Why Testing Yeast Is So Important for Good Bread Baking
Testing yeast is key to making great bread at home. Learn how to proof yeast so you can get started on your bread baking project.
Looking to make homemade bread? First and foremost: Good for you! Baking bread at home is one of the most satisfying kitchen projects. The smell of it baking, the first slice topped with good butter—it doesn’t get much better! Before you start stirring up your dough, though, testing yeast is an important step not to skip.
Why do you test yeast?
Yeast is a microorganism that, when activated with liquid and fed by sugars, creates air bubbles that give bread its rise and texture. Yeast needs to be tested to ensure it’s still alive and ready to behave in the recipe as intended.
Yeast that’s active and ready to go will make a great loaf of bread. Yeast that’s past its prime will leave you with dense bread that you probably will not want to eat. Find out the best type of yeast for your bread.
How to test yeast
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The easiest way to test yeast—sometimes called proofing yeast—is to add the envelope of yeast to a half cup of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar and give it a stir. The liquid will activate the yeast and the sugar feeds it. If you don’t want to use sugar, a little honey or agave syrup will also work.
You know your yeast is good and ready for baking when it bubbles and froths after standing for five to ten minutes.
Test Kitchen tip: Make sure the water you’re using is no hotter than 115ºF. Any warmer and you’ll kill the yeast and it won’t be of any use to you. Speaking of yeast, this is why bread dough rises.
How to store yeast
Yeast that’s stored properly will last longer—meaning you won’t have to run out to the store for a single packet of yeast. Keep yeast in a cool, dry, and dark place. Use by the best-by date if possible, though you can always test yeast that’s a little past this date.
If you buy your yeast in larger quantities (like the jars you see at supermarkets), you can store them in the fridge or freezer to extend the shelf life.
Can you use expired yeast?
You can use expired yeast provided that some of it is still active. Yeast that’s past it’s prime will take longer to grow and raise the dough, so only use it with bread that is made without eggs or a lot of sugar (those bread recipes need a pretty powerful proof that weak yeast can’t provide).
Be sure to test your expired yeast. If it bubbles, feel free to use it. If it doesn’t create a lot of froth, it’s best to skip it and make a good quick bread instead. Next, find out the best baking cookbooks to keep you busy.