A question about a recipe: Crusty French Bread, Definitive Version

I have a question about step 2 on the recipe "Crusty French Bread, Definitive Version" from John Ryan Brooks. It says:

"Pour the yeast into a small bowl or coffee mug and add a little less than a cup of the warm water. Stir to dissolve the yeast."
Normally it would include something sugary for the yeast to eat (honey, sugar, molasses) and grow but this recipe doesn't call for it. Does it make a difference?

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ChrisBird
ChrisBird January 16, 2012

When I make bread, I usually add the yeast just to some water. Not trying to activate the yeast, just trying to make it easier to incorporate into an autolyzed dough.

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boulangere
boulangere January 16, 2012

"French" bread does not typically call for sugar (or honey). I use a bit of barley malt (available from home brew stores), and I do mean a bit - like 1/4 teaspoon for a 2-loaf batch. It has an excellent effect on the crust, among other things. True sugars will move the yeast along too fast and you won't get the great character that you have in doughs that proof very slowly.

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John Ryan Brooks
John Ryan Brooks January 16, 2012

I think it might actually be against the law in France to add sugar to any part of this recipe. (joking) I never have added anything to the dry yeast but warm water, and I love the way it turns out.

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boulangere
boulangere January 16, 2012

True. French law dictates what ingredients a baguette is permitted to contain, as well as its two acceptable lengths.

petitbleu
petitbleu January 17, 2012

Boulangere has it right. Sugar really isn't necessary in making bread. There are natural sugars found in flour--they are metabolized more slowly by yeasts, but this slow fermentation is what gives yeast breads so much flavor. If you have any doubts about the viability of your yeast, you might want to test some in a small cup with some lukewarm water and a pinch of sugar, but for the actual bread dough, sugar isn't necessary.

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