Reader Chia writes in to ask:
Why do we have to choose between instant and active dry yeasts? Which one do you recommend? How do I substitute one with the other? How do you keep the freshness when one buys that huge bag from CostCo or Sam’s?
Very good questions, Chia. Thanks for asking! I use instant yeast (SAF Red or sometimes SAF Gold) almost exclusively for one reason: it’s less fuss. Unlike active dry, instant yeast can be added directly to any recipe that calls for yeast, no “proving” necessary.
Back before instant yeast came into common use, dry yeast had to stirred in to warm water or milk before it could be added to a dough. The reasons were twofold. First, because the yeast granules in active dry yeast are very large, they needed to be dissolved. Second, because you wanted to “prove” your yeast was alive. The evidence of life: bubbles on the surface of the liquid.
This led to all sorts of problems and anxieties. Is the water too warm? Is it not warm enough? What signs should I be looking for? Just a few bubbles? Or a lot? Large or small? I’m sure I killed far more yeast than I grew in my early attempts at baking.
Instant yeast differs from active dry yeast mainly in that its particle size is smaller. That eliminates the need to dissolve it — you just toss it in. As for the “proving” part, that’s a step leftover from the early days of dry yeast, back when a baker could never be completely sure how old the yeast was, or whether is was any good at all. Home bakers haven’t needed to “prove” yeast for decades, but old habits die hard.
As for substitutions, if you have a recipe that calls for active dry yeast, just skip the yeast-in-the-water step. Add the equivalent amount of instant yeast to the dry ingredients in the early mixing step, and add all the liquid together. Also, if you’re working with an old bread recipe, skip the “punching down” and second rising that most of those older recipes call for. Instant yeast, because it contains yeast enhancers, works a lot faster than active dry. Which means if you let your dough rise twice before you shape your loaves there’s a good chance it will be over-risen by the time it gets into the oven.
Regarding storing, unopened dry yeast will keep for about a year in the pantry. Opened, it will keep for several months in the refrigerator or a full year in the freezer. I keep mine in the freezer in a tupperware container and just scoop it out as I need it, straight into the mixer bowl (frozen yeast doesn’t need to be thawed first or anything like that).
Hope this helps — and thanks again for the questions!