How to Make Yeast Bread for That Bakery-Fresh Taste at Home

Make all your favorite yeast bread recipes with this step-by-step dough-making process that 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've got easy yeast bread recipes for beginners, such as no-knead bread and white bread. You can also learn how to make whole wheat buns or our Test Kitchen's famous cinnamon rolls. We'll also share some secrets about the different kinds of yeast so you can choose the best one for your baking. Making homemade bread has never been simpler. Be prepared—that freshly-baked bread smell will have everyone flocking to the kitchen for a taste.

Step 1: Choose a Yeast Bread Recipe

Everyday Artisan Bread
Andy Lyons

The first step in learning how to make bread is to choose your bread type. Are you a fan of soft-textured white bread, 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 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 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.

Step 2: Choose a Bread Yeast

opened yeast jar and packet with teaspoon

It might seem like a basic question, but what is yeast? It's essential 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 bread 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 various 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. Look for these tiny, dehydrated single-cell organism granules in packets and larger jars ($5, Walmart).

Quick-Rise Yeast (also called fast-rising or instant yeast): A more active yeast strain, it cuts the dough preparation rise time by about a third. Quick-rise yeast ($5, Walmart) can be substituted for active dry yeast except in bread recipes requiring the dough to rise in the refrigerator and dough using a sourdough starter. 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 grocery store's refrigerator section. 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 and 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 an extended period by adding honey or sugar every ten days to "feed" it (if you're sharing the bread recipe, for instance).

Step 3: How to Proof Yeast

checking water temperature with thermometer

To make sure your bread rises, you must 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, check the temperature of the liquid yeast-water mixture with an instant-read thermometer before adding the yeast. The acceptable range is 105°F to 115°F. This is important! 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

mixing bread dough with wooden spoon
Jason Donnelly

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, ensuring all flour and yeast are moistened.
  • Use a wooden spoon to stir in as much of the remaining flour as possible (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.

Test Kitchen Tip: Always add the minimum amount of flour in the range given in your bread recipe. If you add too much flour in the process of making dough, the bread can become heavy and dry.

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 bread. 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

kneading dough for bread

For many bakers, one of the best things about yeast bread recipes is kneading the dough—it can be a soothing and satisfying process. Yeast dough gets too stiff for a mixer, so you'll need to stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can with a spoon. Stir until the bread dough looks ropy and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Follow these steps for kneading dough for your yeast bread recipes:

  • To knead the dough, fold it and push down with the heel of your hand.
  • Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process until the dough is smooth and elastic.
  • You're finished kneading when the dough is soft and smooth but not dry and holds together nicely in a ball.

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

Basic Types of Yeast Dough

Wondering how long to knead dough? Most of our BH&G yeast bread recipes specify what the bread dough should feel like after kneading. For the right texture, structure, and density, follow these specifications as closely as you can. Here are the yeast dough terms and guidelines to follow:

  • Soft dough: Extremely sticky; used for breads that don't require kneading.
  • Moderately soft dough: Slightly sticky and used for rich, sweet breads. It requires 3 to 5 minutes of kneading.
  • Moderately stiff dough: It is slightly firm to the touch and used for most nonsweet bread. It requires 6 to 8 minutes of kneading.
  • Stiff dough: Firm to the touch; holds shape after 8 to 10 minutes of kneading.

Step 6: Shape the Dough

Shape the bread dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl ($7, Walmart) that's twice as large as the ball of dough. Turn the dough over to grease the surface, keeping it from drying. The greased bowl keeps the dough from sticking. Cover dough with plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick cooking spray so it won't stick to the wrap. Now your dough is ready to rise.

Test Kitchen 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

covering dough with plastic wrap
Peter Krumhardt

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. If you end up making a lot of homemade yeast bread, you might want to invest in a proofing basket ($12, Amazon), which supports dough in a certain shape as it rises. For the first rise, the dough should double in size. It is ready when indentations stay after two fingers are pressed ½ inch into the center

Test Kitchen 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 for about 10 minutes. Letting the dough rest also relaxes the gluten, making the dough easier to shape.

Step 8: Bread Dough's Second Rise

second rising of bread cough next to knift

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

Options for Shaping Yeast Dough

If you're making yeast bread rolls, shape as directed in your recipe. Here are two standard methods to shape yeast dough:

  • Pat into a loaf: Use your hands to gently pull, pat, and pinch the dough. Place, seam side down, into prepared pan.
  • Shape by rolling: Roll dough into a 12x8-inch rectangle. Tightly roll up the rectangle, starting with the short side. Pinch seam with fingertips to seal.

Step 9: Bake and Cool Bread

testing baked bread for doneness
Kritsada Panichgul

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 ($17, Target). 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.

Bread-Baking Options

Here are the most common options for tools to bake your homemade yeast bread in:

  • Dutch oven: Baking a yeast loaf in a Dutch oven ($80, Amazon) gives the loaf a darker, crispier crust than a baking sheet. This is a popular, easy option for making no-knead bread.
  • Baking sheet: A yeast bread loaf on a baking sheet ($9, Amazon) spreads out, giving it a more irregular shape. The bread's crust will have a light golden appearance. These are most commonly used for making artisan loaves such as sourdough and longer loaves such as French bread.

Yeast Bread Making FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What's the difference between bread machine yeast vs. active dry yeast?

    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.

  • What is nutritional yeast?

    Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast commonly used in vegan and vegetarian recipes to add nutrients and a satisfying cheese-like flavor. Because it is inactive, however, nutritional yeast cannot be substituted for other yeasts in bread recipes.

  • Can I make bread without yeast?

    Bread without yeast is known as quick bread and relies 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 bread.

  • What type of yeast bread is best for beginners?

    Start with an easy everyday bread recipe before moving on to other bigger, delicious bread. Try your hand at a traditional Eastern European bread such as babka. Impress the family by serving dinner with homemade rolls. Or go sweet with pretty orange bowknots or a showstopping breakfast ring.

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