Is Fresh Yeast Important When Baking Bread?

updated Aug 4, 2022
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(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

I don’t bake with yeast all that often, but I always reach for the packets of dry yeast when I do. But what about those little cakes of fresh yeast, the ones professional bakers are always talking about?

It was time to find out more about fresh (or cake) yeast, and see what the fuss was all about. How is it different from dried yeast, is it easy to use, and would breads made from fresh yeast taste better? After some experimentation, I can say I didn’t find there to be a noticeable difference in flavor between fresh and dried yeast.

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

What Is Fresh Yeast?

Yeast is made of a single-celled organism called saccharomyces cerevisiae. This organism multiplies rapidly when fed sugar in a moist environment. It is mostly sold as dried dormant granules, known as active, instant, or rapid-rise yeast. Dried yeast has a long shelf life and can be stored at room temperature.

Fresh yeast, sometimes called cake yeast or compressed yeast, is a block of fresh yeast cells that contains about 70% moisture and is commonly used by baking professionals. It’s pale beige in color, soft and crumbly with a texture similar to a soft pencil eraser, and has a stronger yeast smell than dry yeast.

Buying Fresh Yeast

Due to its short two-week shelf life and the fact that it needs to be refrigerated, not all markets carry fresh yeast or only carry it seasonally. If they do carry it, it’s most likely found in the dairy section near the butter.

Make a note of the expiration date so you use the fresh yeast before it goes bad (and there’s always the risk that it already has gone off because it’s so perishable), and keep it stored well-wrapped in the refrigerator until you use it. It can also be stored in the freezer, but let it come to room temperature before using.

Do not use yeast that is hard, dark brown, has a crust, or if there is mold growing on it.

How to Convert Between Dry and Fresh Yeast

If you’re trying to convert between dry and fresh yeast, here’s the ratio:

2 1/4 teaspoons dry active, instant, or rapid-rise yeast granules (usually one 1/4-ounce packet) = 2/3 ounce fresh yeast

Fleischmann’s conveniently sells their fresh yeast in .6-ounce cubes, so it equals one packet of dry yeast, whereas Red Star sells it in 2-ounce blocks.

Using Fresh Yeast

To use fresh yeast, crumble it into small pieces first. After that, you can add it to the dry ingredients or soften it in warm water and proceed with the recipe. Fresh yeast is great in breads that require a long, slow rising time, as it activates more quickly than dried yeast and also stays active for a longer period of time.

Is Fresh Yeast Better than Dried?

Some claim that breads taste better or sweeter with fresh yeast than dried, although others think that the flavor is actually the same. When I made a sandwich bread with fresh yeast, I didn’t find the flavor that noticeably different from bread made with dried yeast.

Would I use fresh yeast again? It wasn’t hard to use since the crumbling only took a minute, and since my favorite grocery store carries a lot of harder-to-find products, acquiring it isn’t hard. However, it did cost more than dried yeast, was way more perishable, and didn’t make a noticeable difference in flavor.

I was glad to finally try it, but I think I’ll stick to dried yeast in the future! Regardless of which option you choose, just be sure to avoid these common mistakes when baking with fresh or dry yeast.