Breakfast/Tiffin items

Homemade Dinner Rolls/Pav Buns & How to activate yeast

Pav bun/Indian dinner rolls

It was a dream come true! I’d been trying and trying and getting it all wrong for a really long time. It was high time I got it right. And it happened last week. I added yeast to warm water, mixed it up and covered it. Fifteen minutes later, I as rewarded with the sight of a bubbly, frothy, brown coloured liquid. Newton couldn’t have been as excited when he discovered the principle behind gravity as I was that minute when I saw that frothy liquid.

I must have binned at least a dozen yeast packets in the course of the last one year that I’ve been learning to bake (learning from blogs and the WWW, not classes!). I always tried to figure out what exactly everyone meant in their blogs and baking websites when they asked you to add the yeast to “warm” water.   There are some that even specify the “deal temperature” of water at which the yeast will froth best!

But far from figuring out how warm was warm enough for the yeast, I always ended up with a yucky smelly brown liquid at the end of an impatient, ten minute wait that blogs, and even instructions on the back of the yeast packet, claimed. But the other day, the Yeast Goddess smiled in Baking Heaven and decided I’d persevered enough and I was lucky to see yeast froth up.

Actually I was planning on preparing some pav bhaji (Indian street snack that pairs dinner rolls with a spicy curry), and I wanted to bake the pav (same as dinner rolls) at home. But since that called for yeast, I thought it wouldn’t do any harm to try frothing the thing yet again. If it did not happen, I was ready to hop down to the neighbourhood bakery for a packet of readymade buns. Luck was on my side that day and the yeast frothed perfectly, the dough was as the blogs said it should be and th warm pavs right out of the oven were better than store-bought ones!

Pav bun

I made it for three consecutive days to check if the frothy yeast was not a freak accident. But I was rewarded with perfect buns each time. Eat it with bhaji or toast with a bit of butter and it will be wonderful with your evening tea!

You can refer to this link for step by step pictures and the original recipe. I followed it to the T, adding additional flour as the author suggests. The original recipe calls for 3 cups of bread flour. But since bread flour is not available at a lot of places, the author says it could easily be substituted with APF/maida (which I did), only that you’d need more of it. I needed 3 + ¾ cup to get nice elastic soft dough. I halved the recipe the subsequent day and needed 2 cups (scant).


Even after adding the extra ¾ cup of flour, in three additions, the dough was very sticky and difficult to work with. PERSEVERE. Do not add more flour. Simply, knead, knead and knead more. Do it as you watch TV and you won’t notice the 20 minutes pass by or that your arms hurt!

The more you knead, the softer and more elastic the dough will be, and so will be the buns

After pinching balls off the dough for the buns, roll them up smooth, else you’ll get cracked, funny-topped buns. I actually thought they looked pretty(!!) and artistic like those breads you can at fancy bakeries. But you might want perfectly smooth tops, so roll them up smooth, else you’ll get these…

Pav buns with artistic(?!) cracked tops

As I realised the next day, kneading becomes easier with a smaller quantity of dough. So, after you’ve added all the dough and have a sticky mass, divide it into two portions and knead each separately. Once your have two nice balls of dough put them together and knead into one big ball. This worked for me.

I got 10-14 buns each time. The number depends on how big or small you want the buns. They stayed good for three days. They might have stayed fresh for a couple more days, but couldn’t manage hiding those two buns any longer than that to check!

Some yeasty doubts I had during all my dud attempts that you may have too. I don’t claim to be an authority but these are things I learnt from my experience and this is how I work with yeast:

How do you activate/proof yeast?

Warm the required quantity of water and ADD SUGAR ABD YEAST to it. Stir till most of the yeast granules dissolve. Cover it and leave it for 10 minutes or so till it froths up. Your yeast is now active and ready for use

How “warm” is warm enough for yeast?

Water warm enough to proof yeast would be much warmer than room temperature but much cooler than hot boiling water. Put your finger into a bowl of that warm water and it feels comfortable, sort of as warm as finger bowls you get after a meal at restaurants

Any sure way to get water warmed perfectly for yeast to froth?

Yes! If the recipe calls for yeast to be added to ¼ cup of warm water, bring ¼ cup of water to a full boil and add 3/4cup plus a teaspoon or so of room temperature water (less if you live in a cold place and more if you live in a warm/humid place) to it. Stir. This water will be the right temperature. Remove ¼ cup from this and add yeast

Do you need to do anything to activate the yeast apart from adding it to warm water?

Yes again. You need to keep stirring with a spoon until the yeast is mostly dissolved and the water looks muddy and brownish in colour. It is OK though if there are some tiny beads of yeast left floating around. They will dissolve as the yeast starts to activate

How long do you wait after you add yeast to water?

Blogs and even instructions on the back of the yeast packet say 5-10 minutes. Thanks too the disasters I’ve had before, I prefer to leave it untouched for 10-12 minutes, covered, and use it immediately thereafter. No opening the lid before ten minutes and peeking in to see if there’s any rise!

7 thoughts on “Homemade Dinner Rolls/Pav Buns & How to activate yeast

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