Reference this Baking with Yeast Guide whenever you work with baker’s yeast. I include practical answers to all of your common yeast questions.
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! 🙂
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
- Wet Yeast – Also known as Cake Yeast, Fresh Yeast, or Compressed Yeast.
- 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.
- Active Dry Yeast
- Instant Yeast – Also known as Fast Rising Yeast or Fast Acting Yeast.
Red Star Platinum Yeast
This is, by far, my preferred yeast!! Platinum Yeast from Red Star 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 Platinum Yeast from Red Star. 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!)
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:
- Temperatures are too cold. Place dough in a warmer environment.
- Yeast is expired or dead. Start over with new yeast.
- Liquid in the dough was too hot, which killed the yeast. Start over with new dough.
- 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.
- Type of flour. Flours with higher protein content have superior dough (gluten) forming and rising properties. Here is more information on flour types.
- 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 chocolate sweet 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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