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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Experimenting With Baking Bread Using Half the Yeast

Yeast is one of the ingredients of which I am a little low -- not about to run out, but I feel like I should conserve. For the past 3 types of bread products that I've made, I've experimented with using less yeast. The first was a batch of hot dog buns where I used about 3/4 the usual yeast. For the last two, a batch of French bread and a batch of half white, half whole wheat sandwich bread, I used half of the called-for amounts of yeast.

Lots of time, lots of attention

  • Start early in the day to allow for maximum growth of a sponge
  • Feed the sponge several times over the period of the day

I began with the water, yeast, sugar, salt, and enough good bread flour to make a sponge that was about the consistency of thick pancake batter. I did not add any fat at this point. Set it in a warm place, the oven with only the interior light on, and allowed it to develop for an hour or two.

Next, I added about one-fourth of the remaining flour. Stirred it for two minutes, the put it back into a warm place for another hour or two.

Then, I added another fourth of the flour, stirring well, and placed it again in the warm spot.

Repeated the above one more time.

With my dough now expanded quite a bit, I added the oil called for and the last of the flour, stirring well. Again, I placed it back into the warm spot.

When the dough had risen, I punched it down and allowed to stand for 10 minutes. I kneaded the dough thoroughly. I, then, divided it into loaves and put in pans (on baking sheet for the French bread), and placed in the warm spot until risen. Lastly, I baked the loaves.

I was somewhat surprised and pleased that my old recipes could work with half the amount of yeast. The original recipes for these breads come from different sources, written in various decades. 

This method of mixing only a portion of the flour with yeast, water, and other ingredients is often referred to as a long-sponge method. The loose dough is the sponge. My method for using half the amount of yeast, but working on the sponge several times over the course of a day is almost like a condensed version of developing a sourdough starter, growing the dough by feeding the yeast over time. (Only, because I grew the dough over just one day, the bread did not have the usual sourdough tang.) I suspect that this method  that I experimented with was used by many home bakers in times past, when faced with needing to conserve commercial yeast.

Different bread recipes call for different amounts of yeast. For reference: the 2 loaves of sandwich bread used 1 and 1/8 teaspoon of yeast for 8 cups of flour. The recipe in my 1957 cookbook calls for 2  1/4 teaspoons of yeast for the 2 loaves. 

Using less yeast may not be possible with some recipes, especially if they already call for very little yeast. But for my situation, I was able to halve my yeast use and still bake very light and fluffy bread.


  1. Wow, how lovely those loaves look. We have always baked our own bread so I didn't just jump into this during this time of having less. I mess around with sourdough starter and have had it over 10 years already. I created the starter myself from an Amish friendship bread starter and over time it has become my sourdough bread starter that has worked quite well. I have never dared try using it without a bit of yeast but I guess that is originally the idea is to eliminate the yeast. I can't waste anything right now during this time. For now I just make white or whole wheat bread.

    I found yeast and flour at a restaurant supply store and stocked up on big bags of veggies while I was there since regular stores didn't have too much in their freezers. We are quite well-stocked once again after a grocery run last week.


  2. Lily, have you ever tried making the artisan type no-knead bread? A great recipe for this is on "Pinch of Yum." Just google this site and type in miracle no-knead bread. It is baked in a covered Dutch oven pan. It's so easy and delicious!

    And the kicker is that it only takes a half teaspoon of yeast. Her recipe calls for instant yeast, which I use. Is that what most baking yeast is anyway? I often add some nuts or raisins to mine or substitute a cup of wheat flour.

    Midwest Gal

  3. Ooh, good to know. So, why do you wait to add the oil? My geeky side wants the science behind this. Normally I try to churn out bread quickly as my time is limited--I suspect that is why our modern recipes use a lot of yeast (I have a quick-rise roll recipe that uses 2 tablespoons of yeast (yes, you read that right) for 12 rolls and is done from start to finish in 45 minutes (the recipe says 30 minutes but in reality that doesn't work). I don't frequently use that recipe, BTW. But my no-knead bread recipes (like what Midwest Gal mentions) only uses a "heaping 1/4 teaspoon" amount--time seems to be the biggest factor in getting a good rise. I'm sure I will be trying out your technique, Lili! I've been limiting myself on baking bread due to the scarcity of yeast in stores.

    I just got done trying something new--I trimmed my teenage son's hair! My husband has a hair clipper--it isn't great as the guard is broken and you have to finagle it to get it to stay--but his hair was getting shaggy and making him crazy so I watched a Youtube video and trimmed it outside a little while ago. Overall it went well--I didn't mess with the top of it and am just having him comb it more to the side--but the sides and neck look neater. I have a new respect for hair professionals!

    I'm due for a trim this week but .... I think I will have to get creative with my hair. Since I have a shorter style, it's not like I can throw it in a ponytail and let it go.

  4. Hi Alice,
    You can make sourdough bread without added yeast. I've done that many times, following a recipe that was purportedly used in Alaska and San Francisco.
    It takes longer than sourdough bread with a bit of yeast added.

    I'm so glad that you're now well-stocked!

  5. Hi Midwest Gal,
    Thank you for the suggestion. I'll check out this site and see if this recipe will fit my ingredients. Yum, adding nuts and raisins would sure make this tasty!

  6. Hi kris,
    from what I've read, fats inhibit the yeast. So in recipes that are called long-sponge, you might see that fat is added in the second round of ingredients.
    I agree on modern recipes calling for a lot of yeast, likely as time-savings. The way I've been making bread in the last few days is probably more like how housewives made bread 100 years ago, or so, because they would be home all day and could monitor their dough. We often don't have that amount of time now, so value speed over thrift.

    Great work on trimming your son's hair! There's no real way to maintain social distancing with a barber or stylist, is there? We have clippers, too. I used them on my son's hair until he was out of college and could pay for his own haircuts. My husband is able to use them on himself, which means he can still have neat hair right now. I've been wondering how some of the men's hair is looking about now, especially men who tend for more conservative/short styles. I don't think my father could have gone more than a month without a cut. It would have bothered him too much.

    I'm eager to have something done with my hair, too. Although it's longish and all one length, the ends look very shaggy. Oh well, if these are our problems, we're in good shape!

  7. Lili, thank you for this tutorial as I've not heard of this before. I too have yeast, but not a lot, so also want to conserve. I am typically not a frequent bread maker, though have made loaves and buns every now and then. I actually have made the no knead artisan bread that Midwest Gal mentioned. I made it in my dear grandmother's 100+ year old covered Dutch oven which just gave me lots of good feels! :) But, I had forgotten how little yeast it used. It has been quite a while since I made it but I will be looking that up soon to make a loaf. My baking powder and soda are old, so that has limited other,non-yeast options. Whenever I next grocery shop I hope I can find those 2 items. I have read a bit about sourdough and am keeping that in mind as I've got plenty of flour. Thank you for all the great practical info you-and others-always share, but especially during these challenging times. Everyone stay well. Lynn

  8. Hi Lynn,
    You're very welcome.

    For a baking powder substitute, your baking soda may still be viable. It keeps longer than baking powder. To test your old baking soda, put a half teaspoon of soda in a bowl and add a tablespoon of plain vinegar. If the baking soda/vinegar combo bubbles a lot, you can use your soda combined with vinegar as a baking powder substitute, but not this testing mixture. (You'd need to add the soda to dry ingredients and vinegar to liquids for a substitute.) So, that's the first ting. Before you discount your baking soda, check it's viability. Baking soda really does keep for a long, long time. The stuff I'm currently using was purchased 3 years ago. (I bought it in a case.)

    If it's viable, here's a post that gives amounts of baking soda plus vinegar to replace baking powder. It really does work and actually IS my baking powder these days.

    Stay safe and well, yourself, Lynn!

  9. Lynn and Lili--

    I have baking soda that I bought in bulk a LONG time ago, which is still active enough for baking. My baking powder is very old, too, and it's still working. I'm not sure that the powder is as good as it originally was, but it's still baking okay.

    In food storage circles, some resources actually consider baking soda almost as long-lived as some of the things like sugar and salt, which most sources say basically don't go bad. So, I agree, don't assume that baking soda isn't still viable, just because it's old.

    I also have heard that baking powder can be replicated by baking soda and cream of tartar. So if you keep cream of tartar around for biscuits, meringues, whipped cream, snickerdoodles, etc., you can use that to make a baking powder substitute if you also have baking soda. Just look on the internet for the proportions, which I don't remember, since I've not had to do it.

    Best -- Sara

  10. Thank you for mentioning your yeast saving tip. Just before my husband was about to start his bread making, I suggested that he reduce his usual 2t yeast per loaf in half following your method. He didn't do it as carefully or patiently as you did, just barely letting the yeast sponge, but the bread turned out tasty. Didn't quite rise as much. He said next time he'll let the yeast sponge several times. He was very happy, lifted his half jar of yeast and said now I think we'll have enough for awhile. He's been asking our son and grandson to look for yeast whenever they shop.

    I've been sewing masks whenever I have time. My daughter said she is not allowed to work without a mask, so fortunately I had a dozen already made. I'm thinking everyone needs several masks since most don't do laundry everyday. That means for her family of 4, she needs about 28 for now. Our son's entire family are at home, so they need fewer masks. We haven't gone out since the mask use order so I haven't tried the mask I'm sewing, as for long wearing comfort. I've tweaked my pattern several times, never quite satisfied, but I think I finally have a pattern I like. I'm just glad I have a large stash of fabrics that I have been collecting for blanket and rug making, some fabrics are from my early sewing years which seems to be a better grade of cotton.

    Be safe,

  11. Lili and Sara, one just never knows what may be learned here! I will definitely try out the method for checking the viability of the baking soda. It is old, but I'm encouraged that perhaps it might work. And I think somewhere I may have (old!) cream of tartar too ;) Do you stick with the same amounts with the substitutes? No extra to account for the old soda/powder? My yeast isn't the freshest either but it seems to be doing fine so far. I've been using up some of my spice stores but clearly need to continue to do so!! LOL. Everyone stay safe. All is well so far here in the hinterlands of NC.


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