The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Yeast conversion from old recipes?

mkmcguir's picture

Yeast conversion from old recipes?

I have an old, old, cookbook that has many recipes which call for seemingly huge amounts of yeast, and I need help converting them.  For, example, for two loves of french bread the recipe is:

2 c milk

4 tbsp lard or butter

1/2 c yeast (this seems like a ton of dry yeast)

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

Please help, as there are tons of recipes like this ranging from 1/4 c yeast to 1 1/2 c yeast. I'm assuming they mean a liquid type of yeast, so would like to know how to convert it. I would love to make some of these recipes, especially the yeast cakes, but have no idea how.

Thanks in advance.


EDIT- It calls for 8 c. flour

mrfrost's picture

In this case, you will be safe by just following the manufacturer's recommendation of about 1/2 teaspoon of instant dry yeast per cup of flour.

If the dough is to long, or overnight fermentation you can use a little less. Maybe about half as much yeast for an overnight(refrigerated) fermentation.

jcking's picture

They're probably referring to cake yeast. If so; 1 cake fresh = 3 tsp active dry = 2.25 tsp instant.


copyu's picture

One-HALF-CAKE instead of one half-CUP of fresh yeast...which means, perhaps, you should use half of the amounts that Jim recommends for that recipe. He gave you the commonly-accepted one-cake conversions.

However, I couldn't find the flour amount in the original post...2 cups of liquid...I can guess the rest, but more info would be helpful if you really, really want to convert one or more of these recipes...just a tip!


PaddyL's picture

In those old cookbooks where the bread recipes call for a cup or half a cup of yeast, I always thought they meant their particular form of starter.  I do have recipes from those same cookbooks for 'yeast.'

Chuck's picture

One possibility is the old book means what we now call "cake yeast"  ...but I'd suggest seriously investigating this idea too.  I'd suggest looking in either the very front or the very back of the book and checking the table of contents for a recipe for "yeast". If you find such a recipe, that's what they really mean in all the other recipes in the book. (Note the word "starter" is just as unfortunate as the word "yeast"  ...this has nothing to do with what we call sourdough.)

mkmcguir's picture

Also, if I use dry yeast, then do I need to add liquid to make up for volume/wetness?

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

If the recipe 'yeast' was an actual starter, then yes, you'd need to adjust water (you'd also be a little light on flour, too, since starter is water -and- flour).

Another recommendation would be to find more up-to-date recipes. It beats trying to guess what they were doing 60 yrs ago (or whatever). Once you have a ton of baking experience, converting some of these older recipes becomes a bit easier and/or intuitive. For a new baker, I could just see this leading to frustration. It can't hurt to try, but just don't take it personally if it fails. For a simple French bread (as in your example), there are tons of recipes on this site alone that are modern and fairly easy for a new baker to accomplish. Best of luck...

- Keith

copyu's picture

I don't think sourdough starters were terribly 'popular' back when I was a kid, 50-some years ago, unless you were living in a mining camp or a very rural area! Every mother, aunt or granny (even great-grandmas) that I knew, who used hand-written recipes, used 'fresh' or 'cake yeast' if they ever bothered with yeast cookery/baking. You could buy fresh yeast at almost all delis and supermarkets, in NY, when I was a kid. It was as common as white flour or milk or Coca-Cola...And great bread was available ANYWHERE!

There were obviously a few 'purists' who knew about 'starters' for rye bread, but this was an era (in the USA) where baby-milk 'formulas' were touted as being BETTER than mothers' milk! Our home had commercial TV by the time I was 2 years old and there were zillions of commercial radio stations back then...and people listened! ("Four out of five doctors smoke 'XXXXX' brand of cigarettes because...") If those recipes are as old as I am, and American, they're probably talking about 'fresh yeast' amounts. However, I could be wrong...let me know if I am, please!

Best, as always,


[Edited for typo error...sorry!]

mkmcguir's picture

I have been baking breads and cakes for some time, with fair amount of success (as I also live at altitude wich can be a little tricky), I would like to try some of these recipes.... funny enough there are several kinds of yeast starter recipes in the breads section, which i also thought about doing (alas, seems like a lot of time, which I dont have).  I just want to try a few and see how they compare with modern equivalents without the yeast - like the cakes!  

The cookbook is the White House Cookbook --- I have the 1921 version, but was orinally printed in 1887!  

Side note- they have a recipe for satueed truffles, which I can't decide of they were a lot more available or it was put in in case someone wanted to spend a fortune on a side dish.


copyu's picture

Thanks for the edit...8 cups of flour means two pretty 'good-sized' loaves, by my standards, depending on the 'thirstiness' of the flour, I suppose...(I don't use 'cup' measures, though, so I'm guessing, a bit...) 

My maternal great-grandma (whom I met many times) was born in the early-mid 1880s, so my previous post still 'holds water'. I was fortunate enough to be born when my mother's large family was still alive and cooking and baking the most amazing cakes and cookies and "torte". (I had so many second-cousins and great-aunts and great-uncles that I couldn't even hope to keep track of half of them!) Most of the 'great bakers' in my family were outstanding pastry-cooks...they all spoke varieties of German and all could speak Hungarian...Turkish-inspired flaky and 'chou' pastries with vanilla custard; poppy-seed, almond or walnut rolled (or layered) cakes; (Mohnstrudel/Nusskuchen) were standard fare whenever we visited them. When they made yeasted foods, they all used 'fresh yeast'. It's what they used back in Europe.

The "Yeast Starter" recipes you mentioned would be of GREAT interest to many people here on TFL, so if you find the time...we'd love to hear what they meant back in 1921! Starters don't have to be troublesome or time-consuming, so keep reading here for the 'modern thinking'. It will help you to adapt your recipes to the 21st century, for sure.

There are many people here on TFL who live at high altitudes and they are extremely generous with their time, explaining how to adapt various recipes or timings for higher altitudes. If you're new here on TFL, may I say a big "welcome"?



PS: 'Sauteed truffles' sounds ridiculous to me! It might be delicious, but I wouldn't know what to serve with it (or 'serve it with'?) It's supposed to be nice with wild boar, I believe, but they don't have that in my local supermarket, either! copyu 


mkmcguir's picture

This is what the cookbook says:

"On one morning boil two ounces of the best hops in 4 quarts of water half an hour; strain it, and let the liquor cool to the consistency of new milk; then put it in an earthen bowl and had haf a cupful of sale and half a cupful of brown sugar; beat up one one quart of flour with some of the liquor, then mix it all together, and let it stand till the 3rd day after, then add 6 medium sized potatoes, boiled and mashed through a colander; let it stand a day then strain and bottle, and it is fit for use.  It must be stirred frequently while it is making and kept near a fire. One advantage of this yeast is its spontaneous fermentation, requiring the help of no old yeast; if care be taken to let it ferment well in the bowel, it may immediately be corked tightly.  Be careful to keep it in a cool place.  Before using shake the bottle up well.  It will keep in a cool place 2 months, and is best the latter aprt of the time.  Use about the same quantity as of other yeast."

There you go on the from scratch recipe (requiring no old starter).  



jcking's picture

Sounds interesting. I'd like to know how it turns out.


clazar123's picture

It was right around 1900 that commercial yeast became available but was probably considered prohibitively expensive. For housewives needing to make the family bread, it might have been worth spending the "pin money" in order to have the consistency of performance.Before commercial yeast,it was either from the brewers or from your own yeast pot. Back then, if your yeast died, it really was a terrible inconvenience. On the other hand, every one had some so you just got some from the neighbor baker. The concentrated yeast became available in moist,crumbly blocks that were cereal based and required refrigeration (which was spotty), hence the need to  "prove" the yeast to make sure it was alive. Then dry yeast became available and did not require refrigeration but still needed to be "proved".

The 1921 cookbook could very well have some "old" recipes in it that refer to liquid yeast that the housewife kept in a pot in the pantry. They didn't have a feeding schedule because they baked so often they just replenished it to make more so they'd have it for the next bake. They also didn't refer to it as sourdough. I have several old cookbooks and several church cookbooks from that era. They just call it "yeast". Different cultures may have  had different ways of making this yeast, just like today.

Have delicious fun!

hanseata's picture

For a really old recipe I would follow mrfrost's advice and calculate the instant yeast per cup of flour. Look, how it turns out, and tweak it, adjusting to what you find.


diverpro94's picture

If it's fresh yeast (caked yeast), here's a conversion chart that might help....




Fresh Yeast      to     Instant Dry Yeast

1oz (28g)         =     1/3oz (9g)

4oz (113g)       =      1 & 1/3oz (38g)

8oz (227g)       =      2 & 2/3oz (76g)

1lb (454g)        =      5 & 1/3oz (151g)

3lb (1361g)      =      1 lb (454g)