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How to tell if yeast is still good

I've got some instant dry yeast that has been in my refrigerator for about a year, kept sealed. Though I've test-proofed it to make sure it's still active, and it most definitely is (it bubbles, smells yeasty, all that good stuff) my bread just isn't coming out right. The texture of the bread ends up being flatter, denser and almost.... wet but cracked, if that's possible. I'm wondering if it could be my yeast, even though it seems to be alive and kicking and then some? The bread does rise. It would be a shame to throw out the yeast since I have quite a bit still, but then again, it sure is a shame to be disappointed after going to all the trouble of making a loaf from scratch...

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  1. there should be an expiry date on the package. I would not use it beyond the expiry date.

    1. I'm not sure the problem is the yeast. If it's still alive and active. Is it possible for it to have "slowed down?" In that case, maybe you'd need a longer rise?

      What I actually wrote to say is that I've heard instant yeast will keep virtually forever in the freezer. So far, my experience seems to bear this out.

      1. Is it possible that you're overcompensating for what you think might be poor yeast by adding too much? Try using less yeast and a longer rise.

        1. If it bubbles and smells yeasty then the problem isn't your yeast, and adding a bit too much(less than 50% excess wont change the recipe, but it will speed the process up slightly. I have to wonder how longer your initial ferment is, and then how long you are letting it proof before baking, as that is likely where the the problem lies.

          1. According to Fleischmann's: Stir 1 envelope yeast into 1/4 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees F). To proof (foam) yeast, stir in 1 teaspoon sugar; let stand 10 munutes. If mixture doubles in volume, yeast is active.

            1. Is your loaf over-rising, perhaps, then collapsing in the oven? You describe the texture as wet but cracked, which makes me think of overrisen dough. Other things to consider are a too-low oven temp: the yeast will be killed by the heat before the dough heats up enough to expand, leading to a slack-textured loaf (ie, no oven spring). Also, under-kneading (thus underdeveloped gluten) can result in a dough that won't hold together enough to trap air & thus rise fully.

              My go-to bread books are by Peter Reinhart, Daniel Leader, and Rose Berenbaum. All of these authors have detailed troubleshooting sections that can help you narrow down your problem, as well as provide possible solutions.

              Instant dry yeast, chilled, should last a long time (at least a year).

              3 Replies
              1. re: Hungry Celeste

                Instant yeast will last a very long time. We kept in a fridge for years before using it up and I have heard anecdotal reports of someone who used hers up after thirteen years. The problem is probably not the yeast. Even if it has died back some, merely extending fermentation time would allow it catch up--as you can see in making the Lahey No-Knead bread that starts with a smidgen (or maybe two smidgens) of yeast and still leavens a loaf. Celeste's suggestions about under kneaded or a too low oven temperature or an overrisen dough all sound like possible causes for the problem. I also wonder if Becky may have used too much salt. I dought whether it is the flour, unless Becky is baking in one of those areas of the south where an all-purpose flour is formulated with very low protein for use in biscuits. One other possible problem is that she is fermenting the dough at too high a temperature. Everyone tells you to put it in a warm spot, but bread rises perfectly well at comfortable room temperatures. Too high a temp doesn't help the yeast. Another possibility is that loaves are proofing, the skin has dried out and hasn't got a chance to expand in the oven. It might crack, but the oven spring will be restricted.
                I would suggest for starters that Becky make sure the dough is well kneaded--about 300 turns by hand or 45 seconds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Salt should be about 1/2 teaspoon table salt to each cup by scoop and scrape (5 ounces by weight) of flour. Let the dough rise in a lightly oiled graduated cylinder (like a large juice container), remove it when it just reaches doubled volume, fold it, and let it rise again. Then fold and shape the loaf. Keep the loaf covered so it won't dry out while rising. You can put it in a large vegetable bag, inflat it, and close the end. Or put corn starch on top of the loaf and drape plastic wrap over it. It is hard to judge by unexperienced eye when a shaped loaf has risen and is ready for the oven, but the classic test is to press on it. If it is still rising, the indentation will fill in quickly. If it is ready to go, it will fill in slowly. Score and bake. Bake too soon rather than too late. And it helps to steam up the oven as that keeps the crust moist and helps it to expand.
                Good luck.

                1. re: Father Kitchen

                  Fr. Kitch, I was plagued by overrisen loafs for quite a while. I kept following lame recipes that called for placing the bread in a warm place....turns out that my kitchen's "warm place" ran around 85-90 degrees, and the rising times were always too long. Way too warm for a nice, slow rise--turns out that my "cool spot" is 75 or so, which is fine for dough. I finally learned to look at the bread, and not at the clock. A recipe calibrated for a Maine kitchen in February won't be foolproof in the subtropics in August!

              2. Is the flour as old as the yeast? Old flour does all kinds of whacky stuff.

                1. I might be wrong but instant yeast doesn't need proofed. (does it?) I thought you could add it directly into the dry ingredients. If you're proofing it and then adding it, could it activate it to soon?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jcattles

                    Instant yeast does not need to be proofed , but I always use active dry yeast and I seldom proof it. It adds 10-20 minutes to the recipe, but that is rarely a problem when baking bread.

                    My guess is that the OP fermented her bread too long and the yeast consumed all of the sugars in the flour. I have also noticed that many people use too hot of water when they proof the yeast. I am hesitant to use liquid that is over 100 degrees, and I usually prefer 70-80°, unless I am in a hurry.

                    The flavor of bread is a function of time, so success is being able to get maximum fermentation w/o going overboard and having the yeast die because the is consumed all of the sugars.

                    Municipal water can be a problem because the chlorine used to disinfect the water will kill the yeast, so I prefer to use a day old bottle of tap that I have passed though a Brita pitcher. You can use bottled spring water if you prefer.

                  2. Yeast lasts a long time in the refrigerator; I've got some from a large package that's over 5 years old, still going strong. If yours is still bubbling away, then the yeast is not the problem. What the problem is, I have no clue, though - sorry....