Hi!! & Welcome to my Baking With Yeast Guide for beginners 🙂
I’m writing this guide to help you understand what exactly is yeast, how it works, and how to make it work for *you* so you can finally start baking fluffy bread, donuts, bagels, pizza, cinnamon rolls, or whatever you want!
Baking with yeast is actually super easy, there are just a few simple rules to keep in mind, once you learn those, you’ll be able to use yeast with absolute confidence!
Let’s get started!
What Exactly Is Yeast?
Baker’s yeast is called “Saccharomyces Cerevisiae” which sounds really fancy but it simply means “sugar-eating fungus”. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, uh? Well… that’s exactly what yeast is!
Yeast is a living organism (a fungus) that needs sugar, warmth, and moisture to thrive. If it doesn’t have all three, it won’t work which means that your dough won’t rise.
How does yeast work?
How does your dough go from flat and heavy to puffy and airy?
Basically, the yeast starts eating the sugar and releases carbon dioxide and alcohol in the process. The carbon dioxide is what makes your dough rise and the result is super fluffy baked goods!
Pictured: Italian Cheese Bread.
There are 2 types of yeast!
- Fresh yeast: also known as wet yeast, cake yeast, or compressed yeast.
- Dry yeast: available as Active Dry Yeast and Instant Dry Yeast.
What Is Fresh Yeast?
Fresh yeast comes in small blocks (aka cakes) and it’s, you guessed it, fresh. This means that the yeast cells are fresh and active. For this reason, it’s quite perishable so you’re supposed to store it in the refrigerator and use it within a week.
This is the kind of yeast that professional bakers use. I personally think it’s better than dry yeast (my dough rises faster and my baked goods are even softer with fresh yeast) but because of its short shelf life, I rarely buy it and I usually go for instant dry yeast which is a lot more convenient.
All my recipes have been tested with both dry and fresh yeast so whatever you have on hand will work!
💡 Fun fact: fresh yeast is light beige, soft, and has a pretty strong smell!
What Is Active Dry Yeast?
Active Dry Yeast comes in granules and it’s not active. This means that you need to activate it (proof it) before using it or your dough won’t rise!
How do you activate Active Dry Yeast? To activate Active Dry Yeast, add a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of lukewarm (about 110F) water or milk, depending on the recipe, to a small bowl and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, then add in the Active Dry Yeast, give it a stir, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let it proof for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes the mixture should be foamy and bubbly and the yeast should be completely dissolved. At this point, you can add the mixture to the rest of your ingredients. Since you’re using 1/4 cup of water/milk, adjust the amount of liquid in the recipe accordingly. Basically, subtract 1/4 cup of water/milk from the recipe and use it to activate the yeast.
If the mixture isn’t foamy and bubbly and/or your yeast hasn’t dissolved, then your yeast isn’t working so please don’t add it to your dough because it won’t rise! Toss it and start over with new yeast! Unfortunately, dead yeast can’t be revived or fixed 🙁 .
What happened? Maybe your yeast has been sitting in your pantry for a while, it’s expired, you didn’t add sugar, or the temperature of the water wasn’t quite right! Remember, the water should be about 110F: cold water won’t activate the yeast and hot water will kill it.
Dry Yeast isn’t as perishable as Fresh Yeast but it’s still perishable so I recommend storing it in an air-tight container in a cool dark place or in the refrigerator. If you don’t bake often, definitely store it in the refrigerator!
What Is Instant Yeast?
Instant Yeast comes in granules, just like Active Dry, but has a finer texture and doesn’t need to be activated! This is why I love using Instant Yeast! It’s simply another ingredient that you add to the bowl, just like flour, sugar, or baking powder. You don’t have to do anything at all, you can’t mess this one up! 🙂
If you’re a beginner and you’re intimidated by yeast, I highly recommend starting off with Instant because it’s literally no-fail and you’ll be able to whip up a batch of donuts or make a super fluffy bread on your first try!
Can I Substitute Instant Yeast for Active Dry Yeast?
Yes, and vice versa! To substitute Instant Yeast for Active Dry, use 25% less.
Can I Substitute Active Dry Yeast for Fresh Yeast?
Yes, and vice versa! To substitute Active Dry for Fresh Yeast, use 50% less.
Where Should The Dough Rise?
In a warm and peaceful environment. This means you shouldn’t touch the dough or move the bowl while it’s rising. If you have pets or kids, make sure they won’t be able to get to the dough.
Form the dough into a ball, lightly grease a large bowl with oil, place the dough into the bowl, cover it with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rise. I recommend using plastic wrap as it does a very good job at keeping the dough in a very humid and warm environment.
This is the first rise and it might take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
Usually, baked goods require two rises. The first one is referred to as bulk rising and the second one happens when the dough has been portioned out, shaped and/or filled and is in its final shape, ready to be baked. This rise usually takes about 30-60 minutes.
Pictured: Bavarian Cream Donuts.
How Do You Make Dough Rise Faster?
Here’s a tip that I used *all* the time! Preheat the oven to 110F, then turn it off and place the bowl inside the oven, close the oven door and let it rise. Check after 1 hour. If the dough has doubled in size, it’s ready!
You shouldn’t overproof your dough as it might collapse.
How Do I Know If My Dough Has Risen?
It’s super simple! Your dough should be doubled in size! You can also test it by poking it with a finger: if the indent springs back slowly or doesn’t quite spring back, it’s ready!
Help! My Dough Isn’t Rising! What Do I Do?
- You used Active Dry Yeast without activating it first. If this is your case, you’ll have to toss it and start over. I’m sorry. There is no way to revive inactive Active Dry Yeast once it has been added to the dough.
- You used Active Dry Yeast but the water wasn’t warm. The water should always be around 110F. Cold water won’t activate the yeast while hot water will kill it. Unfortunately, you’ll have to toss it and start over. I’m sorry. There is no way to revive dead yeast.
- You used Active Dry Yeast but didn’t add any sugar. Yeast needs food to thrive, if you didn’t feed it, it won’t activate. Unfortunately, you’ll have to toss it and start over. There is no way to revive dead yeast.
- The yeast you used was or expired. Fresh yeast should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a week, unopened Dry Yeast has a shelf-life of 12 months but should be stored in an air-tight container once opened. Unfortunately, you’ll have to toss it and start over. I’m sorry. There is no way to revive dead yeast.
- It’s simply too cold! If you did everything right, it might just be really freakin cold! Place the dough in a warmer environment or use my “How Do You Make My Dough Rise Faster” tip (scroll up)!
- You added too much flour to the dough. It’s okay for your dough to be a bit tacky, adding too much flour will result in tougher baked goods *or* inactive dough. A packet of Dry Yeast (2 and 1/4 tsp) will rise up to 4 cups of flour so don’t overwhelm your yeast!
Pictured: Pumpkin Bagels.
Yay! I Got It! What Can I Make Now?
YAY!!!! You can successfully bake anything that contains yeast, from donuts to pizza! These are a few recommendations if you’re looking for some inspo:
- Italian Cheese Bread
- Rosca De Reyes Recipe (Latin American Three Kings Cake)
- Bavarian Cream Donuts (Better Than Dunkin)
- Pumpkin Bagels
- Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Boat Bread)
- King Cake with Cream Cheese Filling
- Russian Piroshki with Potatoes and Meat
- Homemade Hawaiian Sweet Rolls
If you have any questions or doubts, please comment down below and I’ll answer all your questions ASAP!! 💘