Are you afraid of using yeast? Don’t be! Check out my guide to using yeast and become a confident yeast baker! Once you gain the knowledge, try my homemade french bread and homemade cinnamon rolls.
Anytime I ask someone why they don’t bake bread, they usually offer one of two excuses:
- Either they don’t have enough time
- They don’t know anything about yeast
Well, we solved the first issue with Overnight Artisan Bread. One of the easiest and most hands-off bread recipes known to man, even the busiest schedule can handle a loaf or two of a wanna-be sourdough boule.
The second issue is just a wee bit more than a dump and mix, but to be honest, yeast really isn’t that difficult to work with.
Once you know a few of the basics and employ an incredibly simple tip to make sure your bread turns out perfectly every time, you’ll be well on your way to making fresh bread on a regular basis.
A Beginner’s Guide to Using Yeast for Breads
No lesson would be complete without a definition or two, so let’s define proofing as a method to ensure that yeast is alive, and ready to work in the dough.
Personally, I proof yeast 90% of the time to ensure that I’m not wasting precious ingredients and even more precious time only to have the recipe NOT turn out because my yeast was dead.
I learned that lesson once and have been proofing my yeast nearly every time since.
The only reason I don’t proof yeast the remaining 10% of the time is that we bake fairly often in our house, and the chances of my yeast dying between the last time I proofed and now are slim to none.
- The process of proofing is simple: yeast + warm water + sugar = beer foam bubbles. Although seemingly insignificant, let’s talk about the water.
- When proofing yeast, the water temperature needs to be between 105-115F. Any thermometer will do the trick, so long as it can read between these two limits.
If the water is too cool, the yeast won’t activate. If the water is too hot, you’ll kill the yeast.
Some recipes (like homemade hamburger buns) call for proofing in other liquids like milk, and others in juice (like light and fluffy dinner rolls), but the majority of recipes call for water.
- Tip: For safety reasons, we have our hot water heater set to just one tick hotter than the recommended setting. I’ve found that turning my sink water on as hot as it will go is the perfect temperature for proofing yeast.
- You CAN use a microwave, but my water always ends up too hot, and then I have to wait what feels like an eternity for it to cool. As a point of reference, boiling is 212F (a.k.a. way too hot). As always, use a thermometer to be sure.
Sugar is the necessary evil.
Some recipes call for sugar, some don’t. The yeast feeds on the sugar, and in my personal experience, using some sort of sweetener offers a better indication than no sweetener at all.
Stirring the water and sugar together seems to help the process develop too (as opposed to just measuring and letting them sit).
- Note: This sweetener does NOT have to be granulated white sugar. You can use honey or maple syrup if you prefer, but when you’re only using a couple of teaspoons that will be spread out over two large loaves of bread, I find it more cost-effective to use typical granulated white sugar.
- Tip: The typical ratio of sweetener to bread is 1 teaspoon per 1 loaf. Adding more sweetener, or baking fewer loaves out of a batch of dough will cause the flavor of the sweetener itself to show through.
- As a point of reference, most honey whole wheat loaves of bread use 1/4 cup of honey or more for flavor. Something to keep in mind when you’re debating whether to use maple syrup in pizza dough.
Beer foam is your friend.
I use this phrase because that’s the type of bubbles you’re looking for. Not soap bubbles, not the bubbles you get from kids’ toys – beer foam bubbles.
It can take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes for bubbles to appear, but the key is that they appear. No bubbles mean dead yeast, so there’s no point in continuing because your recipe will more than likely not turn out. Beer foam bubbles are the green light to proceed.
Types of Baking Yeast
1. Active Dry Yeast
This is what most bakers use traditionally. They’re granular, range in color from light to dark brown, and give two rises in recipes. Active dry yeast should be proofed before use in recipes.
2. Instant Yeast
Also known as bread machine yeast or rapid-rise or quick rise, this type of yeast was designed so that it could be added directly to the dry ingredients without having to go through proofing first. You CAN proof instant yeast, but you don’t have to.
3. Fast-rise Yeast
- This yeast is instant yeast with added dough conditioners, typically citric acid (Hodgson Mill adds vitamin C).
- This is to aid the quickness factor of the yeast and is best in recipes that only call for one rise.
- Proofing is not required for fast-rise yeast, although it can be done without issue if you’re unsure you have fresh yeast.
Tip: Even newly opened packages can contain dead yeast. From one frugal baker to another, always proof your yeast. Also, make sure you don’t add too much yeast.
Guide to Using Yeast in Baking FAQs
Active dry yeast needs to be activated before use. Instant yeast is ready to be used once you open the package or jar.
1 package of active dry yeast is equivalent to 2 ¼ tsp.
When you are using one packet of yeast, you will need to use about 4 cups of flour. Wheat flour also works.
Storing & Buying Yeast
Yeast performs best when it’s kept away from air, moisture, and warmth. Room temperature is best.
- Unopened yeast can be stored in a cupboard away from heat sources like the refrigerator or oven, and open yeast should be stored in a fridge.
- When we buy yeast in bulk, I pour some into a glass jar and store the jar in the fridge.
- I keep the rest of the yeast in a freezer-safe bag, remove excess air, and store it in the freezer.
- Some manufactures don’t recommend the freezer, but I’ve been doing this for over two years and haven’t had any issues so far.
- The majority of baking recipes call for 2 1/4 tsp of yeast, and that’s why so many individual packets come with just 1/4 oz (the equivalent of 2 1/4 tsp).
Be sure to read the weight before you just open a new package and dump it in your recipe.
- Some individual packets can have up to 5/16 oz (approximately 3 1/8 tsp).
- However, in most cases, adding more yeast to a recipe won’t hurt it, and will actually help the rise a bit more.
In fact, recipes like Overnight Artisan Bread benefit from adding more yeast, for both flavor and rise! You could use just 1 teaspoon of yeast and the bread will still rise, but the extra yeast adds flavor that I thought tasted too good to leave out!
Buying in bulk is something worth considering if you stay on the homemade baked goods road for any period of time.
- You’ll find recipes that use just 1/2 teaspoons and some that use up to 3 teaspoons.
- Being able to measure from a larger container, like a glass jar, is much easier than opening several packets and then finding a creative way to store them.
Tip: If buying yeast in bulk isn’t an option in your area, consider opening up the individual packets and pouring them into a glass jar. You’ll get the same benefits from measuring from bulk, without yeast spilling all over the fridge!
The Biggest Takeaway for Baking with Yeast
There’s only one sure-fire way to get to know how yeast works: use it!
- Pick a type of yeast (I recommend active dry yeast), start using it, and watch it in action. See how it foams up. See what happens when you use honey instead of sugar. Watch the first rise of bread yeast, and then watch the second rise.
- Tinker with simple recipes and double the yeast – or even triple it!
- Yeast is incredibly affordable – regularly priced at just 10¢ per teaspoon, or as little as 2¢ when bought in bulk – so it’s no skin off your back to proof it and see if it works… Shoot, you just might end up with a new family favorite bread recipe! Try my sourdough starter.
Once the yeast has been proofed/bloomed can you save/store it for future use if I made too much?
Kyare - Team Crumbs
I don’t believe you can save it, Pash.
I shopped for essentials before we were told to stay in place because of the Covid-19 virus. I bought Instant Yeast rather than Active Yeast thinking I might have to make bread if we were isolated for long. It has now come to that. I haven’t made bread in forever so I am wondering if I can use Instant Yeast rather than active in some of the bread recipes. I am thinking of making the Man Bread since it sounds rather easy.
How do I use Instant Yeast instead of Active Yeast. Thanks
Hi Susan! Instant yeast typically doesn’t require as long as a rise time as active yeast, so you’ll want to make two changes to recipes: 1) always bloom your yeast first, to make sure it’s good (you’ll want to see “beer foam bubbles” when you combine warm (not hot!) water + sugar + yeast in your bowl. 2) watch for the “double in size.” This may happen sooner with instant yeast!
For instant yeast, When you say to store it on the freezer, it means to have the yeast frozen or in the fridge just to keep it cold? Does it need to thaw before using it?
No need to thaw! The yeast won’t actually “freeze,” but keeping it in a cold environment will help keep it fresh, longer. The fridge can work too, if you go through it in about 2-3 months. If it will take you longer, I’d recommend freezing for longer-term storage.
if u put the yeast sugar and water in a bowl at the beginning of a recipe is that considered a proof? im trying to make donuts and every recipe ive seen wants me to combine all the ingredients, proof, shape my donuts, proof, than fry. should i leave out the water sugar proof if im doin 2 proofs ? or am i just activating the yeast than proofing twice?…. I know this is an older post and im late but i havent seen any other posts from any other pages dedicated to this subject
Yeast, warm water (not hot!) and sugar is considered proofing the yeast. When it looks like beer foam, that means it’s bloomed. If the recipe calls for a second proof, then it’s talking about rise. So proof the yeast first to get bubbles, then every time you see “proof” in the recipe, think “rise.” 🙂
I have a Keto bread recipe that uses 2 tsp honey to 2 of yeast, as I’m on a sugar free diet, how much of this sugar gets eaten by the yeast?? I leave it the full 10 minutes to prove. Its the only Keto bread that I like.
I’m sorry Christine, I have no experience with the keto diet and couldn’t tell you exactly how much sugar is eaten by the yeast.
Check out Deidre’s Bread on YouTube or Google it. Her bread is delicious and she says it’s only 2 net carbs and that the yeast (1 tsp) is eaten by the honey (1 tsp). She only has a couple of videos. One is using the Zojirushi Bread Machine and the other is using a Kitchen Aid and baking in the oven. She adds the yeast (instant) last with the honey. Ingredients include Flax Seed Meal, Oak fiber, and Vital Wheat gluten, etc..
This is a great article and I appreciate your providing so that I could learn more on the subject. Thank you.
Karen @ Team Crumbs
You’re so welcome! 🙂
Minor correction un Deidre’s recipe: It’s 1 Tablespoon of yeast to 1 teaspoon of honey. The bread is fantastic and truly low carb.
I am new to baking, specifically GF. I can’t find an answer to this: To proof the yeast, should i sprinkle it on top of the water or mix it in?
Either or Terra, but I personally mix it so the yeast actually dissolves and comes in contact with the sugar.
I am making cinnamon rolls using my challah recipe and was trying to figure out how to freeze them. Do I make them and let them rise then freeze? When I do freeze then would I take them out the night before and let them proof in fridge? Then rise in morning and bake? I am making a lot of them daily and just thought it might be easier to freeze to say one day ahead since my dough rises overnight in fridge.
Thanks for any tips!!
Hi Darlene! This post on freezing bread should help: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2015/02/ultimate-guide-freezing-bread-dough-baked-goods/
When I’m proofing to make sure it’s not dead. Do I need to use a different packet of yeast for recipe? Sorry never had any luck in making yeast rolls. But I’ve made it my mission to learn! Lol any help would be appreciated.
Hi Lisa! The yeast you proof will be the yeast you use in the recipe. Most bread recipes will include proofing (warm water + sugar + yeast) in the first step or so. If they don’t, you can pull out liquid from the recipe (1/4 cup or so), the yeast and a pinch or two of sugar and proof it yourself before continuing. 🙂 Good luck – you can do this!
I always use my bread machine. It says to add all the liquids first, then the dry ingredients and then put the dry yeast on the very top. IF I was to proof the yeast it would then be liquid… So WHEN would I add it to the bread machine? First with the liquids? Or dump it on top of the dry ingredients? I’m confused.
Thanks. I’ve always wondered about the different types of yeast! great information.
I have always used active dry yeast, like you. But I use it for making the dough in the bread machine and also for some breads that I do myself. Do you think that’s not the best way? What would you recommend for the dough in the bread machine? I’ve never proofed mine before (unless the recipe has called for it to sit…).
When you store the yeast in the refrigerator do you need to let it come to room temperature before you proof it?
I’ve read that it’s supposed to come to room temperature first, but I don’t do that and haven’t had any issues. 🙂
Katya @ Little Broken
Hi Tiffany: what would you use as a ratio with sugar and water when proofing one packet (1/4 oz) of yeast? Thanks!
Hi Katya! I like using a 1-1 ratio in my recipes, but you could use half the sugar as yeast (1/4 oz = 2 1/4 tsp so 1 heaping tsp sugar) as well. As a general rule of thumb, I use more sugar with one rise (1-1 ratio for pizza dough, as an example) and less sugar with two rises (2-1 ratio for sandwich bread) since the yeast has more time to develop with the second rise than it does with just one. 🙂
Katya @ Little Broken
Thanks so much for the info! I just started working with yeast and your post was very helpful.
You’re most welcome Katya!!
Best tips I received from a friend of mine who does baking all the time were: purchase the glass jars of yeast (instead of the packets), store it in the freezer, and in order to get the right temp–use your fingers to get it “warm-to-touch”, which should be about the temp it needs to be. Have never had an issue with yeast since she told me those things 🙂 There’s not much that beats homemade bread! 😉
Great tip Natalie! Thanks for sharing!!
Timely post. Like you wouldn’t believe.
I don’t do bread.
Baking it myself, that is.
Now I might actually have the courage to try.
Funny how things work out that way Veronika! So glad this helps you – yeast isn’t as big of a deal as our brains (or at least mine for sure) make it out to be. 😉 Good luck!!!!