Failed Yeast: Getting Your Dough To Rise

As mentioned recently, this is the much acclaimed and anticipated, in my mind, follow-up post on how to save your dough when the yeast is dead. Or at least when it appears to be dead. Often it's hard to tell for sure. If the yeast is truly dead, I'm not sure that it can be resurrected.

However, it is the season of miracles. Easter is a mere few weeks ago. Many of us may be doing some Easter baking trial runs and want to make sure that when holiday arrives, our dough will rise.

While I'm not Catholic, it's hard not to feel like a higher power is being invoked today. Cardinals are meeting behind closed doors to elect the next pope. I admit to saying a little prayer to my favorite Saint to help them choose wisely. But I digress....

Back to yeast and rising dough. What are some of the issues? What do we do when our dough fails us? Not surprisingly, yeast companies have some insight into these matters.


Red Star Yeast provides some problems and solutions their website. Using too much salt can cause yeast to fail. Who knew?!

When measuring sugar, you really have to hit the sweet spot and get the exact right amount. Too much or too little sugar can cause problems.
Do not let yeast come in direct contact with sugar. If the ratio of sugar to flour is more than 1/2 cup sugar to 4 cups flour, an additional packet of yeast (2-1/4 tsp) per recipe is needed. An excessive amount of sugar slows down yeast fermentation.


Fleischmann’s Yeast says that dough can be 'revitalized' with additional yeast by following these steps.
  • 1. For each envelope of yeast in the recipe, combine in a large, warm bowl: 1/4 cup lukewarm water (100° to 110°F), 1 teaspoon sugar and one envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) of yeast. Stir to dissolve. 
  • 2. With an electric mixer, slowly beat in small (walnut size) pieces of dough until about 1/2 of the dough is mixed into the yeast. 
  • 3. With a spoon, stir in the remaining dough. Knead in just enough flour so the dough is not sticky. 
  • 4. Let rise, shape and bake as directed in the recipe.


Revitalization reminds me of what I tried to do when I had the problem before. Looking at the directions above, I see that I was on the right track.

However, I recently found out that all the stress that I was going through was not necessary. I could have just called the King Arthur Baking Hotline and gotten some help at 855-371-BAKE (2253) or emailed You can reach them everyday too! Weekdays, 8am - 9pm and weekends, 9am - 5pm.  

Kim at the hotline offered some advice and feedback on how I handled the situation last time.
In theory, if there is any yeast alive, it will eventually come to life no matter how little there is. ... It is usually best to give yeast some extra moisture and work with a slack dough in instances of difficult yeast. We have certain bread recipes that start with very little yeast in the sponge and require 14 hours or so to become active/yeasted—perhaps the first suggestion would be to let the dough sit at room temperature for 8 hours or so to see if comes back.

I liked that you attempted to incorporate two doughs. Otherwise, it might be best to pursue a more hands-on approach: kneading some fresh yeast dissolved in water into the dough slowly and gently. Being gentle will prevent the dough’s gluten from breaking down if kneaded for an extended period. I would start with 2 Tsp dissolved in 3-4 Tbs of barely warm water and then work the liquid into the dough either on low speed with a stand mixer or by hand. It’s better than tossing it in the trash!


I definitely appreciate this additional advice. Recently I had the chance to speak to Bruegger's Bagels Executive Chef, Philip Smith at a blogger event. While I was there to learn about Bruegger's Bagels, in the back of my head I was thinking about this post too. How could I pass up a chance to ask a professional baker his opinion? I couldn't.

So as I was leaving the event, I asked Chef Smith for his advice. He was very gracious and said that he wasn't sure that dough could be saved, but that maybe Biga or Poolish would work.

I have the opposite of a poker face and imagine that I must have given him a quizzical look, because I had no idea what he was talking about. He wrote down the words and I looked them up. Basically they are methods for creating starters for bread. Which is why I'm working on my own now. I figure it might be a good thing to have around.

Via a later email, Smith clarified a bit more.
I think the reviving process is fairly straightforward to bring any yeast back to life. To be clear there does have to be some “evidence of life.” Basically a  few cells that can be goosed back into reproducing. If it is truly dead. Then it may be beyond help. Remember yeast can be frozen, although there are consequences to freezing. ... It does require some planning ahead as you will want to go through 3 generations (days) before you will have a healthy and balanced starter.

Refresh your existing yeast starter discarding any loose liquid that floats on top the starter itself.  This can be very sour with sourdough starters and if not discarded creates too vinegary an environment for even any remaining few cells.

Follow a standard of adding ¼ cup of room temperature water + ½ cup sifted flour and keep overnight in a warm room temperature spot. Look for bubbles. If no bubbles after 24 hours, the starter may be beyond rescue and at that point may simply be only dead yeast cells. But these too can be useful to add a tangy sourdough profile to new starter. Some commercial bakeries use dead cells to create sourdough flavor note supplements that are natural, but add sourdough tang.  

Assuming your starter has revived, discard a half, repeat the adding of flour and fresh water. Do this three times in all. The starter should be revived and self-regulating at that point.

Apropos Easter, I always think of lighter breads - challah, zopf, brioche, babka, choereg, hot cross buns, etc. For these a fresh yeast would be best, particularly if you want a lighter flavor. Easter breads trend to be tender crumbed, sweeter egg style breads, some even add baking powder to aid leavening and keep light or whip eggs to fold in. A sourdough may be too much.

There you have it! Hopefully these new tips will help.

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Davenport Dame said…
I had to check out your post to see what to do about reviving my Runza dough! I tried the microwave/water/steam trick and it worked! Thanks for sharing a lot of great options!
Lisa Johnson said…
davenport dame - Welcome! So glad to have helped!

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