Bread baking can be complicated, partly due to all the variables involved in using yeast. There are several types of yeast you can use in baking, but two of the most common are active dry yeast and instant yeast, also called rapid-rise yeast. Instant yeast and active dry yeast involve some of the same preparation steps, but your total baking time will be shorter with instant yeast since it can significantly reduce the time it takes dough to rise.
Active Dry vs. Instant
Both instant yeast and active dry yeast are sold in individual packets; in small jars; and in larger, bulk, 1- or 2-pound bags. Both can be used for nearly every bread recipe that calls for yeast. Packets are convenient because they are already portioned into single-use amounts, but if you bake often, it's worth buying a larger quantity of yeast. Store the extra yeast in airtight containers or zip-close bags in the freezer for up to a year.
According to baker Peter Reinhart, author of Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, active dry yeast loses about 25 percent of its cells during processing, so instant yeast is more potent. Instant yeast is also quicker to activate and quicker to promote rising.
When using active dry yeast, you need to first hydrate the yeast in warm water and let it sit for several minutes until it "blooms," or becomes fizzy. With instant yeast, there's no need to hydrate; just add the yeast directly to the other dry ingredients of the dough. The dough will not suffer if you do hydrate instant yeast in the same way as active dry, however.
Hydrating Instant Yeast
Hydrating instant yeast takes just a few minutes.
- Stir 1 teaspoon of sugar into 1/2 cup of warm water until the sugar dissolves completely.
- Add the amount of yeast your recipe recommends. Stir again until the yeast dissolves completely.
- Let the mixture sit at room temperature until it begins to form small bubbles on top, which will usually take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Combine the yeast mixture with the other dough ingredients, as per your recipe.
- Decrease the total amount of liquid in your recipe by 1/2 cup to account for the water you used to dissolve the yeast.
Water that's too hot can kill your yeast. For best results, use tepid water that's no hotter than 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
How Instant Yeast Works
Instant yeast works more rapidly than active dry yeast. You won't notice immediate rising once you mix up your dough, but you should check its progress earlier than your recipe recommends. Instant yeast may cut the total rising time of your dough in half.
You may substitute instant yeast for active dry yeast in any dough recipe. Use 3/4 the amount of instant yeast as active dry.
Instant yeast works fine in bread machines, too. Use 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast for each cup of flour in your recipe, and use liquids that are 30 to 50 degrees cooler than liquids in doughs you knead by hand or with a stand mixer.