Yeast is the driving force behind the fermentation process critical to baking goods such as loaves of bread, pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, and donuts. It makes dough rise plays a critical role in forming the soft texture.
As such, discovering that you don’t have any yeast at hand after building up the motivation to make a few donuts can be the worst feeling. Some people may even give up on the donuts altogether or reschedule to do the baking another day.
You don’t have to go give up. Even though yeast is irreplaceable, a few alternatives exist that can help you make excellent donuts other baked goods. The best part? You likely have most of these substitutes for yeast at hand!
However, before we discuss substitutes for yeast, it may help to understand how yeast works as that may help you appreciate the alternatives more.
How Yeast Works
Yeast is a single-celled microorganism related to mushrooms. There are about 1,500 different types of yeast. However, in the kitchen, we mostly only use Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which translates to sugar-eating fungi.
It is available in many forms, including cake yeast, active dry yeast, and instant yeast. The main difference is moisture content. Instant yeast is the most commonly used as it rehydrates faster and can be added directly to dry ingredients without being soaked first.
The primary purpose of the ingredient in baking is leavening. A leavening product produces the gas that makes baked goods rise. Yeast does this by feeding on the sugars in the flour and generating carbon dioxide in the process. This is known as fermentation.
It’s important to note that as bread is mixed and kneaded, it forms millions of air bubbles. These air bubbles are trapped inside and spread throughout the dough.
With nowhere to go, the carbon dioxide generated from the fermentation process always ends up in the millions of air bubbles in the dough, causing the dough to swell. The elastic gluten network in dough aids this process by holding the carbon dioxide within the bread while allowing for substantial swelling of the air bubbles.
Three Substitutes for Yeast (with the Same Effect)
Several products can create the same effect and cause bread to rise. However, the three options that work best are;
1. Baking powder
Baking powder contains baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and a dry acid, usually cream of tartar or sodium aluminum sulfate. It also uses a filler such as corn starch. If you add liquid to the recipe, these two ingredients react to form bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. From there, the leavening process goes on as when you use yeast.
The chemical reaction that occurs to produce carbon dioxide is automatic and takes place instantly upon adding water, milk, eggs, or other water-based liquid ingredients to the dough.
Baking powder is available in two categories, i.e., single and double-acting. Single-acting baking powder only produces bubbles when it’s wet. Meanwhile, double-rise baking powder produces bubbles when it’s wet and when it’s hot. In both cases, the replacement ratio is 1:1. If the recipe requires one tablespoon of yeast, replace it with one tablespoon of baking powder.
2. Baking soda
If you’re using liquid acid such as buttermilk or yogurt for the baking process, you can substitute baking powder with baking soda. When the two mix, i.e., baking soda and the acid, it produces carbon dioxide gas that fills the air bubbles in the bread, just as happens when you use yeast or baking powder. Other acidic ingredients that work well with baking soda include lemon and cream of tartar.
If you’re substituting yeast in a recipe, replace half of the yeast requirement with baking soda and the other half with acid. For instance, if the recipe requires three teaspoons of yeast, add one and a half teaspoons of baking soda and one and a half teaspoons of acid. As with baking powder, baking soda rises the dough instantly.
3. Sourdough starter
Finally, you can also replace yeast with a sourdough starter. A sourdough starter contains naturally fermented yeast. It’s made from flour and water and created specifically for making sourdough bread. Sourdough bread is primarily characterized by the tangy flavor, chewy texture, and crispy, crackly crust. It tastes perfect!
Scientific studies show that sourdough bread is healthier than supermarket bread. This is because the naturally occurring acids and long-term fermentation (some sourdough starters are fermented for years) help break down the gluten, making it more digestible and easier for the body to absorb. If replacing yeast with sourdough starter, use one cup of sourdough starter (300 grams) for every two teaspoons of yeast.
Besides baking powder and sourdough starter, some have acknowledged that egg white and self-rising flour also work well as substitutes for yeast. Just make sure to use these ingredients in the right quantities.