The Best Tips for Baking with Yeast

LAST UPDATED: May 13, 2020 | PUBLISHED: Apr 23, 2020 | By: Julie Blanner

Get all the best tips and tricks in this beginner’s guide to learning to bake with yeast! Is instant yeast (also known as rapid rise yeast) or active dry yeast better for your recipe? Find everything you need to know right here.

A round loaf of bread made with instant yeast on a marble surface, blue linen napkin to the side.

The recent weeks have shown us a fascinating look at the inner workings of supply and demand in our grocery stores. While shoppers have rushed to fill their carts with everything they might need, it seems that baking supplies are often in short supply.

Even if we CAN find items, it seems that many of us are unsure what to do next! 

Take yeast, for example. Recently I’ve received so many questions about how baking with yeast and how it works! I thought it would be a great opportunity to delve a little deeper into the details of this surprisingly tricky technique for baking.

A round loaf of bread on a marble surface, blue linen napkin to the side.

Baking with Yeast

I’ve heard from so many readers that have said yeast has been difficult to find on their shelves!

Luckily, it’s still available online in a variety of forms, although you’ll sometimes pay a premium.

Marble surface with two packets of rapid rise yeast.

With those shopping difficulties in mind, I recently brought you a full printable list of baking substitutions, as well as a round up of pantry-based recipes that can get dinner on the table with very few ingredients. 

I’ve shared recipes that require yeast in the past, like these incredible homemade cinnamon rolls, quick dinner rolls, and homemade bread. No bread machine required! 

I love bringing you delicious ideas to inspire you in this often difficult situation. 

Let’s learn a little about yeast today, shall we? 

A loaf of round homemade bread baked with yeast, sliced in half on a marble surface.

Learning to Bake with Dry Yeast

There are many types of yeast on the market available to bakers, and while you can use a cream or compressed yeast, those are more commonly allocated to experienced bakers.

Admittedly, it’s a confusing world to navigate, but one that I think can be simplified with a little basic knowledge. Once you eliminate the fear, yeast is actually quite simple to use and can make such an incredible impact on your baking.

For today’s purposes, we will concentrate on the two types of dry yeast that are most commonly available and easily interchangeable: active dry yeast and instant yeast.

A marble countertop with a bowl of instant yeast beginning to activate

What is Yeast? How Does Yeast work?

Yeast is a living organism. Yeast requires “food” and moisture to do its job. What’s the job, you ask? Yeast provides flavor and carbon dioxide in dough: it’s literally what makes your bread rise to perfection. 

It’s produced into tiny granules (that resemble poppy seeds) and packaged in small paper packets or larger glass jars. (Hence why many recipes will require a “packet” of yeast.)

A marble countertop with a bowl of instant yeast beginning to activate

Yeast prefers a fairly warm temperature (although not too hot), which is why warm water or other liquid is added to dough. 

When combined with warm liquid and sugar (the food that activates it), yeast makes dough in your bread recipes rise. 

When adding liquid to your yeast, remember the following tip: If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot for the yeast. 

A slice of homemade bread made with rapid rise yeast on a marble surface.

What’s the Difference Between Active Dry Yeast and Instant Yeast?

Active dry yeast needs to be hydrated in water before using, while instant yeast can be mixed right into dry ingredients.

Instant yeast (rapid rise yeast) tends to move things along a little quicker – which can be good or bad for experienced bakers! Many experienced bread bakers believe that a slower rise creates more flavor overall.

However, because instant or rapid rise yeast are fast acting and require a little less hands-on time, they tend to be what I choose at the grocery store! 

Looking inside a range with a bowl full of yeast dough, covered in a tea towel.
A white bowl filled with dough made with yeast.

Active Dry Yeast

Active dry yeast was the most common packaged yeast on the market until the 70s when instant yeast was introduced. It generally needs to be mixed with warm liquid prior to using in dough.

A common myth was that this yeast needed to be “proofed” or mixed into warm water and sugar to be certain that it was indeed active.

Today’s packaged active dry yeast does not require proofing, however.

A round loaf of bread made with active dry yeast on a marble surface, blue linen napkin to the side.

Is Instant Yeast the Same as Rapid Rise Yeast or Quick Rise Yeast?

Short answer? Yes! Instant yeast may also be marketed and sold as rapid or quick rise yeast.

Long answer? Not exactly. Different brands have formulated their own versions of this fast acting yeast, with slight variations that make them each a little different. However, they can all be used interchangeably with no recipe changes.

It’s often a brand-specific naming situation that can cause some confusion in this department. 

Marble surface with two packets of instant yeast.

Instant yeast has a slightly faster rise time. Because the dough rises a little quicker and requires no activation, it’s often an easier choice for beginning bread bakers! 

Which Type of Yeast Should I Use? 

Whenever possible, try to use the yeast that your recipe calls for. Following specific directions step by step in a recipe will always yield the best, foolproof results.

If you’re new to using yeast in your bread baking, I would choose an instant yeast simply because you’re eliminating the one extra step required with active dry yeast.

A slice of homemade bread made with rapid rise yeast on a marble surface.

How Do You Substitute Instant Yeast for Active Dry Yeast?

Because instant yeast rises just a touch quicker, you’ll need to use slightly less yeast when converting between recipes calling for active dry yeast to recipes calling for instant yeast.

The conversion numbers vary according to experts, but it seems that most suggest if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of instant yeast, use 1 1/4 teaspoons of active dry.

A white bowl filled with dough made with yeast.

On the flip side of the coin, if a recipe requests 1 teaspoon of active dry, try to use just a touch less instant. 

Keep in mind, your recipe will likely be just fine if you substitute in exact amounts. Baking is an exact science though, and this is something to consider.

Marble surface with two packets of rapid rise yeast.

What’s the best way to store yeast?

Dry yeast is sold in a dormant state and should always be stored at room temperature. A dark cabinet or pantry is best!

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mini loaves of bread gift wrapped