Every baker has been there. You fancy creating something light and fluffy and delicious, but shock horror, you’re all out of yeast. The good news is your dreams of a well-risen dough don’t need to end there. All you need is to find a suitable alternative raising agent.
Active yeast is a type of fungus that works by breaking down sugars in the flour to release carbon dioxide. This process causes your dough to rise by inflating it with thousands of little air pockets.
Unfortunately, when it comes to baking bread, your only option is to make it unleavened (without raising agents), such as tortillas or parathas. But for everything else, you can probably make do with one of these six yeast alternatives.
Baking powder is a mixture of cream of tartar and baking soda. The chemical reaction between the two creates bubbles of carbon dioxide very similar to the way yeast does. It works better with fast-rising baked goods like scones and cornbread, as opposed to slow rising ones like regular bread. It’s easy to use too. Simply substitute any yeast in your recipe for equal amounts of baking powder. You can also get double-acting baking powder for a more dramatic rise.
Baking powder vs baking soda: What’s the difference?
In case you’re wondering, baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate) is a base alkaline compound that is fairly ineffective until combined with an acid. This starts a process that creates carbon dioxide.
Recipes that call for baking soda will usually combine it with an acid such as lemon juice or yogurt. Otherwise, they will call for baking powder instead. As mentioned above, baking powder does contain baking soda and pairs it with cream of tartar, which is an acid.
As we said, baking powder is simply baking soda paired with an acidic powder called cream of tartar. If you only have baking soda, you can simply pair it with another acid.
Lemon juice is a common ingredient that you can easily make a yeast substitute from. All you have to do is combine one part lemon juice with one part baking soda, then substitute the yeast for equal parts of your baking soda and lemon juice mixture.
Baking soda, milk and vinegar
Of course, you won’t necessarily want the citric lemon flavor to permeate whatever you happen to be baking. If that’s the case, try using milk and vinegar instead. Both are acids but, of course, vinegar is considerably more acidic than milk is. Combining the two will ensure that your homemade raising agent is both acidic enough to be effective (i.e. more acidic than milk) and also won’t taste vinegary. By mixing equal parts milk and vinegar, the flavor will be more akin to a more sour buttermilk. Naturally, you can use different types of vinegar depending on what you’re baking. For example, try apple vinegar for raisin cookies.
To achieve the desired effect, simply combine 2 parts baking soda to 1 part milk and 1 part vinegar. Then substitute the yeast for equal parts of the baking soda, milk and vinegar mixture.
Beaten eggs or egg whites
If your recipe calls for eggs – as with cakes, pancakes, and similar batter recipes – you can let them do the work instead of yeast simply by beating them well. This will ensure that the eggs are filled with air pockets, so there’s no need for yeast to do it for you.
To do this, make sure that the egg whites are separated from the yolks. If the recipe calls for whole eggs, you can mix the separated yolks into the rest of your wet ingredients. Then beat the egg whites until they’re light and fluffy. A dash of club soda can help with this, but be sure not to overdo it.
The next step is important. When combining your foamy egg whites with the rest of the ingredients, fold them in gently, ensuring that you keep as many of the air pockets intact as you can. You wouldn’t want to undo all that hard work.
Don’t buy self-raising flour expecting it to do yeast’s job for you, but when you’re in a pinch, it can certainly help. It does a very decent job for baked goods that don’t need to be too light, such as pancakes and pizza dough. However, there are a couple of things to look out for.
Self-raising flour is essentially flour mixed with salt and baking powder, so if your recipe calls for those two ingredients too, cut the amounts or ditch them entirely. Also, if you ever do happen to be using yeast, be very careful with substituting regular flour for self-raising, unless you want your whole oven to be consumed by the over-risen bread monster.
OK, so this last one’s a little niche, but given the rising popularity (no pun intended) of artisanal home baking, it’s not beyond reason that you or somebody you know has their own sourdough starter to hand. It’s not that difficult to make your own. All you need is whole wheat flour, water, and an airtight container. Oh yeah, and a week to wait for the naturally occurring yeast to grow.
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