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EVERYTHING You Need To Know About Yeast

This article shares everything you need to know when baking with yeast. Some links in the article are affiliate links that earn me a commission if you purchase through them.

Tablespoon of yeast

Are you planning to bake with yeast? Or did you run into a problem with a yeast recipe?

Read on for all you need to know to succeed when baking with yeast.

Have more questions? Leave them in the comments.

Need ideas for yeast recipes? Check out my favorites at the end of this article.

What kind should I use when baking with yeast?

Personally, I prefer to use active dry yeast for pretty much any time I’m baking with yeast. Quite simply, it works.

Instant yeast is what people typically use for bread machine recipes, but it really isn’t that different from active dry yeast other than the granules being smaller.

For the most part, avoid rapid rise yeast or cake yeast. Rapid rise yeast gives only a single rise, and cake yeast dies quickly, so unless you’re doing a ton of baking… skip it.

How should I store my yeast?

If you buy packets of yeast, you can keep them in a cabinet until their expiration date, but honestly, the packets are far more expensive than buying a jar of yeast. Get the jar.

Once you open the jar, store it tightly sealed in the coldest part of your fridge. It will last for a year or so.

I purchase the active dry yeast “brick” at Costco, which is a pound of active dry yeast. I put as much yeast as fits into the old yeast jar I have, while the rest goes into a tightly sealed container.

That way, I don’t have to open the container majority of the yeast and it to more air and have it die faster. I simply refill the smaller jar once its empty.

Whatever you do, once you open yeast, don’t leave it sitting at room temperature.

How hot should my water be when baking with yeast?

Yeast dies if you use water that is too hot. However, you want warm enough water that the yeast wakes up and activates.

Technically, you can use cold or cool water straight from the tap, but your yeast will take much longer to proof. It’s better than killing the yeast with water that’s too hot though.

Yes, you can kill yeast with water that’s 125 to 130 degrees.

All you need is water that feels warm to you but is still comfortable to the touch. You don’t need a fancy thermometer, just use common sense.

Does my kitchen need to be hot for dough to rise?

Guess what? Your kitchen does not need to be hot for your dough to rise!

In winter, I keep my house at 62 or so during the day. That doesn’t stop me from baking with yeast, and my dough still rises.

A cooler temperature means that the dough may rise a little slower, but it doesn’t impact the time by much.

The key is to start with warm water, then cover your dough with a slightly damp kitchen towel immediately after you finish kneading it. This helps hold the heat in, while letting the yeast breathe and keeping the dough from drying out.

Regardless of the temps in your house, watch your dough. If it’s hot and humid, you may even need to let your dough rise for less time than advised in the recipe.

Can I let my dough rise in the fridge?

Why yes, yes you can! In fact, I have two reasons I often let my dough sit in the fridge to rise.

When I make breakfast recipes like cinnamon rolls or monkey bread, I want to enjoy them first thing in the morning. I make the dough the night before and let it do its first rise.

After I shape the dough, I let it do its second rise in the fridge overnight. By the time I wake up in the morning, it’s ready to pop in the oven, saving me time and energy.

I will also make large batches of dough sometimes and stick it straight in the fridge to do a first rise there. I remove what I want, shape it and let it rise for longer than I normally would to give it a chance to warm up from the fridge, then bake it off.

Regardless, while the cold of the fridge slows the growth of the yeast, it still works to use your fridge to let your dough rise.

Do I need to proof my yeast?

When I bake, I don’t proof my yeast, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It doesn’t mean you have to either.

If you have new yeast or you use a jar of yeast and cook with it regularly, you know it’s good. There’s no true need to proof yeast.

The purpose behind proofing yeast is simply to prove that it’s alive. If you know your yeast is good and that you aren’t using water that’s too hot, you can skip this step.

Make sure that if you have a jar of yeast, you store it in the fridge to keep it cold and the yeast alive longer. After six months, however, you run the risk of your yeast dying.

This is also why you want to check the expiration date on any yeast you buy at the store. I once almost bought a jar of yeast that was two years expired – no thank you!

How do I proof yeast?

If you choose to proof your yeast, simply add the water (and sugar in this recipe) with the yeast to a bowl and let it sit for five minutes.

Check on your mixture after five minutes. If your yeast looks frothy and foamy, you’re good to go. If it just looks like water and there are no bubbles or any changes, toss it and get new yeast.

Make sure you don’t have your water too hot – remember, just warm to the touch is perfect – and check your yeast expiration.

Once you know that your yeast is good to go, proceed with the next steps in the recipe.

Should I use the proofing setting in my oven?

I wouldn’t. First of all, your dough will rise, even if you have a cooler kitchen. 

But more importantly, when you use the proofing setting in your oven, many are set too warm. The few times I have done this, I always regret it.

I find that the flavor of the bread I make when I proof in the oven tastes off to me. Plus, there’s a very real risk of overproofing your dough when you try to proof it in the oven.

The only exception to proofing in the oven is when I make frozen croissants from Trader Joe’s and forgot to take them out the night before! If that’s you, check out my frozen croissant proofing tutorial.

What does overproofing mean?

Overproofing is what happens when you let your dough rise for too long. The gas bubbles (hello burping yeast!) got too active and stretched the dough more than it should.

If you get your bread to this point, you risk it falling flat because the structure you created with the bubbles can’t expand any further when you bake it. You’ll end up with unsightly loaves that don’t have the texture you want.

You want your dough to feel soft and not firm when you poke at it, but you don’t want it poofy. It may take a little time to judge, but you’ll quickly learn.

What do I do if my dough overproofed?

Thankfully, you CAN save dough that you overproofed. Don’t just throw it away, and don’t bake it as is.

Instead, remove your dough from whatever pan you used, and deflate it, just like you do after a first rise in the bowl.

Reshape your dough, and let it rise, but note that it will take less time to rise than it did before. Watch it more carefully, and bake it as soon as it hits the soft stage.

Generally, you won’t be able to tell the difference between dough you saved after it overproofed and dough you proofed correctly the first time!

Are you ready to start baking with yeast?

Enjoy some of my favorite yeast recipes:

yeast 101

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