How to Proof Yeast - Bob's Red Mill Blog
How to Proof Yeast
Healthy Living on September 8, 2017 by

How to Proof Yeast

Yeast is probably the number one most important ingredient in baking. Especially with breads and other doughs, yeast is what makes your baked goods rise. You may not exactly understand how that all works, but what is important to know is that without live or active yeast, your bread will probably not leaven and reach its full height, and your bread will not reach its full potential. What you may not know is that yeast is often sold as “active” or alive, and it can go bad or die over time. So why is it important to use active yeast? And how can you tell if your yeast has gone bad? We have put together a handy guide to tell you all about active dry yeast and how to get the most height and fluffiness out of your baked goods.

How to Proof Your Yeast

Proofing yeast is basically just ensuring that your yeast is alive and still eating, which is actually easy to observe with your eyes. No special tests are needed, you just need to basically create an environment in which yeast is typically prone to start working, and see whether it does or not. Yeast likes warm environments, but too hot will kill them. The environment should also be moist and full of yummy sugars to be the ideal environment for yeast to start showing you what they’ve got.

Step 1: Mix the Yeast and Water

  • Take a small amount of the yeast, and measure out the appropriate amount of water. Mix the two together, then heat the water to about 80°F.

Step 2: Add Some Sugar and Wait

  • Add a little bit of sugar for a little yeast feast, and wait. The yeast should start eating the sugars, in which case you will start to see bubbles from the carbon dioxide that is forming. This process typically takes about 5-10 minutes.

Step 3: Ready to Bake

  • If you see the bubbles, then it is safe to assume that your yeast is still alive and kicking—go ahead and make your bread dough. On the other hand, if no bubbles form, then you may have dead yeast, and you should definitely get a new stash before baking for the best results.

What Is the Point of Yeast?

Great question. You have probably heard that yeast is what makes your bread rise in the oven. But how exactly does that happen? There are fermentable sugars in the yeast that are broken down during the kneading process. This releases carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in the dough, and causes it to expand (and therefore, rise!). So, because there are literally gasses trapped inside the matrix of the dough, any products leavened with yeast have that light, airy texture to them that makes bread so delicious. Yeast also gives off that typical “bread” flavor into the dough, with most of the flavor being released in the crust and diffusing into the rest of the bread. Without yeast, your breads and pastries would be flat and not have that flavor that makes your dough rise and your bread so delicious.

Why Active Yeast?

During that fun yeast fermentation process we described above, the yeast emits gasses. Okay, we said that already. But what we did not tell you was that it emits those gasses as a byproduct of eating (yes, eating) sugars and other parts of your dough. Basically, yeast is a live microorganism that feeds off of sugars. This may sound really creepy, but just bear with us. Without being “active,” the yeast cannot eat the sugars, and therefore you will not get those gasses which are the key to the entire bread-making process. Thus, we have to make sure our yeast is still alive before we start making our dough, so that we get the maximum rise out of it.

Types of Yeast

Before the 1850s, yeast was actually gathered from the air around us and available only in a sourdough culture, which is why sourdough bread was so popular. Today, things have changed a bit, and you can get yeast in a few different types—mainly dry yeast, compressed or cake yeast, or instant or quick-rise yeast. The dry yeast will most likely come in small pellets, like our Bob’s Red Mill Active Dry Yeast. Fresh yeast is kind of like a paste of sorts, and instant yeast will look more like a ground-up powder. Dry yeast is what we like to use, and you have to proof it before you use it to ensure that it is still active and eating away in order to produce the right gasses for leavening. If you proof instant yeast, however, you may accidentally activate its rising tendencies too early and waste the whole batch—so only proof dry yeast or compressed yeast.

Proofing Yeast

Proofing, or what used to be referred to as “proving” yeast, is a process by which you can determine if your yeast is still in a good place to be doing its job—namely gobbling up all those sugars in your recipe and spitting out carbon dioxide that you need to leaven your bread. If your yeast is “dead” or “inactive” then you will need to get new yeast—there is no way to revive it or liven it up again once it goes bad. Dry yeast can last up to 12 months, but there is no guarantee. We recommend storing it in the refrigerator, especially after it is opened. The only true test to see if the yeast is still alive, however, is to proof it, no matter how long it has been in the pantry or fridge. It only takes a few minutes and is way easier than making your entire dough and finding out the yeast is dead the hard way. We call it the hard way because that is what your bread will be without live yeast—hard and flat.

How to Proof Your Yeast

Proofing yeast is basically just ensuring that your yeast is alive and still eating, which is actually easy to observe with your eyes. No special tests are needed, you just need to basically create an environment in which yeast is typically prone to start working, and see whether it does or not. Yeast likes warm environments, but too hot will kill them. The environment should also be moist and full of yummy sugars to be the ideal environment for yeast to start showing you what they’ve got. Take a small amount of the yeast, and measure out the appropriate amount of water. Mix the two together, then heat the water to about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Add a little bit of sugar for a little yeast feast, and wait. The yeast should start eating the sugars, in which case you will start to see bubbles from the carbon dioxide that is forming. If you see the bubbles, then it is safe to assume that your yeast is still alive and kicking—go ahead and make your bread dough. On the other hand, if no bubbles form, then you may have dead yeast, and you should definitely get a new stash before baking for the best results.

Do I Really Need to Proof?

There are definitely some different schools of thought on this. Most yeasts these days last longer than they used to, so if you bake with yeast often enough then you are most likely fine. Especially if you go to a reputable store with decent turnover, and if you are not near the listed expiration date, you should be fine. If your yeast sits on a shelf and rarely gets used, on the other hand, then it will probably benefit you to do a double check before dumping it in your dough. It really is up to you on your preference, but we prefer taking a few minutes to proof over dumping an entire batch of dough in the end.

Dissolving Yeast

You may have seen instructions somewhere for dissolving yeast, or activating it. If you end up using dry yeast, you will notice that it comes in little pellets. The pellets are perfect for longer shelf life, but need to be activated a bit when you do want to use them finally. These pellets are typically too large for the yeast to be fully dissolved in the kneading process, so you will need to help it along. This just means that you need to dissolve the yeast in water before adding it to your dough. There is no special trick to this, but it is different than proofing your yeast, so you will need to do both processes separately. You will probably need to dissolve your proofing yeast in water before proofing, so that it is able to show full activity in the water once you add the sugar for it to munch on.

Cake Yeast

Cake yeast seems like it would be used in cakes, but that is not the case. Cake yeast is also sometimes referred to as compressed yeast, and actually comes in a “cake” of sorts that has the consistency of a paste. It goes bad faster than dry yeast, but you can store it in the freezer or refrigerator for several months. When using cake yeast, you will find that it becomes active faster (as it does not need to be activated) and it stays active longer than dry yeast, giving you even more gasses and a lighter, airier bread product. You should give it a full 24 hours to defrost before using it, and interestingly enough, compressed yeast tends to have a milder taste to it than dry yeast, so it is perfect for sweet, airy breads like Italian or French breads.

Whether or not you are 100% on the science of the yeast organisms (we do not even like to think about it too closely), you can physically see the difference between working active yeast and dead yeast in a bowl when you proof it. This proofing gives your bread the best advantage during the rising process, and allows you to wow your family and friends with the fluffiest homemade bread they have ever enjoyed. We always recommend proofing your dry active yeast and testing out all of the above tips and tricks. Questions about yeasts or proofing processes? Let us know in the comments below and we will do our best to answer them! Happy baking, everyone!

15 Comments

  1. karen marie
    Not a particularly useful post. It provides no information on how to proof yeast. Like, for instance, what is "warm water"? Some recipes say 100 degrees F, others say 105, most just say "warm water." Should one stir the dry yeast into the water or just drop it on top? I've never heard anyone suggest, as you do, that the water should be heated to 80 degrees AFTER the yeast is put in it. I've only ever seen instructions to add the dry yeast to already "warm" water. Photos of baked goods are nice but in a post about "proofing," it would be more helpful to have included photos of what successfully "proofed" yeast looks like and, perhaps, the different types of yeast and - if the poster were very ambitious - photos of the results of a recipe being prepared using dry yeast and cake yeast. As it is, this post is a fail.
    Reply
    1. Joyce L
      Karen,
      You are spot on about including more information about how to proof yeast. The article explained more about how yeast was and how it works, but it lacked on directions on how to proof it.
      I use active yeast when I bake. When I proof yeast, I mix one pack of yeast in warm water (110° - 115°) and about a teaspoon of sugar. I set the timer for 10 minutes and if there are bubbles in the bowl, I proceed with my recipe.
      Happy Baking
      Reply
  2. Gretchen Payne
    I made AHA's recipe for white bread. using frozen active dry yeast. Recipe did not say to add sugar to yeast. Let it proof for half hour. Bread was not light as boughten bread, more dense. Could my yeast have been too old?
    Reply
    1. Sarena Shasteen
      That is a definite possibility. We recommend you speak with our recipe specialist at 800-349-2173 to discuss your recipe in detail.
      Reply
  3. Pym
    I don't use sugar but sugar subs will yeast proof in subs?.
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Pym, yeast will not proof with sugar alternatives, like Stevia or Xylitol, but it will proof with other forms of sugar like maple syrup, honey, or coconut sugar.
      Reply
  4. Heather Hodge
    I've proofed my yeast and it's good. However, we're on a boat on rough seas and I've had it on the gimbled stove (no heat). How long is it still good to use for bread? I only need to start adding flour. It's been sitting for about 3 hours. Or, do I start fresh with a new packet?
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Whitney Barnes
      Hi Heather - That's not something we've actually tested. For security, I'd recommend starting with a new packet of yeast.
      Reply
  5. Pam
    Is your active dry yeast rapid rise
    Reply
    1. Whitney Barnes
      Hi Pam - it is not rapid rise, it is Active Dry and will need to be dissolved in water/liquid to proof.
      Reply
  6. Carol
    I agree with others who think Red Mill's method of proofing is strange. I'm guessing that to warm the water with yeast you'd have to heat it on the stove with a thermometer. Is that correct? Today I've been Googling a lot of sites about methodology and this is the only one that said 80 degrees. I'm sticking with the 110 -115 degrees and will add sugar to my next proofing although the bread I made today rose just fine without it. (It's still too warm to slice.)
    Reply
  7. David Hall
    I've seen the never ending yeast continue with a fresh yeast so where can I get the piece of fresh yeast in the first place to begin the process, thanks in advance
    Reply
  8. Jessica Kweitel
    Jessica Kweitel
    Hi - I love this article. Fun and informative information. For all of you that want more information, look up some recipes or do a little kitchen experimenting.
    Reply
  9. frieda krpan brandes
    frieda krpan brandes
    I love cake / fresh yeast. I cut up the cake in small, 1.5" cubes, and freeze them.
    1 cube will do 2 large breads no problem. The bread tasts better.
    Reply
  10. Chris
    Not sure about this article.
    I see that there are two processes here, one proving that the yeast is good and another activating the yeast before adding to dough, which is unnecessary if it's instant yeast. So you don't need to activate instant yeast but you may want to test that it's viable.
    It says that the yeast feeds on sugars contained in the yeast? Surely it feeds on sugars contained in the flour and any added sugar.
    It also says that if you prove it before you add it to the dough, it will 'use up' its ability to prove the dough? I think that is wrong too and that whatever type of yeast you activate would remain active and growing unless it is killed by a harsh environment. Therefore the activated yeast would happily continue to grow and eat sugars when added to flour.
    The article is using a lot of words to say something fairly simple
    Reply

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