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.

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 No-Knead Jalapeño Cheddar Bread.

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

57 Comments

  1. Many thanks for this helpful information. You are so very thorough in all of the lessons and recipes that you share with us. Everything that you send our way is easy to understand and is always doable.

    1. Thank you so much Cathy! I love feedback like this and am thrilled you find my recipes and explanations so helpful. Thank you for your readership!!

    2. Your recipes are on point I made the NY style cheese cake and it was the best tasting cake I have eaten Thank you for sharing these valuable lessons with us I look forward to many more baking adventure with you

  2. Sally, your tips have helped my tremendously in my baking endeavors.
    I’m still intimidated by pie crusts but determined to master the technique of no fail flaky pie crust.
    One of my signature pies is Sweet Potato Pie. My filling is superb and once i master the pie crust I’ll be THE happiest Gma on the planet☺

  3. Thank you for the great explanation! Helped answer a few of my questions. I used to mix dough for my bread in breadmaker but since it broke down I have been using the standmixer. However it has not turned out the same: dries out quicker and sinks when I bake it :(. What am I doing wrong??
    ( When I make any of your yeast recipes in mixer I have no problem with that at all…)

    1. Hi Gerline! I’m happy to help. When bread sinks, the dough is likely too wet. So it could be the recipe you are using. Perhaps adding a little more flour to the recipes when using your stand mixer will help for next time.

      1. Thought I’d update you: Tried my bread recipe again, and with succes this time. The problem was not needing more flour, but needing to mix longer to get that elasticity (gluten window as it’s called on Red Star’s website).

  4. As always, Sally, your instructions are so helpful! Now I feel more confident to tackle yeast recipes (which I have shied away from in the past). Thanks! 🙂

  5. Sally, what a helpful guide!! I just wanted to say that you have been so knowledgeable and helpful with all recipes, but especially yeast recipes! I don’t think I would’ve tried making bread on my own had it not been for your straightforward recipes. I have now made your bread bowls, bread rolls, cinnamon rolls, and pizza dough! I am so happy that your recipes helped to boost my confidence and inspired a true love of baking with yeast. THANK YOU!!

    1. Thank you so much Amanda!! Your kind words brightened my day 🙂 Thrilled that you have more confidence when it comes to yeast baking!

  6. Sally, thank you so very much for the info on yeast. I had no idea that it needed to be kept cold after opening package. I will keep the yeast in the freezer from now on. Your cranberry/nut no knead bread sounds so easy & so good. I plan to try it this weekend. Thank you for some truly amazingly good recipes.

    1. I’m so happy you found this post helpful! I hope you will try the cranberry nut bread- it’s incredible and SO easy!!

  7. This is perfect! My resolution for 2019 was to get over my fear of yeast and learn to bake bread. I’ve made a few different kinds so far and can’t believe how easy it is.
    I’m definitely bookmarking this article!

  8. I’ve only just discovered your blog, Sally, and I’m in love. The blueberry muffin bread is beyond heaven! And yesterday (yes, a month late for the competition), I made bagels. They are fabulous. I live in Costa Rica where a good bagel is hard to come by, so this is a real godsend.
    I’m commenting just to add something about no-knead bread. I’ve made no-knead bread (and rolls and stucco and more) for several years and recently learned a trick to cut dramatically the rise time. Mix the yeast in warm water and add just a few drops of red wine vinegar before combining the mixture with the flour/salt/sugar/whatever. I used to give my no-knead bread up to 18 hours of rise time. Now four hours does the trick so I can start the bread when I get up in the morning and have it ready for lunch. Planning a day ahead was always a challenge for me with the original no-knead process. Now I have fresh baked bread products several times a week. Not good for the waistline, but yummy for lunch!

    1. “Stucco”? Really, I meant “stecca” — a made-up name for a kind of baguette from “My Bread” Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery. It’s very easy and is a terrific accompaniment for soup or salads among other uses.

  9. This is super helpful!! I made your Irish Soda Bread for St Patrick’s Day (you were my baking muse that day since I also tackled Pistachio Drop cookies & Guinness Brownies…lots of mmmm) so the next step is baking with yeast. I’m a little nervous, but I have faith if I follow your tips and tricks I’ll be munching on home made bread soon 🙂

  10. You are always a trusted source! Thank you for this post. I just love your recipes and your passion to share your knowledge.

  11. Thank you Sally. To me, the information you provided herein is now my ‘Yeast Bible ‘ Thank you for always doing the leg work for us novice and pro bakers. It is the little things go that make or break baking.

  12. I’ve tried and haven’t had any success with trying yeast breads with gluten free flours, as I am gluten intolerant. Do you have any suggestions for flours to use or how to adapt recipes to be gluten free, or good resources for gluten free yeast breads or crusts?? Thanks!

    1. Hi Eva, I don’t have any personal experience baking with gluten free flours but I’m sure there are many great blogs dedicated to this topic!

    2. Eva, I was having the same issue and googled for good GF bread. Japanese Milk Bread is excellent and there are videos on youtube that show the process. It was so much like “regular” yeast bread and didn’t get that weird taste on the second day. I like to use Namaste Perfect Flour Blend that I get at Costco for $8.99 for 5 pounds.

  13. Hi, Sally. I have been following your blog for a couple of years now and thought it was high time that I told you Thank You for helping me become a better baker. You must have tapped into my thoughts about yeast! This primer is right on time and on point! I will be a Yeast Maven in no time.

  14. Thank you for this Baking Guide! I find these very informative, especially for beginner bakers like myself. Have a great day! Bye!

  15. Love this blog post! Honestly, I learned how to bake with yeast by following your raspberry sweet rolls recipe! That one is serious yum, especially with lemon glaze! But now I bake with yeast like a pro and have made everything from regular bread, dinner rolls, pizza dough, sweet rolls. Mainly all from your blog too! I love how simple and clear your instructions are so I never mess up! Thanks for all your hard work in the kitchen Sally, so we don’t have to 🙂

  16. This is such a great resource! I used to be intimidated by yeast breads, but I’m becoming much more comfortable with practice. Your approachable and tested recipes are certainly a huge help!

  17. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for this helpful post – I learnt along the way in the last few years about baking with yeast and it’s helpful now to have this post with everything in one place! Just a note- about your pizza dough video you linked to kneading – I watched it, for me it was a little fast to really understand the kneading technique so maybe in future if you have time it would be great to see a slow or real-time video about kneading dough or you could also link to this Breadmaking kneading Video which I found helpful.

    I can’t wait to bake more of your yeast recipes 🙂 Thanks!

    1. Thanks Vi Kate! That’s a temporary link because I have a new bread recipe coming next week with the kneading slowed down. Stay tuned!

  18. Sally, it is like you read my mind because one of my baking goals that I want to tackle this year is baking with yeast. Your instruction videos are such wonderful, helpful guides and I want you to know that all your hard work and efforts are greatly appreciated. I cannot get through the day without checking your website. I have been baking for a long time, but I continue to learn something new and fun from your website. You make baking fun and informative and you are constantly challenging me. Thanks so much!

  19. Thanks Sally. I think I’ll always be intimidated by yeast, however, this post definitely will help me. I’m printing it and putting it in my recipe folder. Thanks again.

  20. Thank you for posting. Very helpful. One question, my bread is always dense and somewhat dry. Where am I going wrong?

    1. Hi Cheryle! The bread’s density depends on the recipe, though dense homemade bread could be the result of too much flour. This would also cause the bread to taste dry as well.

  21. Thank you for posting this! I made a goal it a goal this year to start baking with yeast at least twice a month. So far, a lot more fails than successes. This guide is super helpful. I bought the recommended yeast and maannnn, it made such a difference! It was the first time I could see the yeast bubbling and doing its’ thing. I’m pretty sure the yeast I’ve been buying from grocery stores has been dead. I will be trying the April Challenge!

  22. First of all, thank you for giving me the confidence to make breads from scratch – your step-by-step instructions are indispensable! This is a great guide, but is there any way you can make it printable to have for reference similar to your recipe links? I think it would be really handy to keep with my recipes rather than having to refer back to the web. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Susan! I’m so glad you’ve found my instructions and guides helpful. Thank you!

      Since this post isn’t a recipe, I don’t have a separate print page coded for it. The best way would be to copy/paste into a word document and change the fonts/sizes based on what is most helpful for you!

  23. Is there a print friendly format available for this post? I would love to print it out and read it. I find it impossible to read important articles online and absorb the information. Too many ads pop up which are a constant distraction. Thanks.

    1. Hi Cat! Since this isn’t a recipe, there is no separate “print” page. But you can copy and paste the text into a Word Document if you’d like!

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