How to Make Yeast Bread

Learning how to make homemade bread is much more doable than you think! With just a few simple tips, it's easy to make all your favorite yeast bread recipes. These step-by-step instructions will help you get it right every time.

Trust us: Homemade bread is SO much better than store-bought—and yeast breads are super simple to make, too! Follow our guide to learn how to make yeast bread in all its different forms. We have French bread recipes and white bread recipes, and you can even learn how to make your own whole wheat bread. We'll also share some secrets about the different kinds of yeast so you can choose the best one for your baking. Homemade bread has never been simpler.

Step 1: Choose a Yeast Bread Recipe

The first step in learning how to make bread is to choose your bread type. Are you a fan of soft-textured white breads, hearty artisanal breads, mixed-grain loaves, or slices of sourdough? Perhaps you're looking for a sweet bread recipe or even one with chocolate. You can also start with a specialty bread like a French bread recipe or a recipe for yeast bread rolls. Each style of bread has a slightly different method, but all of them start with the same key ingredients—flour and yeast. And many follow the same bread recipe steps outlined below. Count on kneading and rising to create texture.

Tip: Looking for an easy bread recipe with yeast? Try our No-Knead Bread.

Step 2: Choose a Bread Yeast

It might seem like a basic question, but what is yeast? It's important to know about this ingredient for successful yeast breads. Yeast is a microscopic fungus (don't let that turn you off) that feeds on sugar in the dough to make little carbon dioxide bubbles that get trapped in the dough and make it rise. It works slowly and helps develop flavorful dough. Yeast for bread recipes comes in a variety of forms; be sure to use the yeast specified in your bread recipe.

Active Dry Yeast: This is the most common yeast for home baking because it's easy to use and yields reliable results. These tiny, dehydrated granules come in packets and larger jars and are mixed with flour or dissolved in warm liquid before they are used.

Quick-Rise Yeast (also called fast-rising or instant yeast): A more active strain of yeast, it cuts the rise time by about a third. Quick-rise yeast can be substituted for active dry yeast except in bread recipes requiring the dough to rise in the refrigerator and in dough using sourdough starter. Therefore, in many cases, you can transform any bread recipe into a quick yeast bread recipe simply by using quick yeast.

Compressed Yeast (also called fresh yeast or cake yeast): This type of yeast comes in small foil-wrapped square cakes and is sold in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. It works well for bread, especially loaves with long rise times, but this style of yeast has a short shelf life and must be refrigerated. Soften it in warm water according to the package directions before using.

Starters: Sourdough bread is made without added yeast. A starter allows wild yeast to grow, which enables the bread to rise naturally, giving the bread a tug-apart texture as well as sour, tangy flavor. The starter is made of yeast, warm water, flour, and honey or sugar, and it ferments over five to 10 days. You can keep the starter going for a long period of time by adding honey or sugar every 10 days to "feed" it (if you're sharing the bread recipe, for instance).

Step 3: How to Proof Yeast

To make sure your bread rises, you need to activate (proof) the yeast. Follow these tips on how to proof yeast:

  • Use the yeast before the expiration date on the package and keep any opened yeast in the refrigerator.
  • For any bread recipes with yeast that call for mixing the yeast with a warm liquid, be sure to check the temperature of the liquid yeast-water mixture with an instant-read thermometer before you add the yeast. The acceptable range is 105°F to 115°F. If it's too hot the yeast will die and your bread won't rise. If it's too cold the yeast won't activate, also causing the bread not to rise.

Step 4: Prepare Your Bread Dough

To get your bread dough ready for kneading, follow the instructions in your bread recipe, keeping these tips in mind. 

  • Use an electric mixer to beat a portion of the flour and the remaining ingredients together, making sure all of the flour and yeast are moistened.
  • Use a wooden spoon to stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can (avoid an electric mixer at this stage because it can strain the motor). Stir the batter until the dough looks ropey and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Bread-Making Tip: Always add the minimum amount of flour in the range given in your bread recipe. If you add too much flour during mixing and kneading, the bread can become heavy and dry.

Bread Flour Tip: What about using bread flour? Substituting bread flour for all-purpose flour in bread recipes can be tricky. Bread flour contains more gluten and protein than all-purpose flour, making it ideal for baking breads. However, when using bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, you usually need less bread flour. For the best results, use the type of flour specified in your recipe rather than substituting one for the other.  

Step 5: Knead the Bread Dough

For many bakers, one of the best things about yeast bread recipes is kneading the dough—it can be a soothing and satisfying process. Here's how to knead dough for your yeast bread recipes:

  • To knead the dough, fold it and push down with the heel of your hand.
  • Flip over dough, fold it, and push down again. Repeat the process over and over, adding enough of the remaining flour as needed, until the dough reaches the stiffness specified and is smooth and elastic.

Wondering how long to knead dough? Follow these guidelines:

  • Moderately soft dough is slightly sticky and used for rich, sweet breads. It requires 3 to 5 minutes of kneading.
  • Moderately stiff dough is used for most nonsweet breads. It is slightly firm to the touch and requires 6 to 8 minutes of kneading.

Tip: Lightly flour your hands before kneading to keep the dough from sticking to them.

Tip: You're finished kneading when the dough is soft and smooth but not dry, and holds together nicely in a ball.

Step 6: Shape the Dough

Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl that is twice as large as the ball of dough. Turn the dough over to grease the surface, which will keep it from drying out. The greased bowl keeps the dough from sticking. Cover dough with plastic wrap that's been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray so it won't stick to the wrap. Now your dough is ready to rise.

Tip: For best results, round dough into a smooth ball with your hands before you put it into a bowl to rise. A rough surface can allow gases to escape, which will prevent the bread from rising.

Step 7: Let the Dough Rise

A lot is happening as your bread rises. The yeast is multiplying and creating carbon dioxide bubbles, and the gluten is reinforcing the bread's structure as it balloons in size. The dough is also developing flavor.

Place your yeast bread dough to rise in a warm (80°F to 85°F), draft-free place. An unheated oven with a bowl of warm water on the rack below works well. For the first rise, the dough should double in size. It is ready when indentations stay after two fingers are pressed 1/2 inch into the center

Tip: Rising times for yeast bread recipes are only an estimate. It's important to continually check the bread dough. The temperature and humidity outside, the temperature of the rising spot and of the ingredients, and the ingredients in the dough can all affect the rise time.

Once the dough doubles in size, deflate it by punching your fist into the center of the dough, pulling the edges in. (Deflating the dough after it rises releases the carbon dioxide built up in the dough and further relaxes gluten, making it easier to shape.) At this point in the process, most yeast bread recipes require that you let the dough rest about 10 minutes. Letting the dough rest also relaxes the gluten, making the dough easier to shape.

Step 8: Bread Dough's Second Rise

Once your loaf is shaped and in a pan (if you're using one), cover the dough and let it rise again in a warm place. This time, let it rise just until nearly double in size. If the dough doesn't double in size for this second rise, your bread will rise higher when baking (this is called "oven spring").

Tip: If you're making yeast bread rolls, shape as directed in your recipe.

Step 9: Bake and Cool Bread

Place the loaf of unbaked bread in a preheated oven and bake until the bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped with your finger. If the loaf is browning too fast but doesn't sound hollow, use foil to create a loose tent, loosely cover the loaf, and continue baking (yeast breads containing butter and/or sugar, such as a sweet bread recipe, often need this step). Immediately remove the bread from the pan and cool it completely on a wire rack. This allows air to circulate around the bread, keeping the crust crisp as the bread cools. Once your bread has cooled, sample a slice and follow your recipe's instructions for storing the leftover loaf.

Yeast FAQs

Q: What's the difference between bread machine yeast vs. active dry yeast?
A: Bread machine yeast is specially formulated for use in a bread machine. It becomes active more quickly than active dry yeast. In addition, while active dry yeast generally needs to be dissolved in water before use, bread machine yeast can be mixed directly with other dry ingredients. Therefore, we do not recommend substituting one yeast for the other in your recipes.

Q: What is nutritional yeast:
A:
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that's sometimes used in vegan and vegetarian recipes to add nutrients plus a satisfying cheese-like flavor. Because it is inactive, however, nutritional yeast cannot be substituted for other yeasts in bread recipes.

Q: What is Red Star yeast?
A:
Red Star yeast is not a type of yeast, but rather a brand of yeast. This company offers many types of yeast, including active dry yeast, quick-rise yeast, cake yeast, and fresh yeast. You can use Red Star yeast in any of your yeast bread recipes as long as you use the specific type of yeast called for.

Q: Can I make bread without yeast?
A:
 Wondering how to make bread without yeast? A bread without yeast is known as a quick bread. Such breads rely on baking soda or baking powder (rather than yeast) to make them rise. Banana bread, corn bread, scones, biscuits, and muffins are all examples of quick breads.

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