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Learning How to Activate Yeast is an important step in baking. Having lively, healthy yeast ensures soft, puffy, fully risen dough each time.
Baking hasn’t always been one of my strengths. A little over a decade ago, the thought of baking anything from scratch was scary and seemed impossible.
Neither of my grandmothers baked using yeast, so I didn’t have any clue how to get started. I wanted to learn to make homemade bread, cinnamon rolls, and pizza dough, but I’d long heard that proofing yeast was difficult.
Eventually, I gave up and bought a bread maker. It was one of those models that did everything for you, from mixing the ingredients, to the rising, then the baking. It was great, except the bread had a really hard crust that was ridiculously hard to cut.
After a while of using the bread maker and fighting to cut through the crust, I decided it was time to learn how to proof yeast and bake homemade bread. I’ve been baking from scratch ever since, and that bread maker is long gone!
It was over 10 years ago when I went on the search for a French bread recipe and found a blog, much like ours, that showed step-by-step photos. Those photos included how to activate yeast, and since they were so helpful, I decided to include step-by-step pictures in this post, too.
Equipment Needed for Proofing Yeast:
You may not need every single piece of this equipment, but this is what I have handy when I’m activating yeast.
- Measuring Cup: I like a glass measuring cup that holds a cup of liquid. It doesn’t need to be larger unless I’m activating a large batch of yeast.
- Spoon or Whisk: For mixing the yeast and sugar.
- Measuring Spoons: For measuring the yeast and sugar.
- Water: Tap water is fine as long as it doesn’t contain a lot of chemicals and heavy metals. Most tap water is warm enough to activate yeast without having to be microwaved.
- Yeast: Instant or active yeast that hasn’t expired and looks healthy (not clumped and discolored).
- Sugar or Honey: Either one will work, and you only need about a teaspoon to feed the yeast.
How to Activate Yeast:
Choose the recipe that you’d like to use that requires yeast. Most of the time, the yeast needs to be activated. Even if it doesn’t, this is a good way to make sure the yeast is alive and will help ensure the dough will rise properly.
- The recipe should specify the amount of water needed to activate the yeast. Place the water into a measuring cup. It should be warm water (just above lukewarm), about 110-115 degrees. Think about the temperature of warm milk or a warm baby’s bottle. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast.
- Check the expiration date of the yeast. The yeast may not activate if it’s way past it’s expiration date. Next, add the required amount of yeast to the warm water.
- Feed the yeast! I like to add a little sugar or honey to the water and yeast mixture, then give it a stir. This isn’t absolutely necessary, but it seems to give the activation process a bit of a boost. I don’t recommend using salt. It seems to kill off the growth process.
- Be patient. Initially, I like to stir the yeast, just to make sure everything is well mixed, but after that, leave it alone. A healthy activated yeast will start to pop to the top and bubble. After about 10 minutes, the top of the water should be foamy, frothy, and smell slightly of wheat or beer.
How Much Yeast is in a packet?
A small, foil packet of yeast equals 2 1/4 teaspoons. It normally takes 1/4 cup of warm water to activate that amount and yields approximately 1/2 cup of fully active yeast.
Does active yeast have to be activated?
That’s debatable. This post from King Arthur Flour shows some pretty convincing evidence that it does not. Additionally, the cinnamon rolls recipe that I linked to above calls for instant or active yeast to be dumped directly into the other ingredients without being activated (unless you want to). The dough rises well either way. I would say, activate the yeast if you are worried about the dough not rising. Otherwise, don’t.
Does yeast need to be refrigerated?
An unopened jar of yeast should be stored in a cool, dark place, like a cabinet or refrigerator. After the jar has been opened, transfer it to the refrigerator and use it within four months. Yeast can also be frozen and used within six months. This is why it’s important to periodically activate yeast prior to starting a baking recipe to ensure the yeast is still alive.
Need some Baking Recipe Ideas?
These recipes all use yeast, so you’ll be able to practice your new “how to activate yeast” skills.
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How to Activate Yeast for Baking
- Choose a recipe you'd like to make that requires activating yeast. The recipe should specify the amount of water needed to activate yeast. (Usually, this is approximately 1/4 cup). Place the appropriate amount of water into the measuring cup and heat in the microwave for a 10-15 seconds if needed. The water should be warmer than lukewarm but not hot. Aim for 110-115 degrees (think warm milk or a warm baby's bottle).
- Next, check the expiration date on the yeast to ensure it isn't expired. Add the specified amount of yeast to the water. Add 1 teaspoon of honey or sugar to the water and yeast. Stir the mixture to combine.
- Let the mixture sit, undisturbed, for about 10 minutes. The mixture should begin to look tan, foamy, and frothy on the top. If you started with 1/4 cup of water, the end result should be close to 1/2 of liquid including the foam.
- After the yeast activates, follow the recipe as written.