Baking With Yeast Guide

Baking with yeast does not have to be terrifying! Use this Ultimate Yeast Baking Guide next time you bake with yeast.

Freshly baked artisan cheese bread on a cutting board. It is surrounded by grated parmesan cheese and fresh rosemary.
Delicious homemade bread made with yeast!

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Have you ever dreamed of baking homemade artisan bread, dinner rolls, or sandwich bread at home but were too scared of baking with yeast? Well, think again! Baking with yeast is easy!!! 

There was a time when I was scared of baking bread at home. I used to believe that yeast was a scary ingredient that only professional bakers who went to culinary school knew how to use. However, once I got over my fear of baking bread, I realized that baking with yeast isn’t that scary after all.

It is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. No matter what your skill level is when it comes to the kitchen, it is important to know how yeast works. 

This helpful guide is filled with information that I have learned while baking bread weekly for my family. It is all the information I wish I knew as a beginner. I know that this yeast baking guide will be beneficial to both pros and beginner bakers.

A table that has rosemary, parmesan, garlic confit, and a freshly baked loaf of bread. A person has a plate of sliced bread and will eat it.

Why Yeast Is Important In Baking

  • This living thing gives rise to bread recipes! (and we all know how delicious bread is)
  • Gives texture and structure
  • Flavor Development: Yeast fermentation adds lots of yum.

What Is Yeast?

Yeast is a living organism that is responsible for giving rise to lots of baked goods and drinks. Baker’s yeast is what professional bakers and home bakers use when making bread. It’s a type of fungus that is commonly used in baking and brewing. 

There are many types of yeast in the world, but it is “saccharomyces cerevisiae” that is the leavening agent in bread recipes.

Yeast metabolizes sugars, thus producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. In baking, this fermentation process is responsible for leavening the dough and creating a rise in bread and other baked goods.

Three wooden spoons on a table. One spoon has instant yeast, second spoon has cake yeast, another has active dry yeast
From left to right: Instant Yeast, Cake Yeast, and Active Dry Yeast

Types of Yeast Used For Baking

In the baking world, there are three types of yeast:

  1. Cake Yeast 
  2. Active Dry Yeast
  3. Instant Yeast

There is also wild yeast, which is called a sourdough starter. If you’d like to learn more, read my guide on the differences between commercial yeasts and a sourdough starter. 

Cake Yeast vs Active Dry Yeast vs Instant Yeast

Cake Yeast

Cake Yeast, also known as Fresh Yeast, is a moist and perishable yeast available in block or cake form, which explains the name “yeast cake.” 

Typically located in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, this type of yeast has a shorter shelf life compared to other commercial yeast forms and requires refrigeration.

Instant Yeast

Instant yeast is a variety of dry yeast containing yeast cells that swiftly activate within the dough. It can effortlessly be incorporated into any dough recipe.

The brand of Instant Yeast I use is Saf-Instant Yeast

Active Dry Yeast

Active Dry Yeast consists of dehydrated yeast cells and, similar to instant yeast, can be incorporated into various dough recipes. However, prior to its inclusion in the recipe, activation is required.

A popular brand you’ll see at grocery stores is Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast.

A bowl of commercial baker's yeast on the table.

How To Activate Dry Yeast

To activate dry yeast, simply add it a bowl of warm water. If the recipe has sugar, you may also add some into the same bowl at this time. The sugar will help kick-start the activation process since the yeast feeds on the sugar.

You will know the yeast is activated when you see it foam at the top of the water. Once you see this, it is time to continue with the recipe and add the dry ingredients.

How To Know If Yeast Is Dead

Since commercial yeast is a live organism, it can die and lose its effectiveness. Storing the yeast improperly can shorten its lifespan. 

Here are signs that it’s time to toss your old yeast and buy a brand new bag:

  • Expiration Date: If it is passed its expiration date, then it is time to toss!
  • Discoloration: Usually, yeast is beige to light brown, I you notice any darkening, your yeast may not be alive anymore.
  • Smell: Yeast has a slightly sweet aroma. It should not have a strong, sour, or off-putting smell.
  • Rise Test: If your dough did not rise, your yeast may be dead. I guess better to  know late than never? 
Sliced artisan yeast bread on a cutting board. There is grated cheese and herbs.
Delicious homemade bread!

How Is Yeast Used In Baking?

Active yeast is a fundamental ingredient in baking, especially in bread and other leavened raised baked goods. When we mix yeast with liquid ingredients and a little bit of sugar, it helps the dough rise. Yeast makes the dough stretch and get fluffy. 

Yeast is more active in warm temperatures, so we add warm water to help it rise. However, if the water is too hot (135, then the yeast may die. But if it’s too hot, the yeast can die.

Rule of thumb when baking: If the water is too hot for your finger, then it is too hot for the yeast.

Yeast can still work when it’s not too warm, but it takes more time to make the dough grow. Some bakers like that because it makes the bread taste even better! So, yeast is like a magic friend that makes our bread rise and taste yummy.

Bread dough before and after the first rise. It has doubled in size
Before and after the first rise. Check out how the dough has doubled in size!

First Rise And Second Rise Time In Yeast Recipes

Although steps differ depending on the recipe you use, here is the general structure to all bread recipes:

  1. Activate Yeast (important when using active dry yeast)
  2. Mix Ingredients together and knead
  3. First Rise. Allow bread dough to rise. Make sure to cover the dough with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
  4. Shape the dough
  5. Second Rise: Allow bread dough to rise again
  6. Bake Time.

For example, take a look at my delicious Soft Italian Sandwich Bread recipe. If you look closely at the recipe steps, you will notice that it follows the rise times structure above.

How Long Does Rise Time Take For Recipes With Yeast?

You may have made a recipe in the past that states a rise time of one hour for the dough to double. However, you come back to your dough one hour later and it hasn’t doubled! That is because the rising time of the yeast dough depends on many factors. 

Factors that affect rise times:

  1. Amount of Yeast Used. The more yeast used in a recipe, the faster the dough will rise.
  2. Type of Flour Used. Bread flour, which has more gluten, usually makes the dough rise quicker and stronger compared to all-purpose, whole wheat flour, or low-protein flours.
  3. Kitchen is too cold. If your kitchen is cold, your dough will take longer to rise. 
  4. The kitchen is too hot. On the other hand, if your kitchen is too hot, then your dough will rise quicker. 
  5. Liquid Temperature: The temperature of the liquid used can affect the rise time. 
  6. Altitude and Humidity: High-altitude locations and humid environments can affect yeast activity and dough behavior. Adjustments should be made if your kitchen falls under this category.

Key Takeaway: For best results, watch the dough, NOT the clock. 

If the recipe you are following states it will take one hour for the dough to double and at the one hour mark, your dough still has not doubled, do NOT move onto the next step! Continue to let your dough rise until it doubles. 

Placing the bread dough on a lightly floured work surface
After the dough rises, it’s time to shape and then let it rise for a second time.

Help! My Dough Isn’t Rising!

Ah, it happens to the best of us! Here are a few factors that can attribute to dough not rising:

  1. Yeast is inactive or expired
  2. Cold Temperature. Try to proof the dough in a warmer environment.
  3. Liquid in the dough was too hot, which killed the yeast.
  4. Incorrect yeast amount
  5. Too much flour or sugar
  6. Kneading too little.

It takes a bit of practice to get used to working with yeast doughs. So, having trouble like dough not rising is normal for beginners. The good news is that once you get more experience with baking at home, this will happen to you less often. 

sliced italian sandwich bread on a cutting board next to a knife.
Freshly baked Italian Sandwich Bread

How Should You Store Yeast

You can store your yeast at room temperature, in the refrigerator, or in your freezer.

How To Store Yeast at Room Temperature

Once opened, reseal the package tightly and store it in an airtight container or bag. Place it in the refrigerator or freezer for a longer shelf life. If you frequently use yeast, storing it in the freezer is a good practice.

How To Store Refrigerate Or Freeze Yeast

While active dry yeast is relatively stable at room temperature, storing it in the refrigerator or freezer can significantly extend its shelf life. Place the unopened yeast package or container in an airtight bag or container before refrigerating or freezing.

Rosemary parmesan cheese bread on a wooden cutting board.

Best Yeast Recipes

If it is your first time making yeast bread at home, don’t worry! Here are easy recipes that you are going to love. The recipes have instructional step-by-step photos that are easy to follow, which is perfect for beginners like you.

Easy Dutch Oven Rosemary Parmesan Cheese Bread

Soft Italian Sandwich Bread With Olive Oil

More Helpful Baking Guides

Sourdough Baking Conversion Charts

The Differences Between Yeast And Sourdough

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