The bakers of King Arthur are here to solve the kitchen conundrums you share with us, whether it’s on the phone, computer, or by the good old postal service. In Ask the Baker’s Hotline, Annabelle will pick the brains of the talented King Arthur Baker’s Hotline team to tackle some of your most-asked questions. Today’s query: fresh yeast.
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Baking bread with fresh yeast, also known as cake yeast, is commonplace in a bakery setting (we use it here at King Arthur!), but it’s a rarity in the average American home kitchen. Whether you’ve seen it used on a baking show, have come across an old recipe calling for it, or are just curious about how it differs from instant or active dry yeasts, Jordan of our Baker’s Hotline has the 411 on all things fresh yeast.
What is fresh yeast, and how does it differ from instant or active dry yeasts?
Originally, fresh yeast was the only yeast option, until dried yeast arrived on the market in the 1940s. It comes in a moist, firm block with the consistency of clay. According to Jordan, fresh yeast lends a slightly sweeter, richer flavor to baked goods compared to dry yeast. One downside, though, is its short shelf life: Unlike dry yeast, it’s highly perishable and must be stored in the refrigerator. Even then, it usually only lasts about a week or two — opened or unopened.
Despite these differences, both fresh and dry yeast perform the same function in baking. “Dry and fresh yeast are both derived from cultures that can ferment by eating both added sugar (such as cane sugar, honey, molasses, etc.) and malt sugar, which comes from the flour’s complex carbohydrates,” explains Jordan. In other words, fresh yeast will make your bread rise just like dry yeast.
Fresh yeast vs. dry yeast: Why do we typically call for dry yeast in our recipes?
The main reason is simple: convenience. Dry yeast is what’s most readily available, and it stays fresh in the freezer for years. (That’s right, years!) Meanwhile, “A lot of grocery stores don’t carry fresh yeast, and it’s not something you typically keep on hand because of its short shelf life,” says Jordan. Because it only stays fresh for a brief period, it’s usually just a one-and-done purchase for a specific recipe.
How to use fresh yeast in recipes that call for it
Use fresh yeast the same way you’d use dry yeast. Combine all your dough ingredients together at once, including the yeast. The one small difference is that you’ll want to crumble the yeast into the recipe’s water for even dispersion, rather than tossing in the whole solid block. For best results, ensure the water is lukewarm or a touch warmer — somewhere in the 105°F to 120°F range is ideal.
How to substitute fresh yeast for dry yeast (or vice versa)
Maybe you want to use fresh yeast in a recipe that calls for dry yeast, or perhaps you’re baking a recipe that calls for fresh yeast but instant or active dry yeast is all you’ve got. The good news is that they can easily be used in place of each other.
Here’s our Hotline’s handy conversion between fresh yeast and dry yeast:
To convert from fresh yeast to instant or active dry yeast, multiply the fresh quantity by 0.33
To convert from instant or active dry yeast to fresh yeast, divide the dry yeast quantity by 0.33
Got more yeast questions? Dive deeper in our previous post: Which yeast to use?
Cover photo and food styling by Liz Neily.