Let me make a confession: For years I was afraid to make bread. Although I’m a passionate baker, this was my shameful secret. I’d page through my favorite cookbooks and magazines, always skipping the bread section, thinking one day. One day when yeast didn’t seem so temperamental and scary to me. After all, yeast isn’t just another dry ingredient—it’s a living ingredient! Those little microorganisms are responsible for creating all the bubbles to help bread achieve that perfect rise.
Finally, though, I set out to conquer my fears. I wanted fresh bread and I wanted to make it myself! I bought a few packages of active dry yeast, found a good basic bread recipe (like this one) and crossed my fingers. It turns out I was afraid of nothing! With the right temperature water and a bit of sugar, my yeast bubbled up in no time.
Soon I was baking breads, rolls and poteca—one of my family’s favorite Polish treats.
Take it from me, proofing yeast and baking bread don’t have to be daunting. Our Test Kitchen staff has the tips and tricks you need for proofing active dry yeast so you get perfect bread every time.
How to Proof Yeast
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
Step 1: Stir it Up
In a large bowl, give the yeast, water and sugar a little stir. The water should be warm enough—ideally between 105º and 115º—to really get the yeast going.
You may notice that some recipes don’t call for sugar in the proofing process, but adding a small amount at this stage provides the yeast with the energy it needs to create carbon dioxide (all those gassy bubbles that give bread its lift). And don’t worry—a teaspoon of sugar won’t impact the overall taste of the bread.
Test Kitchen tip: Feel free to substitute a bit of honey or agave syrup for the sugar—even a tablespoon of flour will do. These ingredients all serve as food for the yeast.
Step 2: Wait it Out
Be patient, and let the mixture stand for 5-10 minutes (this was always my big mistake—not letting it sit). This allows the yeast enough time to gobble up all that sugar and produce plenty of carbon dioxide. Once it’s nice and bubbly, it’s ready to be incorporated into your mixture.
If you notice that the yeast hasn’t bubbled much after 10 minutes, the yeast might be old. You can still use old yeast in a recipe, but it will take longer to rise. In general, though, be mindful of expiration dates, and be sure to store yeast in a cool, dry place—even in the fridge or freezer.
That’s all it takes to get yeast going! Now that you’ve got this simple process down, it’s time to master some of our favorite recipes. We suggest these tasty Parker House rolls or a loaf of whole wheat French bread.