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How to activate yeast in 3 easy steps

If you want to bake with confidence, learning how to activate yeast is the first step. For some reason, this terrifies about 99% of the people I know. Not just the activating, but the rising, kneading and baking that usually comes with it. But baking soft cinnamon rolls or a loaf of homemade bread won’t happen without it. This the part you don’t want to miss–let me show you how easy it is!

Maybe you’ve heard or lived the horror stories of trying to bake with yeast. You didn’t make bread. You made hockey pucks.

You didn’t make cinnamon rolls, you made petrified stone for your flower bed. Flat, hard, dry stuff that just didn’t do what you thought it would. What went wrong? It was something with your yeast which works as the leavening agent (the thing that makes bread rise).

There are only two things you can do to yeast: 1) not wake it up or 2) kill it. Both of which will make your bread flatter than a flitter. Because we all have absolutely no idea what a flitter is, but it sounds good.

Where do I get yeast? 

You’ll find yeast in the baking aisle near the flour. It’s sold in a jar (way too much for most people to use) or in a three pack strip. Simply cut one or two packets from the strip to use as your recipe states. Each packet is about 2 1/4 teaspoons of the jarred kind.

Is there more than one kind of yeast?

Yep. You’ll probably see “fast acting” (sometimes called Rapid Rise) and regular. I just use regular. You aren’t going to save any time with the rapid rise kind really. There’s also fresh yeast, but it’s harder to find and not worth talking about right now.

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Before you activate yeast

Before you properly activate your yeast with my method, do me a favor and check the expiration date on the package. Flip over the strip and make sure it’s still in date. Even if it expires that month, you should be fine. Just don’t use it if it’s out dated. It’s probably useless and there’s no point in risking in.

How to activate yeast step 1: Warm water

This is the part that usually gets people, but it’s easy. Yeast needs warm water to activate. How warm? Experts say about 110 degrees but who’s checking that? Here’s how I do it: run some tap water until it’s warm. Not hot. Just warm. Now bump the faucet till you can say “Well, that’s definitely hotter than warm. Not so hot I want to wash dishes in it or anything, but hot enough.”

That’s the temperature you want. Fill your cup with the amount of water called for in the recipe (usually a cup) and sprinkle your packet of yeast over the top of the water. You don’t even need to stir it in. That’s what I did in this picture:

liquid measuring cup wit yeast sprinkled over the top

How to activate yeast step 2: Add a little sugar

Once you get the yeast on the water, add about a teaspoon of granulated sugar. Yeast is fed by sugar and this will help it multiply and activate with a little snack in its belly. Basically it speeds up the process.

Drop in the sugar and give it a stir with a spoon. After a couple of minutes it will start to look cloudy and have a little bit of foam on top. Be patient. The time is not yet! It looks like this:

a close up of a mixing cup with yeast as it begins to foam

How to activate yeast step 3: Give it time

Depending on how warm your house is and how warm your water is, this step may take longer for some people. TV people say “five minutes” until your yeast starts to foam, but in my house where it’s cool right now, this step can take up to 15 minutes.

Sometimes I just stand there and watch my yeast like a nut case waiting to see something bubble to the top (and it will). When I see that, I just go ahead and throw it in my dough. But if you want to be totally sure, wait for this kind of foam or activity in the cup:

step 3: a measuring cup showing the yeast fully foamed and ready to add to a recipe

Once you see the foam, you’re ready to use your yeast in any recipe it calls for. If you DON’T see foam and you’ve been patient (given it 15 minutes or so), try again with another packet. If you made your water hot, try reducing that heat a bit and give it another try.

Just don’t go on and put it in your recipe like that. Lord knows nobody wants to waste hours baking something that is dead on arrival.

Still have questions? Watch me here:

Are you ready to bake? I knew it. 🙂

Get started with these easy recipes: Pull Apart Pumpkin Bread, Easy Yeast Rolls, or Soft Cinnamon Rolls. 

Still have questions about how to activate yeast or anything on this topic? Comment below and let me know–I’m glad to help!

Nic

Saturday 25th of December 2021

It is suggested that hot water from the tap is not fit for consumption, due to the way it is heated. I boil a bit of water, and add that to cold. Easy to adjust if it's too or cold.

Rachel Ballard

Thursday 30th of December 2021

Hmmm...well I have major issues with the quality of tap water but it's not because of how it's heated. Folks who use this recipe are welcome to use any type of warm water that suits their lifestyle. --Rachel

Gaby

Saturday 27th of November 2021

Sigh, so many questions! I made 2 bowls of water with yeast and used the second bowlful once it activated. When I was done I noticed the first bowl had activated too. How do I dispose of the extra bowl of water with activated yeast? Your directions have been the most helpful, so thank you! Gaby

Rachel Ballard

Saturday 27th of November 2021

Hey Gaby, you can just pour that yeast out and down the drain if you don't want to use it. I keep frozen yeast granules in my freezer all the time but I've never tried freezing already activated yeast. It might work but you'd have to test that for me and report back. :) --Rachel

Steve

Wednesday 17th of November 2021

What happens if you use more water than the recipe calls for?

Rachel Ballard

Wednesday 17th of November 2021

Well, then you'd probably end up messing up your recipe and getting a super wet dough that's hard to work with. You can activate the yeast in as little as a tablespoon or two of water if your recipe called for that, or if it called for several cups of water, your yeast would still activate just fine. If you have used too much water, better toss it and do it again. --Rachel

Linda Brown

Friday 12th of November 2021

My yeast just has bubbles, This is my 2nd attempt to make butter rolls the first I think I killed the yeast so this time I used the warm tap water it has sat over ten minutes I'll let it sit more but it looks like it needs stirring and there's bubbles... Help!

Rachel Ballard

Friday 12th of November 2021

Hey Linda, thankfully you don't have to stir yeast for it activate. By bubbles...you mean just a couple floating on the water? Or something else? Yeast doesn't bubble...it makes thick foam. Watch this video I made and you'll see it come up to the surface of the water. If you have something similar, you're good to go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDQyp7DbYKg --Rachel

kathy

Sunday 17th of October 2021

can i use monkfruit in the process of activating? i use this as a sugar substitute, i just bought my yeast at trader joes two days ago and have gone thru 4 packets and wont activate, dont know why, exp on yeast is 2022

Rachel Ballard

Sunday 17th of October 2021

Kathy the yeast activation doesn't have to have a sweetener so just leave out the Monkfruit. As to the activation, it's probably working and you just aren't realizing it or you just aren't giving it enough time. If the water is warm, just put the yeast in and wait. In some cases you may need to wait 10 or 15 minutes and all it will do is make some white foam that comes to the top of the water. It won't bubble or fizz or do much fancy. I actually watch mine and as I show in the video that goes with this post, you'll actually see some white thick stuff "roll" up to the surface. That's all you need to see. Watch this video: https://youtu.be/CDQyp7DbYKg it should help some. --Rachel

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