When In Doubt Proof Your Yeast
My wife and I are having a terrible time making yeast bread. Every recipe we have tried has failed to rise. Any idea what we may be doing wrong? We have tried about 5 different recipes including yours and cannot get the bread to rise.
Without more information I’d have to guess that it’s the yeast.
Yeast is very sensitive to temperature.
If you are getting the yeast too hot you will kill it.
If too cold, you won’t kill the yeast but you can severely retard it.
That’s why packaged yeast can be stored in a freezer and not kill it. And it’s the reason why fresh garden vegetables that are to be frozen must be blanched in boiling water first before freezing them. The boiling water kills yeasts that could survive freezing.
With temperatures of less than 48ºF yeast is inactive and in a state of suspended animation.
With temperatures between 50ºF – 70ºF yeast is slowed down but will still cause bread to rise.
For most modern bread recipes that use a rapid rise or regular yeast the ideal temperature for yeast fermentation is between 90ºF – 105ºF. If you are adding liquid to the yeast it should be as warm or a little warmer than normal human body temperature.
With temperatures greater than about 115ºF yeast action begins to slow considerably, and at temperatures greater than 135ºF the yeast is killed
My suggestion is to get a thermometer and proof your yeast for a while. By “proofing yeast” you can determine if the yeast is active or not.
To proof yeast you need to add a small amount of sugar to the yeast when you “soften it” to see if it begins to make gas.
Softening yeast is the process of adding warm water or other liquid to the dry yeast.
In the photos below, you can readily see the stages that the yeast will go through.
First I add about a teaspoon of white sugar into a bowl with my yeast. I then add warm water to the dry yeast and sugar.
Next I stir gently to dissolve the yeast and then set the bowl aside.
Within 5 minutes or so the yeast will start to thicken and bubble. And within 10 minutes the yeast will begin to climb over the sides if a shallow bowl or cup.
The sugar feeds the yeast and the warm water causes it to begin to produce gas.
Always remember when baking bread or anything that uses yeast – sugar feeds the yeast and salt slows down yeast. The combination of salt to a recipe that uses yeast is a way to moderate the rising and formation of gas bubbles in flour or other types of grain products.
Once I know that my yeast is living I can then proceed with my recipe.
Take care that when you add the living yeast to the other liquid ingredients that the other ingredients aren’t too hot or too cold. All liquids need to be at room temperature or just a little warmer.
Cold eggs, milk or other ingredients can slow down rolls or sweet breads. It’s a good idea to set them out ahead of time so they come to room temperature and don’t shock the yeast.
Same goes for where you put your dough to rise – too hot of a location will kill the yeast and too cold will really slow it down. That said there are bread recipes especially designed for rising overnight in the refrigerator.
With yeast remember body temperature for liquids and the temperature of a hot summer day for rising.
During the spring and part of the fall I let my bread dough rise in my gas oven when I’m not heating with wood. I turn on my the oven for just a minute to warm it up. Then turn the oven off and put the covered dough in to rise.
In the summer I don’t have to do anything special because I don’t have an air conditioner anywhere near the kitchen.
And in the winter the cook stove area is very warm so I just set the covered dough on the nearby table.