Cake yeast, also known as compressed fresh yeast, isn't commonly seen in stores today. Most of what's sold in yeast packages is dry yeast, because it has a longer shelf life than fresh yeast. However, that shouldn't dissuade you from using cake yeast, as long as it is truly fresh and active. Test its activity level first before using it in your favorite recipes.
Things You'll Need
- Cake yeast
- Warm water
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 2-cup capacity liquid measuring cup
- Measuring spoon set
- Candy, meat or probe thermometer (optional)
Observe your cake of yeast. It should be firm and moist, and should smell only of yeast. If it's dry and crumbly and the smell seems off to you, discard it and get new yeast. Cake yeast doesn't keep very well unless it's frozen, so if it's exhibiting any of these signs, you're better off without it.
Measure out a teaspoon of yeast. Do this by crumbling a little bit off of a corner of the yeast, then scooping it into your measuring spoon and leveling it off.
Measure 1 cup of warm water. Water should be warm to the touch, but not so warm that you cannot comfortably touch it. Aim for just slightly warmer than body temperature. If you'd like, you can use a thermometer to check that your water is between 100 and 115 degrees, but it's not necessary--your fingers should be able to tell you when it's the right temperature.
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Swirl it around. Stir in the sugar and dissolve it as well.
Watch your yeast water. It should start to bubble within mere minutes as the hungry yeast is activated and begins feasting on all that lovely sugar and moisture you've just given it---if it's still alive, that is. If your yeast is dead, nothing will happen at all. You'll just have a cloudy cup of water that smells faintly of yeast, yet shows no signs of life. Discard your entire cake of yeast if it's dead, as there's no way to revive it.
Once you've proven that your cake yeast is alive and well and ready to rise to the occasion, bake your favorite yeast recipe as normal.
Tips & Warnings
- You will often be instructed to let your yeast breads "proof" before baking, usually at least twice or more during the process. Proofing is exactly that: It's where the yeast proves that it's active by causing your bread to rise as it eats and causes your dough to ferment, trapping the gases of its fermentation inside your dough.
- The 100-to-115-degree window is the optimal temperature under which yeast is happiest. Temperatures lower than that won't allow your yeast to activate, and temperatures higher than that will kill your yeast.
- While high temperatures kill yeast, cold ones do not--they merely slow it down. That's why it's advisable to store all yeast (both cake and dry) in your freezer when you're not using it. Freezing your yeast significantly prolongs its life.
- The Professional Chef; Culinary Institute of America; 2006
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