I know, it’s disappointing.
You’ve followed the recipe carefully but still, your bread hasn’t risen properly.
It’s easy to feel disheartened and be tempted to give up.
You just need to learn how to handle the yeast.
I’m going to tell you the four commonest errors that people make when working with yeast and, of course, I’ll tell you how to avoid them.
Once you understand a bit more about the yeast, you’ll be able to make bread that rises beautifully.
A Quick Check
Before I do that, can we just check what type of yeast you’re using?
Bakers’ yeast is available in different forms:
Fresh yeast – this needs to be mixed with sugar and water to activate it before adding it to the dough.
Dried yeast – As for fresh yeast, this needs to be activated with some sugar and water before you mix it into your bread.
Instant dried yeast – This can be added directly into the bread mixture.
Wild yeast – For making sour-dough, which requires a specialised baking method.
I’m going to assume that you’re not making sour-dough. I’m also going to assume that you’ve followed the instructions on the packet of yeast, activating it before use, if necessary.
Still having problems? Read on.
The advice below applies to all ‘ordinary’ bakers’ yeast, whether fresh, dried or instant.
The Four Common Errors
Novice bread-bakers commonly make at least one of the following mistakes. If your bread isn’t rising, these are the likely causes.
Luckily, once you know about the problems, you can easily avoid them, so here they are:
1 Working at the wrong temperature
Yeast is a living thing. It’s a micro-organism. You are relying on it being alive enough to reproduce, digest the flour and produce carbon-dioxide gas.
Yeast can only survive within a certain temperature range.
Using water that is too hot or too cold can, at best, slow the yeast down. At worst, you can kill the yeast completely.
Mix your dough with water that is a little hotter than your hand. If it feels warm and comfortable to you, the yeast will love it.
While we’re on the subject of temperature, it’s a good idea to let your bread rise in a warm place too.
Warm (but not too warm!) yeast will reproduce rapidly and get to work making lots of carbon dioxide bubbles that’ll give your bread the lift it needs.
2 Adding the salt at the wrong moment
Salt is needed to strengthen the gluten strands that give your bread a great texture. It is, however, detrimental to the health of yeast.
Many recipes omit to mention that it’s better not to let the salt come into direct contact with the yeast. Some people add the salt in with the other dry ingredients, right alongside the yeast, thus slowing it down or killing it.
It’s better to add the salt last so that it is less concentrated when it meets the yeast.
3 Using old yeast
As yeast gets old, it becomes less virulent and eventually dies.
If your packet of yeast is out of date, the chances are it’s not going to perform very well.
Sure, it’s worth a try but if your loaf isn’t rising then consider the fact that your yeast might be dead.
Buy a new packet of yeast.
4 Rushing things
Bread baking is not a quick process.
Yeast takes time to get going.
It is dormant when dried so it needs to wake up. Then, it needs to reproduce, so that there is sufficient yeast to inflate the whole of the dough. Then it needs to break down the starch in the flour to make simple sugars and then it will produce carbon dioxide, which is what you need for rising.
So give it time!
I usually reckon it takes about an hour for my dough to double in size after I’ve first mixed it. Then, after kneading, it might take another hour to rise sufficiently for baking.
If it’s a cold day, it might take longer.
My tip for loaves is to bake them only when the dough has reached the top of the tin. It’ll rise more in the oven but at least you’ve given it a good head start.
There’s a lot of science behind bread baking. Once you know about it, you can use it to your advantage.
- Work at a comfortably warm temperature.
- Keep the salt away from the yeast
- Use yeast that is within its use-by date
- Give it time!
With those tips in mind, your bread will rise nicely.