For a beginning baker, approaching a project that uses yeast can be scary. In truth, baking with yeast can be a satisfying experience if you follow a few simple tips. Here’s everything you need to know about baking with yeast.
Active or Instant?
You can face a multitude of yeast choices in the baking section of most supermarkets. Don’t panic. The two basic types are active or instant yeast (we’ll leave rapid-rise and bread machine options for another day).
For most applications, either of these types will work. The main difference is that active dry yeast, as the name implies, needs to be ‘activated’ (in liquid) to start the process, while instant yeast can be mixed directly into dry ingredients.
Saf Instant Yeast, $7.93 on Amazon
A popular brand among bakers.
Instant yeast is also more forgiving in terms of temperature tolerances, but there’s little difference otherwise, so don’t stress. Either will work if a recipe calls for mixing the yeast with water.
One other thing they have in common: Both types can expire, so read the next tip carefully.
The Best Yeast Is Fresh Yeast
When I was growing up, my dad and I made cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning every year. Sometimes they were great, and other times they were…not. I honestly believe this came down to the fact that one time we’d buy new packets of yeast, and next year we’d use the old ones. To give yourself every chance of success, check the expiration date on your packet and when in doubt, buy new yeast. Store it in the freezer if you don’t bake often.
If you have some yeast of unknown origin, you can check its health by dissolving a pinch of sugar and a pinch of yeast into a half-cup of lukewarm water. If it’s alive, the yeast will begin to bubble and foam a little bit in just a few minutes. If it doesn’t, time for new. Yeast is the fuel to your baking success, so save yourself time and frustration by starting with healthy yeast every time.
(Note: “Fresh yeast” is also a term often used to refer to cakes of yeast, but these are not necessarily superior, and not what we’re referring to here.)
Think Like Goldilocks: Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold
Yeast thrives at temperatures up to about 115°F (46 C), but temperatures above that can be fatal to the fungus (yes, it’s related to mushrooms!). Instant yeast is a little more heat-tolerant, but I like to aim to use water at about 110°F (43 C), which feels like a nice warm bath.
ThermoPro TP03 Digital Instant Read Thermometer, $12.99 on Amazon
If you want to be as precise as possible, this will do the trick.
Same goes for the dough. Once your dough is ready to rise, put it in a warm spot. Somewhere from 70-80°F is ideal, so if your house is cold, look for a cozy location (like the inside of your oven with the light turned on—be careful not to bake it prematurely!). If your house is warmer, things may go faster than expected, so keep an eye on it.
Related Reading: 5 Common Bread Making Mistakes That Will Ruin Your Loaf
Now, Get Baking!
If you’re having trouble finding yeast, or just want to try harnessing the wild yeasts in your kitchen, try making a sourdough starter.
Header image courtesy of Viktorné Lupaneszku / Moment / Getty Images