Baking Tip: Use a thermometer to test water temperature

November 3, 2014

I got this text message on Friday from my daughter:

Text message: I volunteered you to make day of the dead bread for Monday.
What do we do when we get this kind of message? Of course I searched Pinterest for a "Day of the Dead" bread recipe. There's a ton of them out there, and I didn't have anise seed, so I chose one that used cinnamon instead.

I settled on one from celebrate-day-of-the-dead.com, which turned out delicious, but I wanted to share a tip for making bread recipes that you find on the internet.

The recipe says, "In a saucepan heat the milk, butter, and water on medium heat until the butter has melted. Pour the contents of the saucepan into the bowl of dry ingredients (including yeast) and mix thoroughly."

Well, I've been around Cindy's mad baking skills for most of my life, and I know that liquid temperatures that are too hot will kill yeast. But fortunately, on the back of the Red Star Yeast jar is information about what the liquid temperature should be.

Red Star Yeast jar.
Use a thermometer to determine liquid temperatures: 

Traditional Method: Dissolve 1 package of yeast in 1/4 cup of warm tap water (110-115°F). Add 1/2 tsp. of sugar. Wait 5-10 minutes for mixture to foam (proof). 

Mixer Method: Blend yeast with flour and other dry ingredients. Warm liquids to 120 - 130°F. 

Bread Machine: Use liquids at 80°F.

Photo: Day of the Dead bread.
I determined that I was using the mixer method, since all the dry ingredients were already mixed together. I tested the temperature of the butter/milk mixture with a candy thermometer (the only thermometer I could find in my kitchen), and sure enough, the temperature was nearly 200°F! So, I let it cool for a while until it was down to about 120°F, and the bread turned out great!

For more information about yeast and water temperature, visit Red Star Yeast's Yeast and Baking Lessons section of their website.

King Arthur Flour also provides a number of tips on measuring flour, kneading, rising and shaping, so check out their Yeast Bread Primer for additional baking tips.

By Marsha Boswell

Disclaimer: This recipe has not been tested in the Kansas Wheat Commission test kitchen. It did however receive the approval of my family as well as my daughter's high school Spanish class.