Short answer: Yes!
Our method is super-fast because it’s based on stored dough, not because we use a full dose of granulated yeast in the recipes. In the 2007 edition of our first book, we used full-dose yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons for four pounds of dough) because we knew that many of our readers would want to use the dough within a few hours of mixing it. For our 2013 update of that book, we decreased our full dose of yeast to 1 tablespoon, because our testing showed that the extra half-tablespoon made little difference. We’d still consider that a full dose of yeast in a four-pound batch, and you can decrease to 1 tablespoon in any of our recipes, from any of our books. But if you have more time for the initial rise, you can decrease it further–by large margins. Half-doses, quarter-doses, and even less will work.
Why use less yeast? Experienced yeast bakers sometimes prefer the more delicate flavor and aroma of a dough risen with less packaged yeast. Traditionally, it’s felt that rising the dough very slowly, with very little added yeast, builds a better flavor.
We weren’t convinced of this when we wrote Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day–most of our readers value the quicker rise that you get when you use a full dose of yeast. And our flavor is pretty darn good, especially when the dough ages in the refrigerator.
I tried it two ways, first halving the yeast (about 1/2 to 3/4 tablespoon), and then dropping it way down, to 1/2 teaspoon. Both worked, but they work slowly. For the 1/2 teaspoon version, you need to give the dough 6 to 12 hours to rise. And when I rested the 1/2 teaspoon loaves prior to baking, they needed more time there as well, about two hours. The 1/2 to 3/4 tablespoon version needs something in between (about 4-5 hours, and 1 hour rest before baking). Active time is still five minutes a loaf, it’s just your passive resting and rising times that really escalate when you go to the low-yeast version. If you use cool or cold water with a low-yeast preparation, you’ll need 18 to 36 hours for the initial rise.
So if you’ve hesitated to try our method because you like your loaves risen long and slow, give this approach a try.
Low yeast/slow rise with egg-enriched breads: Readers have asked us about the food-safety issues in trying low yeast/slow rise at room temperature with egg-enriched doughs. Raw egg shouldn’t be left out too long at room temp. How long is too long? US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is very conservative on this question; they say 2 hours is the max (click here and scroll down for their detailed recommendations). Understand that this would make it impossible to rise a cold-started egg-enriched dough fully at room temperature (though we’ve found that two hours on the counter is enough even for a 33% yeast reduction; the problems start when you make more significant reductions, which would require 8 to 24 hours on the counter). The risk is salmonella and other food-borne illnesses. Even though eggs in baked breads are fully cooked, the USDA is clear on this– 2 hours max. They’re a very conservative organization– for example, you basically can’t eat hamburger with any pink in it, according to USDA.
To stay in compliance with USDA guidelines for egg-based doughs, refrigerate at 2 hours regardless of whether the batch has fully risen. Then, allow the rising to complete at refrigerator temperature (18 to 36 hours).