The Fresh Loaf

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Why won't my yeast activate?

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maxine's picture
maxine

Why won't my yeast activate?

I've been baking bread for years now with moderate success, I'm certainly not an expert, but lately I've been having the most frustrating trouble.  I can not get my yeast to activate.  I've tried everything, checking the exact temp of my water, adding sugar, buying new yeast(two times!), trying bottled water, and using bowls made of glass instead opf ceramic.  No matter what, the yeast just sinks to the bottom of the bowl in a grainy murky mess.  It's quite depressing.  What could I be doing wrong?  Is my house inhabited by some sort of no-rise spirit?  Help!

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Some further questions:



  • What do you expect to happen?

  • How long do you wait?

  • What are your amounts of water and of yeast?


Also, have you recently by chance at the store gotten "instant" or "bread machine" yeast rather than "active dry"? (In my experience although packages are clearly labelled in text, there's often an additional clue of a "blue" band or tint either around the edges of the label or behind some of the text.)


This slightly different kind of yeast is not supposed to be dissolved at all, but rather simply stirred in to all the other dry ingredients. ("Proofing" it in a bowl of water to make sure it's working is a reasonable thing to do  ...but you may want to simply discard the results rather than try to make bread with them.)


General opinion seems to be this "new" yeast process really is actually better (unlike lots of other products that advertise "new, better" but really aren't). The old stuff stays around at the same time (my guess why is some combination of limited manufacturing capacity and tradition). In my experience most markets do not carry both kinds of packets, so unless you read the package fairly thoroughly you may not realize you're getting different stuff.

maxine's picture
maxine

I expect it get foamy, I waited 40 minutes, I used 2 tbs. water to an eighth tsp of yeast.  I used three different brands, all expiring sept 2011.  Two were regular active dry and one was rapid rise.  They all offer directions for bread machines and without.  I have no bread machine.  Could it be the humidity? It seems as though that would just activate it more quickly though.  Any other ideas?  Maybe I'll just try the dry method of mixing, but I haven't seen a recipe for ciabatta that allows for that!

LindyD's picture
LindyD


Maybe I'll just try the dry method of mixing, but I haven't seen a recipe for ciabatta that allows for that!



http://tfl.thefreshloaf.com/node/2984/jasons-quick-coccodrillo-ciabatta-bread


;-)

maxine's picture
maxine

Thanks Jason!

Chuck's picture
Chuck

"Rapid rise" is usually just another name for "instant" or "bread machine".


While this newer kind of yeast is probably "better" and is a switch worth making in less problematic circumstances, my personal opinion is using it is not a solution to this particular problem. If your yeast won't activate for some reason, I assume it won't rise either for the same reason, and using the newer kind of yeast would just lead you to a lump of dead dough.


You can use either kind of dry yeast in any recipe, whether it gives explicit directions or not. (This is another case of the general idea of treating a recipe more like a "guide" than a dictator:-) To be really precise, when substituting "instant" for "active dry" you could lower the quantity about 25% (and the other way when substituting "active dry" for "instant" raise the quantity about 25%), but rise times vary so much with things like temperature anyway that the exact starting amount of yeast may not be a big deal. Sure, sometimes you have to "adapt" the procedure a little since you probably put "instant" yest in with the other dry ingredients and dissolved "active dry" yeast in with the other wet ingredients.


I mentioned "bread machine" yeast only because the packages mention the term so frequently, not because I think bread machines or bread machine recipes are either a good idea or a solution to your problem.


A lot of the things you mention (humidity, ceramic, etc.) strike me as grasping at straws and very unlikely to have anything to do with your problem. Here's my new guess: you're using tap water, and your local municipality got in trouble because of a high bacteria count in their water, and so started putting largish quantities of some noxious chemical (maybe even just very large quantities of chlorine) in your water, and it's killing your yeast. Try buying a gallon of distilled (for irons?) water at your grocery store. If that works, but you don't like the price, see if either a Britta filter or a filter on your tap work as a substitute.


(Also, I forgot to ask, what temperature are you measuring the water to, something around 105F? "Not cold to the touch" may in fact be only 65F, low enough that yeast will only grow so slowly it may not get foamy. On the other hand if your hot water heater has been cranked up higher than typical [not enough hot shower water and no kids in the house], the water may be 140F, so hot that it will kill the yeast.)

maxine's picture
maxine

Hi Chuck, I thought the bowl changes and humidity were a bit over board(but it made me feel thorough).  I had the same idea about water, especially since all our toilet flappers went bad at the same time!  I bought some Evian and tried that- no luck.  I will now try distilled water.  Oh yeah, I was heating the water to 100F, is that close enough to 105?  When I get this bread made I believe that I will feel an even greater sence of satisfaction than usual!

Chuck's picture
Chuck

100F should be fine. What's desirable is "about" the same as body temperature, about the same temperature you'd heat a baby bottle to. Five or ten degrees one way or the other shouldn't make much difference in the yeast coming to life.


Any old "bottled" water eliminates a possible problem with "tap water". (It is very suspicous though that all your toilet flappers failed about the same time as your yeast:-) So for the purpose of figuring out what the heck is going on, all the bottled waters should all be the same.


Despite all the electronic ink we've spent so far on this thread, the bottom line seems to be we've made zero progress. It's pretty clear to me that something weird is happening  ...but I can't figure out what the problem might be. All my guesses have turned out to be dead ends, and I haven't got any more. Can somebody else analyse/guess this problem, starting over with the original problem description?

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Hi Maxine, since you've been so thorough in your attempt to determine the problem, I have no doubt you have checked the expiration dates on the packages.


Is your active yeast made by the same company?  If so, I would set aside the packages for identification purposes and contact the manufacturer to report the problem.  It could be a bad batch.


You can outsmart the active yeast demons by switching to instant yeast.  No need to go through the song and dance routine of activating it - just mix it with your dry ingredients. 


BTW, welcome to TFL.


 

proth5's picture
proth5

100-105F sounded a bit warm to me, but I checked and that should be ok.  Back in the day we used "a drop of water on your wrist should be neither warm nor cold" which was probably a little cooler.


One last desperate thought - have you checked the accuracy of your thermometer?  I've had off readings even with digital thermometers and certainly other types are even more prone to inaccuracy. And if your water is too hot it will kill the yeast.


Good luck!

maxine's picture
maxine

It is new, but the "just warm" method was what I was using.:(

Franko's picture
Franko

Have to admit this one's a stumper all right. Have you tried making a dough with it yet? I'm wondering since you don't mention having done so. The reason I ask is that there is a good way to find out if your yeast is active or not . Try making just a small amount of dough, using only flour, bottled water, salt, and yeast in the normal proportions. Let it sit for 45-60 minutes at 76F covered, then take a portion of it and put it in a deep bowl of hot (not scalding) water. The piece will sink to the bottom straight off, but in 10-15 min. or less, if the yeast is active the little ball of dough will rise to the surface. If it doesn't then it probably means the yeast is dead and you should contact the manufacturer and give them the lot # on the package so that they can check it out. Let us know how it goes, and good luck .


Franko

maxine's picture
maxine

I'm, gonna' try it!


Thanks.

midwest baker's picture
midwest baker

Add a little bit of honey or sugar or even flour to the water, just to make sure the yeast has something to "eat".


Mary

Chuck's picture
Chuck

To read "private mail" messages, look at darker brown sidebar at the left side, find the search box then below that your name then below that the bullet item "Messages", and click on the "Messages"  ...then after the screen redisplays find and click on whatever you like.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

New thoughts


Did you transport the yeast packages at one time or in the same manner?  How where they transported?  Is it possible that they were over heated in the transportation, hot car (it can get hot fast) in the sun, sun shining on the bag or box?  I've had this happen to me so that is why I always put my fresh bought yeast into my pocket or carry it on me until I can store it in a cool place at home.


I would suggest getting some new yeast (observe how it is stored there as well) and transport it carefully.

Rick D's picture
Rick D

I'm a "weekend-warrior" bread baker (ie: not a pro) but why bother activating the yeast? Mix the yeast in with the dry ingredients (minus the salt) and continue with your recipe as you normally would. The yeast will activate along with the rest of the ingredients, and rise your bread regardless.


My understanding is that in the old days, when commercial yeast was not always reliable, proofing or activating the yeast was useful, but these days, most commercial yeast is perfectly fine.


I've never had a problem with this technique.  I use Fleichman's "active dry" yeast.


Good luck!


--Rick


 

1530dean's picture
1530dean

I just experienced the same problem and tried chnging the yeast adjusting the temperature even switching to mineral water but nothing worked.

As a last resort I tossed out the sugar and tried a fresh scoop and presto it started to proof.

So seems my sugar was contaminated what from I am not sure..!

Jewell's picture
Jewell

I've been baking bread for 39 years..(my mother taught me)...for the first time in all those years three separate brands of yeast will not activate...using best flour made, using sugar even tried honey, warm distilled water...mason qt. jar...wanting to make a sour dough bread...I have always proofed yeast (old habit) and have Never had this issue....question...are (is) any one else having DEAD yeast....I wonder if something is going on in the floor, harvest, processing, etc...business.....please chime in on suggestions ...I have not sent the three different brands back to their home office for analysis...Please check with your baking friends let's see if a pattern is somehow "active."  thanks