast needs to be dissolved in water before it’s added to a recipe. Active dry yeast is one of the more popular types of yeasts because it’s easy to use, convenient, and it’s sold in many supermarkets.
Instant yeast very closely resembles active dry yeast, but is slightly different. Because it is a bit more “alive” than active dry yeast, it isn’t necessary to dissolve instant yeast in water. Simply add it to the dry ingredients of your dough recipe and you’re good to go.
Fresh yeast is perhaps the liveliest of the yeast types (alongside sourdough starter) but is also a bit harder to find. Some stores only stock this yeast seasonally, while other stores don’t stock it at all. On top of that, fresh yeast also has a shorter shelf life. Fresh yeast can either be dissolved in water, or simply crumbled onto other dry ingredients before a batch is mixed. Fresh yeast can be substituted for instant in the following amount: 1 Tbsp. fresh yeast = 1.5 tsp. active dry yeast (or a 2:1 ratio).
If you’re worried about what kind of yeast to use, don’t fret too much. The most important part of using yeast is using the correct quantity and ensuring your water is at the right temperature (95 – 100F°).
Try experimenting with different yeasts the next time you make dough and let us know which one you like the most!
We were mistaken when we called yeast a bacteria in an earlier version of this post. Yeast is actually part of the fungus family. Thanks to our eagle-eyed readers who caught the mistake!