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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!

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Rhonda wyland

Saturday 16th of January 2021

What if recipe calls for milk 120’to 130 degrees. There is no water

Rachel Ballard

Saturday 16th of January 2021

You just activate the yeastin the milk exactly the same way but don't heat it to 130. That's too hot for yeast. 115 is the standard. --Rachel

Charlene

Sunday 20th of December 2020

Recipe called for warm milk which did not work so I tried 1/2 c warm water and after about 10 minutes it’s starting to double in the cup. Is it ok to add warm milk to this now as the recipe calls for 1 1/4 c warm milk?

Rachel Ballard

Monday 21st of December 2020

Warm milk will activate yeast. If you warmed it in the microwave it may have had hot spots in it that killed it, or it simply may have been too cold. If you activated it in water, you could add the 1/2 cup water and then 3/4 cup of milk. You need that liquid total to still be 1 1/4 cups. --Rachel

JAMIE PACE

Wednesday 2nd of December 2020

I am making cold dough cookies. Recipe uses 1 2 oz. cake of fresh yeast. And 1/4 cup lukewarm milk. I cannot find fresh yeast down here in the south so I have to use Active Dry Yeast. Can I use the milk instead of the water? And how much milk would I use? And if I can't use the milk, how much water would I use?

Rachel Ballard

Thursday 3rd of December 2020

Jamie you'll need to use about half as much active dry yeast than the fresh yeast amount. So 1 ounce of active dry. You'll need a scale to weigh it if you want it to be truly accurate. And yes you can use milk, just use whatever is called for in the recipe you're making (1/4 cup) and move forward. --Rachel

Lucia

Sunday 15th of November 2020

Is it normal for the yeast to dissolve or am I using water too hot?

Rachel Ballard

Sunday 15th of November 2020

Yes, it can dissolve. Sometimes mine is just laying in a clump on the bottom. As long as it foams and activates, it's fine.

Beero

Thursday 12th of November 2020

Does one need to cover the yeast to rise?

Rachel Ballard

Saturday 14th of November 2020

No not at all. You will want to cover your bowl once your dough is mixed so that you don't get a skin on the dough, but just for the yeast to activate, which only takes a few minutes there's no need.