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I am using a new container of yeast from the store; I keep it well-sealed (it's a small jar) and refrigerated.

I make sure to use warm water in bread recipes - I check the temperature using a digital kitchen thermometer.

I follow instructions to let the dough rise in a warm, moist environment - I put it in the oven (which is off, but was recently warmed to 100 degrees or so) with a steaming cup of hot water.

However, my bread still doesn't rise - not in the breadmaker and not when made by hand.

Should I use more yeast? If so, how much more? (..as in just a pinch more, or as in double or triple the amount?) Should I use more sugar, so the yeast has something to eat? I'm really at a loss here. Should I give it up and use different yeast? If so, what's a trusted brand?

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You say you make the bread by hand sometimes. Does the dough rise when it's on the counter? If it's not rising then, I would think you need to simply replace the yeast. –  Al Crowley Jul 20 '10 at 12:29
    
It rises some, but not much. –  JustRightMenus Jul 22 '10 at 14:52
    
Proofing the yeast was the most effective solution, but the second best was knowing about the tap water. Four tests performed simultaneously (testing tap water & bottled water each with old and new yeast) resulted in bottled water with new yeast yielding the best results. Now, to go make bread! –  JustRightMenus Aug 1 '10 at 19:40

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You can proof your yeast to see if its still alive:

Heat approx. ½ cup (100ml) of water to about 115°F (45°C). Add a tablespoon (10g) or so of sugar, stir. Water should still be above 105°F (40°C). Add a teaspoon of yeast, stir. Within 5 minutes or so, the mixture should be thoroughly foamy.

If its not thoroughly foamy, yeast is bad (dead), dispose of it.

(Note: Metric conversions above are rounded, just like the imperial units. Don't use these conversions for baking, but proofing yeast doesn't need anything exact.)

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I'm guessing "thoroughly foamy" isn't just a light skim of foam, huh? –  JustRightMenus Jul 22 '10 at 15:00
1  
@JustRightMenus: Yep. If you do a Google Image Search for "proof yeast", here is one: howtobrew.com/images/f5.jpg ... that's thoroughly foamy. Doesn't have to be quite that foamy, but you're looking for foam, not a few bubbles on top. –  derobert Oct 1 '10 at 20:05
    
Will the good yeast be foamy even if we don't add sugar? –  TheIndependentAquarius Apr 18 '13 at 12:53

Red Star is what I have been using for a while, but I have used others in the past with good results.

If there is no rise at all, then the problem is the yeast. It can be a bit temperamental to store, and box stores don't always respect this. You could try doubling the amount of yeast in the recipe, and see if that helps, but they whole bottle is probably dead. Another bottle should solve your problems.

Some general tips for yeast: add to warm water and let sit for a few minutes, don't add yeast and salt at the same time (add some sugar first, then some flour, then the salt, and the rest of the ingredients), don't use metal bowls or utensils (this is actually pretty important--copper kills them, and stainless isn't great).

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I doubled the yeast in two different batches of bread (using a bread machine), and it rose okay. Thanks also for the note on not using a metal bowl; I usually do so, but won't any more. –  JustRightMenus Jul 22 '10 at 14:57

In his book I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking, Alton Brown notes (on pg. 37) that if your tap water is heavily chlorinated, hard or high in other minerals, or acidic (especially where there is lots of acid rain) these things can cause strange problems during baking or even kill your yeast.

When in doubt, he recommends using e.g. a Pur or Brita water filter, or using bottled distilled/mineral water.

I know I've had problems getting yeast to rise with our Chicago/Lake Michigan tap water (which can be so heavily chlorinated that it can smell like a swimming pool!), and more success with bottled water, so it's something to consider.

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Neat - I had no idea this could be a problem. I tested my yeast (using derobert's method) using both tap & bottled water, and the bottled water test was a little more foamy. Still not foamy enough, I don't think. Next step: buy new yeast & compare. –  JustRightMenus Jul 23 '10 at 15:02

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