The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Using fresh active cake yeast

hullaf's picture

Using fresh active cake yeast

fresh active yeast bread     I cannot believe I have found a cake of fresh yeast. The expiration/use by date was three days away, it was a 18 gram "fresh active" cube by Fleischmann from a well known grocery store.  I sort of remember this type being used by my mother when I was a child but I have not seen it for years. And looking for some for years too! 

So, I tried it. The bread I made was a buttermilk whole wheat sandwich loaf; straight dough, made in one day. It turned out fine but I'm not sure there was any difference in the taste or action of the rises. What am I looking for? 

Has anyone used this kind of fresh yeast lately? Is there a noticeable difference in your breads and what kind of doughs do you use it in?   Anet

qahtan's picture

 Yes I often use the fresh yeast I can buy it at "Bunsmasters"  1 pound or 1/2 pound at a time. I think it does give a better dough and for sure a better flavour. It's a much cheaper way of buying it.....

 When I use it I just crumple it up into my flour and continue as per norm.....   qahtan

hullaf's picture

thanks "quatan" - so you just crumble it? I looked in several of my cookbooks to know how to incorporate it and most said to proof it in warm water (one even said not over 85 degrees.)  And how do you keep 1 pound of it fresh without it going stale within two weeks?    Anet

Nathan's picture

When I make yeasted breads I always use fresh cake yeast. Here in Madrid it's easy to get from bakeries as well as some grocery stores. There's no need to jump-start it in warm water. If you're making a straight dough you can either crumble it over your flour or rub it into your flour. Try not to put your salt directly onto the yeast.

Hope that helps. -Nathan



mrfrost's picture

Those are some fine looking loaves.

hullaf's picture

Thanks for the info Nathan. I'll try that next time and here's hoping I'll find that cube of yeast again. 

The recipe I used was based on one from here at TFL, long ago in 2006 by JMonkey, called "Biga vs. straight dough Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Bread" -- search under that title and you'll get a whole bunch of comments and explanations. I had some buttermilk that I had to use up so that's why I picked that recipe and made it into a straight dough, one day baking. But I have tried it before with the biga and liked that recipe better.    Anet

Rosalie's picture

I've heard, as qahtan says, that the bread made with fresh yeast tastes better.  I wonder if refrigerating the dough overnight has the same result.


qahtan's picture

I think all bread/yeast products tastes better if  left to do it's thing in it's own time without rushing by putting it in a warm place etc.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

you have more fingers.


In 2007 I was fortunate enough to attend Camp Bread, a BBGA event with lots of excellent training.  I took ond class with Didier Rosada (a world class baker who trains world class bakers) who told us that in a product line (like SAF Red label, SAF Gold label, or Fleischman's), all the yeasts were the same organism, whether liquid yeast for the trade, compressed (cake) yeast, active dry yeast or instant yeast.  And that they would all make bread identically. 


Then I took a class with Jeff Hammelman, a world class baker who trains world class bakers.  And he said he'd never use anything but fresh (aka compressed or cake) yeast.  There was just no comparison!


So, what's a poor mortal to do?  I can relate my own experience.  When we were running the bakery we started using Fleischman's fresh yeast.  It came to us in a case of 24 one pound bricks.  And then summer came.  And we got a case that looked like the inside of a bad diaper.  (If you've had kids, you know what I mean.  The sort of diaper where you call your spouse saying, "I did the last one like this, it's your turn!")  Then we got another case like that.


So, we switched to SAF Gold instant dry yeast.  We checked our forumlas, made adjustments and converted.  The big day came and no one could tell the difference in our yeasted breads.  Not me.  Not my wife.  Not my staff.  Not our commercial customers.  Not our retail customers.


In short, I really think it's much ado over nothing.  Jeff would disagree.  We all have our own experiences.




Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

I've never used fresh yeast because it is only available at the holidays, and I'm not sure my palate would be discerning enough to know the difference, but I have read several accounts of others who claim that the fresh makes better tasting bread. Enough people that I wouldn't discount it.

Given that the yeast is the same variety, it didn't seem to make much sense to me either, until I learned from inferences in the scientific literature that commercial yeasts are not pure cultures. What I'm not clear on is whether LAB are sometimes added deliberately, or they're just present as natural contaminants.

In dried forms of yeast, any LAB are dormant and don't increase in number. But in fresh yeast, there is enough water activity that they can continue to grow slowly. Over time, their growth will spoil the yeast, especially if not stored properly, but during that window of good condition, they contribute positively to the flavor profile.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Debbie, my observation supports LAB mixed in.  When fresh yeast gets old it turns to liquid, much the way a firm sd starter "melts" and goes fluid.  Or is that far fetched?  I like fresh yeast when I can get it especially for kaiser rolls, caraway twists and pizza when the white flour content is high.  I think there is a taste difference. 


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Hi Mini,


My only suggestion here is to try a double blind taste test.  Make two batches of Kaisers (personally, I prefer sourdough Kaisers, but that's another discussion).  Have someone plate them.  And then have people who don't know what is going on try them.


I doubt there will be a statistically significant preference.  Even if you find an expert taste panel.



Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Hi Debra,

Thanks for the greeting...

Nothing I've read has ever made me think that the yeast companies deliberately add lactobacillus bacteria to fresh, or any other, yeast.  They are shooting for a fresh clean taste which pure yeast delivers.


As much as I love sourdough, it tends to color the flavors of the breads, and that wouldn't be acceptable to most bakers.


I also doubt that modern yeast factories would tolerate contamination.

Like I hinted, Jeff Hammelman loves fresh yeast, Didier Rosada says, there's no difference.  Mortals like us can just ponder.

Still, when I switched from fresh to instant yeast in a variety of breads no one noticed.  Not me.  Not my staff.  Not my wife (my most exacting taster).  Not my resellers.  Not my wholesale accounts.  Not my retail customers.

I lean towards the notion that people treat the different yeasts differently and that causes a difference.



smaxson's picture

I once read somewhere that there were a lot of dead yeast cells in the live cake yeast and that this contributed to the handling of the dough, extensibility mostly. I once tried an experiment and came to the conclusion that there may indeed be something there, but who cares? You have to be a better bread baker than I am to clearly tell the difference! I'm not going to any competition where the most ephemeral of differences can make a huge difference in where you place, and I wouldn't swear there actually was a difference other than one loaf versus another baked on another day.

I am open to the notion that at the ultimate level, there may be subtle benefits to using cake. I believe that Norm of nbicomputers feels fairly strongly in favor of caked yeast, and who am I to argue. For me, cake yeast is expensive, hard to find of decent quality and not really noticeably better than any of a number of dried yeasts. I have noted definite but subtle differences between, say, Red Star regular (which I really like) and SAF red (also really like), and even between Fleishmann's in the jar and in the one pound package. For me, Red Star regular yeast gives better results in a sponge, but the SAF is so close I generally use it as I have a lot of it on hand. But, my flour, my water, my......(fill in the blank)...may affect the different yeast strains in different ways, and where you live you may get contrary results. That is probably the reason for strong preferences! Use what works, and mess around once in a while to see if you can do better.

nbicomputers's picture


mike don't blame the yeast i would have called the supplier and had a b%&*$ fit.

i had a supplier send me a case of yeast once and it was all green molded from top to bottom. i called them and told them that if i did not have a fresh case in my hands in an hour i would be ordering my supplies from some place from some place elce.  not wanting to lose several thousands of dollars a week in orders i got the fresh case in the hour with a dozen I'm sorry. someone goofed and did not rotate the stock and the case i got was months ole.

it never happened again.

and Christmas time he sent a bottle of 30 year old scotch and a nice wine. i called him and thanked him and joked asking him if the scotch was rotated we both laughed

yozzause's picture

We used to use compressed yeast all the time when i first became a baker there was a local company that produced both compressed yeast and vinegar and it was delivered daily to the bakery.
We ensured that we used stock rotation so seldom was the product more than 1 or 2 days old. The dried yeast was the product then that was new and more difficult to come by.
How things have changed no longer a local producer and with dried yeast the norm even though that comes from a myriad of overseas countries. For home baking i find it hard to go past the convenience of the dried variety. We recently obtained cake yeast for the students to have a comparison in a class and the rest was not used before it was past its best.
For me buying dried equalls no waste.

Janedo's picture

I'm glad you mentioned the waste factor. I use cake yeast because it is VERY cheap here, but since I break off tiny, tiny pieces, there is always a bit of waste because even though I wrap up the rest and put it back in the fridge, if I'm not making a yeast bread soon after, I imagine it is full off dead yeast and go to a new block. I could be much more organized with my baking, but I'm not since it is at home and always on a whim (and I usually do sourdough anyway). So, I have used both extensively and as an at home baker, I really don't think ANYONE would say there is such a difference in taste. That is getting to a very, very picky level of things. Dry is so much easier.

But this conversation makes me want to do some more complete testing as Mike suggest (by the way, hi Mike). I'll think I'll do just that! I'm curious to see what happens with croissant dough for example.


Elagins's picture

i've used active dry, instant and now i'm using compressed for all my baking. it's fleischmann's and a 1-lb block will keep for a couple of months if i wrap it properly and keep it refrigerated.

i find that the fermentation is faster and more even, the results more predictable and the amount of control i can get over the dough much greater, in part because of the relative "dilution" of fresh compressed vs. active dry or instant, i.e., it's much easier to measure to 1/4% with frash yeast when i want to retard than with the dry yeasts.

true, the organisms are the same, but the concentrations of live to dead cells are very different in the various forms. dry and instant are made for shelf life: in my opinion, they represent yet another encroachment of industrial food on our culture, and whether we acknowledge it or not, every step we take further from our origins alienates us from the processes that all of us, as hobbyist bakers, are striving to recapture and preserve.

give me compressed yeast every time!

Stan Ginsberg

nbicomputers's picture


when the fresh yeast reaches a temp of 32 degrees throughout  it becomes dormant and there is no activity at all that is why in a cold fridge fresh yeast will last for two months. it goes bad as the moisture content leaves the yeast cells as the cell walls break down and go into the holding medium.

when fresh it will crumble sharply as it goes bad it will become pliable like clay and window putty

fresh yeast is 100 percent alive cells which is why the faster action and even fermentation.

dry yeast is between 35 and 50 % dead cells and if it  is not rehydrated correctly the percentage of dead cells increase. the dead cells have an enzyme which causes a softening effect of the gluten and the dough, one of the reasons you have to adjust the amount of flour when using dry yeast.  this is also why only fresh yeast is used in frozen dough products.

you can see the dead cells when rehydrating the yeast. when you add the dry yeast to water you will see clumps forming on the top of the water , that's the alive cells surrounding the dead ones and is also why you really need to stir the yeast to make sure all has been dissolved.

instant yeast rods are smaller and that's why thay dissolve faster

lastly if you look at dry yeast under a magnifier you will see the yeast rods have small cracks and fissures on the surface of the rods. during rehydration the surface swells and the cracks heal them self's. if not water will get in to the cracks which will cause more dead cells..  this is why the dry yeast must be rehydrated properly in the correct temp water even though some people think differently.  after making hundreds of loafs every week for years you learn these things.

i do think that many of these expert baking instructors and the authors of some of these books have a great deal of class room and tech knowledge many of them have never had real production experience or worked in a R and D lab. real production experience is 100 times better then classroom skill when consistency of product is everything and real time trouble shooting means fixing a problem fast because every minute another 100 loves are not right.

i know a lot of people turn up there nose at wonder bread,  but buy one and next week buy another and one the week after that. no matter how many you buy they are all the same and while they are not the best they are consistent and that takes the real skill of a pro baker

sorry about the end rant but sometimes i forget myself 

Rosalie's picture

Norm, I don't understand the technicalities.  I have active dry yeast, which I have been keeping in the freezer.  When I bake, I measure out maybe a teaspoon if the recipe calls for a package.  I just toss it in with the flour (fresh-ground ww, if that makes a difference) like for instant.  After the dough has been formed and kneaded for a bit, I put it in the refrigerator overnight.  I figure the yeast is getting plenty of hydration that way.  Results seem to be good.

Are you saying I still should be proofing the yeast in warm water before making the dough?