Baking with Yeast Guide

Reference this Baking with Yeast Guide whenever you work with baker’s yeast. I include practical answers to all of your common yeast questions.

Loaf of no knead bread

Welcome to your complete guide to Baking with Yeast.

Many of you have responded to a question I ask in my baking email series… what baking recipe intimidates you the most? A majority say yeast breads.

Baking with yeast used to intimidate me too. Something about yeast seems really scary! And, what’s worse, some yeast recipes are complicated and arduous. But once I began to understand that yeast is simply another ingredient in the bowl, my fears subsided. And if you begin with easy yeast recipes, your confidence builds.

Whether you’re a beginner baker or pro, it’s important to understand how yeast works. I urge you to read through this guide where I answer many common yeast questions. I wrote this in partnership with Red Star Yeast, so you can be confident the information is very helpful. I’ve worked with Red Star Yeast for nearly 7 years because it’s my preferred brand!

It’s time to tackle your fear of yeast and bread baking! 🙂

Red Star Yeast in jars

What is Yeast?

Yeast is a living organism. It needs food and moisture to thrive. There are 2 main forms of yeast: brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast is used primarily in beer making and baker’s yeast is used in baking. Yeast feeds on sugar and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide through fermentation. Alcohol is useful in beer making and carbon dioxide is responsible for stretching and expanding the dough, something we see as the dough rises. Yeast fermentation also provides the flavor and texture you expect in yeast-raised recipes.

There are 2 Main Types of Baker’s Yeast

  1. Wet Yeast – Also known as Cake Yeast, Fresh Yeast, or Compressed Yeast.
  2. Dry Yeast – Sold as Active Dry and Instant Yeast.

Cake Yeast Vs Dry Yeast

Cake yeast is wet yeast sold in block or “cake” form. It’s active and highly perishable. To use cake yeast, crumble over dry ingredients or dissolve in the liquid used in the recipe. Today, cake yeast is only available in limited stores.

Dry yeast, on the other hand, has a longer shelf life because it’s been dried out. It’s granulated and sold in little packets or loose in a jar. It is in a dormant state and if the package isn’t opened yet, can be stored at room temperature. Dry yeast requires different liquid amounts and temperatures than cake yeast.

Here is a helpful cake yeast & dry yeast conversion table.

Types of Dry Yeast

Because it’s most common, we’re focusing on Dry Yeast in this Baking with Yeast Guide. There are two types of dry yeast available: Active Dry Yeast and Instant Yeast. They both require liquid to “wake” out of their dormant state.

  1. Active Dry Yeast
  2. Instant Yeast – Also known as Fast Rising Yeast or Fast Acting Yeast.

Red Star Platinum Yeast

This is, by far, my preferred yeast!! Red Star Platinum Superior Baking Yeast is an instant yeast blended with natural dough improvers. These dough improvers are naturally occurring enzymes derived from protein in wheat flour. They strengthen the dough and build tolerance to variations in flour strength and the baking process (kneading, rising, etc.) As a result, the dough traps more of the leavening being produced by the yeast for an overall better rise and better volume in the finished baked good. Most of the yeast recipes on my website are made with Red Star Yeast Platinum. It’s fantastic for yeast beginners.

Can I Substitute Active Dry Yeast for Instant Yeast and Vice Versa?

Yes. Active dry yeast has a moderate rate of rising and instant dry yeast has a faster rate of rising. Active dry and instant yeast can be used interchangeably in recipes (1:1); just keep an eye on your dough so it doesn’t rise too much.

Can I Store Dry Yeast in the Freezer?

Yes, you can store dry yeast in the freezer. The experts at Red Star Yeast actually recommended it! Place the yeast towards the back of the freezer so it’s not exposed to temperature changes when you open the door. To thaw, measure the amount you need and set it on the counter for 45-60 minutes before using. The colder it is, the longer it will take to “get going.” 🙂

Do I Refrigerate or Freeze Dry Yeast After Opening?

Dry yeast is perishable. Once your package is opened, the yeast must be refrigerated or frozen in an airtight container. Use within 4 months if refrigerated and 6 months if frozen.

What is Proofing Yeast?

Proofing dry yeast is sometimes a step in a recipe. This step is basically just “proving” that the yeast is alive and active. You dissolve the contents of the packet in warm water/milk with some sugar. After 5-10 minutes, the mixture should be foamy. If not, the yeast is dead and should be tossed. However, if used before the expiration date, this step isn’t really necessary with modern active dry or instant yeast. Still, some of recipes call for it, just to be extra certain the yeast is alive. (If using quality yeast, it usually is alive!)

Loaf of no knead bread

Piece of no knead bread

How Is Yeast Used in Baking?

When combined with liquid and sugar, yeast makes dough rise. Yeast, while also providing flavor, creates carbon dioxide in the dough. This stretches and expands it. Yeast thrives in warm temperature, which is why warm liquid is added to dough. However, yeast will begin to die in temperatures 135°F (57°C) or higher. A good rule of thumb: if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot for the yeast. Yeast is also effective in cooler temperatures, but it requires more time to expand the dough. Some bakers prefer a slower rise time because more flavor is produced in the process.

Where Should Dough Rise?

Cover and place dough in a warm draft-free place for as long as the recipe instructs. This crucial time is when the yeast ferments the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. (See previous question.)  The kitchen counter is fine, but if you’re pressed for time, you can speed up the rising process by placing the dough in the oven. Preheat the oven to 150°F (65°C), then immediately turn the oven off. Wait a few minutes, then place the dough in the bowl inside the oven with the oven door cracked open. This will be a warm environment for your dough to rise. After about 30 minutes, close the oven door to trap the air inside with the rising dough.

Dough can also rise in cooler temperatures, but the yeast activity slows down and the rise time extends. Here is more information on dough rising.

What if My Dough Isn’t Rising?

There are a few factors that prevent your dough from rising:

  1. Temperatures are too cold. Place dough in a warmer environment.
  2. Yeast is expired or dead. Start over with new yeast.
  3. Liquid in the dough was too hot, which killed the yeast. Start over with new dough.
  4. Too much flour or sugar in the dough. Be mindful of your measurements and remember that it’s ok for dough to be a little sticky. Don’t over-flour.
  5. Type of flour. Flours with higher protein content have superior dough (gluten) forming and rising properties. Here is more information on flour types.
  6. Kneading too little or too much.

How Do I Knead Dough?

Kneading dough is a common step in bread baking. You can knead dough with your hands or in a stand mixer. A stand mixer obviously makes the job shorter and easier, but kneading by hand is gratifying… and a great stress reliever too! You can watch me knead dough in my dinner rolls video. Massage and stretch the dough with gentle motion.

Kneading the dough serves a couple purposes. First, it incorporates air into the dough. It also encourages the proteins in the flour and moisture in the dough to link together, forming a strong gluten network which is essential for retaining the gas produced by the yeast. Gluten is what makes bread deliciously chewy.

What is a Typical Yeast to Flour Ratio?

One packet of dry yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons) will raise up to 4 cups of flour.

What Does it Mean to Let Dough Rest?

It’s advantageous to let dough rest after working or shaping it. Cover the dough with a clean towel or plastic wrap and set it aside. This little “nap” allows the gluten to relax and settle, which lends to a more voluminous bread. A little rest also makes the dough easier to shape. So if you notice your dough is extremely elastic, cover and set it aside for 10-15 minutes, then return to shaping it.

Dough doubled in size in bowl

Where Do I Begin?

Now that you have a better grasp on baking with yeast, start with an easy recipe: No Knead Bread. (Pictured above without the cranberries and walnuts.) This no mixer, no knead bread recipe comes together in 1 bowl. The yeast requires at least 12 hours to raise the dough, so just let it sit on your counter. Very little hands-on work. It’s a great recipe to begin the day before. I also have a 4 ingredients homemade artisan bread that requires very little hands-on time.

More Favorite Easy Yeast Recipes:

  1. Easy Cinnamon Rolls – Shaped yeast doughs, such as cinnamon rolls, babka, and dinner rolls, usually require 2 rises. This easy cinnamon rolls recipe skips 1 rise, so it cuts the time in half. I also have a recipe for traditional overnight cinnamon rolls.
  2. Flatbread Dough – Make thin crust style pizza with this 45 minute flatbread dough. My homemade pizza dough is also very easy, though it’s thicker and requires a slightly longer rise time. Both have great flavor.
  3. Homemade Bread Bowls – Pictured below. This is a very basic bread dough that you can flavor and use for many recipes. See the recipe notes.

Q: Was this guide helpful to you?

Bread bowls

205 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Hi. This is a very nice primer – thanks for taking the time to do it. I’m sure with all the new induced home bakers, it’ll be a valuable resource.

    I’ve been baking breads and bagels for 20+ years, usually using Fleischmann’s active dry. As some others have noted, yeast can be a bit hard to find right now given so many people sheltering in place have decided to learn how to make their own bread.

    So I ended up buying two sleeves (6 packets) of the “Red Star Platinum Superior Baking Yeast” instant yeast, because it was the only version then available. Expiration date was August of 2021.

    I was making a large 2-loaf recipe and used 2 packets. None of the dough would rise, not at all. I opened another pack and tried to proof it in warm sugar water. Nothing. I went to the other sleeve and serially tried proofing all 3 packets in sugar water. Dead, dead, dead.

    I’m wondering if there’s any chance that with ramped up production (I’ve read dry yeast sales are at 600% compared to normal) there’s some temporary quality control issues?

    Or I suppose it’s possible the stuff was inadvertently left to sit in a hot Kroger truck or storeroom and got dead, dead, dead that way.

    Anyway, this has me a bit leery of trying Red Star again.

  2. Hi. I tried your recipe for Sandwich Bread and it came out perfect. I used Active Dried Yeast because I couldn’t find instant. The only complaint was that the bread smelled a little too “yeasty” when I sliced it. I was wondering if I let it rise too much? I needed to let the second rise go much longer than your recipe stated because I used Active Dried. Otherwise it came out perfect. Love all your recipes and I have learned so much!

    1. Hi Pat, over-proofed dough will have that distinct smell and could deflate during the baking process. Hope you try it again, but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Hello from Romania! I just discovered you and I would like to send you a big kiss for your work. I did the buns today and they were perfect. Thank you for the receipt and all the explanations. I have a question…you told us to first rise it for 1-2 hours. Mine double it or more in one hour, in a normal environment. Should I keep it more?

    1. Thank you so much. Once the dough has doubled in size, it should be good to go!

      1. Thank you, Sally! You have one more fan! Xoxo

  4. Kimberly S says:

    Hi Sally! Question, when substituting active dry yeast for the instant yeast in your 4 ingredient homemade artisan bread, do I need to proof the active dry yeast in water first and add to the flour as part of the water quantity or do I add the active dry yeast, in it’s dry form, directly to the flour as in the original instructions using the instant yeast? Thank you!

    1. Hi Kimberly, no changes necessary. The rise and development of the dough is so extended that active dry works wonderfully. Replace the instant yeast with it, making zero changes. A 1:1 substitution.

      1. Kimberly S says:

        This recipe is a keeper! I chose to refrigerate the dough for about 20 hours and used the steam method in the oven. I did however had to disturb the bread (switch pans) mid-bake which may have caused my bread not to rise but rather spread so it did not come out the prettiest. But the taste, texture and crust were delicious! With lessons learned, I am looking forward to making my next batch of loaves!

  5. Hi again, Sally! I made the buns for the second time and they were perfect. But I have a problem. The dough is too sticky and it is hard to work with. The quantities were correct because I weighted them. Can you please help me?

  6. Thanks for the yeast 101 lesson! I read a pizza recipe that said for instant yeast you just have to wait 10 minutes for the dough to be ready. if using active dry yeast I have to wait he 1.5-2 hours… Is that true?

  7. Great site! The yeast ratio you indicated was “One packet of dry yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons) will raise up to 4 cups of flour”, why is that the cranberry and walnut loaf recipe here only calls for 1/2 teaspoon of yeast? I was thinking it should be more because the nuts and fruit has weight. I haven’t made it yet, but it’s on my to do list this week.

    1. Hi Tina, I’m happy to help clarify. The significant amount of rise/rest time in the No Knead Cranberry Nut Bread, as well as the volume of water in the dough, makes up for the lack of quantity of yeast. Let me know how you like the bread! It’s one of my very favorites.

  8. Hi,
    I have a question about substituting Instant Dry Yeast in place of Active Yeast.
    The active yeast recipes call for mixing water (sometime with sugar) and the yeast and then let set for several minutes. My question is when I substitute instant yeast and put right with the flour do I still need to add the water and sugar quantities that I would have mixed with the active yeast.

    1. Hi Debby, yes, you would still need those additional ingredients in the dough. This is my personal preference and it’s always worked– whenever I swap instant yeast for active-dry yeast, I always follow the same exact directions including proofing the yeast with the warm water/liquid (and sugar, depending on the recipe). It doesn’t hurt the dough.

  9. Jane Waldman Aronson says:

    My son brought home a pound of fresh yeast. I read the ratio is approximately twice that of dry yeast. Can I just swap it in or should I do something else? Can I freeze the whole block of it for later use, or should I freeze in smaller quantities? Thank you.

    1. Hi Jane, I rarely use fresh yeast because it’s hard to find in my area. For best success, I recommend referencing the chart on the Red Star Yeast website. Using those conversions, just make the swap. This page is helpful. See the Usage Info and Shelf Life & Storage Info: https://redstaryeast.com/products/red-star/red-star-cake-fresh-yeast/

  10. Elizabeth Lannen says:

    Hi there – so I have a simple recipe I Iike for multigrain bread that I’ve only made with active dry yeast. How would I proceed with instant yeast as the original recipe calls for proofing? Would I just add the instant yeast to the warm milk/shortening mixture and proceed from there? Thanks!

    1. Hi Elizabeth! I actually just answered this question above! This is my personal preference and it’s always worked– whenever I swap instant yeast for active-dry yeast, I always follow the same exact directions including proofing the yeast with the warm water/liquid (and sugar, depending on the recipe). It doesn’t hurt the dough.

  11. Hey Sally,

    Great stuff, thanks for the lesson. I’m new to baking and like many right now, I’m experimenting with sourdough as well. So far I’m having pretty good luck but I’m wondering how to figure ratios if I want to add some starter (discard) to regular yeast recipes or in some cases add dry yeast to cut my rise times down on sourdough recipes when I don’t have all day or in many cases two days.

    1. Hi Will, I wish I could help but I don’t have much experience working with sourdough starters. Let me know if you find a good resource!

  12. H! How much warm water or milk should I use in proofing yeast. Thanks

  13. Hi
    I bought a “brick” of yeast. How do I measure it for recipes??? Took me forever to get my hands on it. This is what was available.
    Thank you

  14. Hi there , great info on this site. I love baking bread and unfortunately I have been recently had to go on a no wheat, no yeast and no dairy diet.

    I have been told I can have low yeast breads… any suggestions on what bread would meet that criteria?

    1. Hi Indy, please please check into einkorn wheat – it’s the original ancient wheat from which modern wheat has been cultivated. It has a different kind of gluten which many gluten-intolerant people can tolerate because it doesn’t your body doesn’t react to the type of gluten in original wheat the same as it does to the different type of gluten in modernized wheat. I don’t know if I can attach a link but if you look up einkorn on wikipedia you’ll find some info. A few different companies sell it, but I think most of them buy it from overseas. I think a company called AncientGrains.com or Einkorn.com is the only place you can buy it grown organically in the States, there may be others I’m not sure, but I buy whole einkorn grain (they ship in paper not in plastic so that’s a plus lol) and grind it myself. I found an old (probably 60 or 70 years old) cast-iron grain grinder which gives me a bit of a workout and does not grind perfectly even but BOY is the bread delicious lol! Oh – just to note – whole grain einkorn is much heavier and does not rise like white bread, but is soooo much healthier.

  15. Tina Couse says:

    Hello! I’ve made your twisted cheddar cheese bread recipe which is absolutely delicious, however, the bread has very large air pockets through out it. Not sure what I’m doing wrong. Thank you.

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