Preparing yeast dough can be quite tricky at first. But once mastered, it becomes one of the easiest kitchen tasks! I have compiled this note for those who've had trouble in the past when dealing with all kinds of yeast doughs. Hopefully this will answer most of yeast-dough related questions and will be useful for those who want to learn how to make sure that their dough turns out perfect every time. I will add to this note if I recall any other tips. :)
TIP ON YEAST CONVERSIONS: If the recipe calls for Instant Yeast and you have Active Dry, then adjust by increasing the amount of yeast by about a quarter tsp extra for every 1 tsp of Instant Yeast required. For example, if the recipes requires 1 tsp Instant yeast, use 1 and a quarter tsp Active Dry instead.
Whilst Instant Yeast can be added directly to the flour, Active Dry needs to be activated first. So put the yeast to a small bowl, and add a couple pinches of sugar. Then add some warm water, enough to cover the yeast by about an inch or so. Make sure the water is WARM not HOT otherwise the yeast will get killed and won't work as it should. Cover this bowl and set it aside for about 10-15 minutes until it is frothy. Then use in the recipe as directed. Here are the causes and solutions for dough not rising.
The most important ingredient for yeast-dough to work properly is YEAST. If the yeast is not or cannot be activated properly, the dough will not rise. My favourite brand of yeast is SAF Instant yeast. I believe it is available pretty much everywhere. (They are not paying me to advertise their brand lol. It really IS the best yeast out there. :P)
Here's how to test your yeast and make sure that it is working properly. This is also known as 'proofing'.
Put 1 tsp of yeast in a small cup/bowl. Add 2 small pinches of sugar. Add some WARM water, just enough to cover the yeast by about an inch. Make sure the water is not HOT. It should be warm enough for you to dip a finger into it without getting burnt. Yeast needs the warmth to get properly activated but if the water is too hot you will end up killing the yeast, therefore it will not work. Cover the bowl and set it aside for 10-15 minutes. When you check on it again, the yeast will be frothy and will have expanded in volume. This means the yeast is GOOD. If nothing happens, give it a few more minutes and check again. Still nothing? Yeast is not good, throw it out and get a new pack. :)
If you're using Instant Yeast, unless specified otherwise in a recipe, you can just add it directly to the ingredients and use. However if you're using Active Dry Yeast, you will need to activate/proof the yeast before adding it to the ingredients. So be sure to check what type of yeast you are using before proceeding with a recipe.
Sometimes dough will take a little longer than the time approximated in a recipe, depending on the brand of yeast being used. Some yeast brands are really good and work very fast, others take longer.
Now, other than the yeast being bad, there are several other causes for yeast-dough not to rise. These include:
In colder climates, yeast takes longer to work. In this case, you can increase the amount of yeast that you use in the dough from about half a tsp to double the amount required, depending on how cold it is and how urgently you need to use it. Also, make sure you place the bowl with the dough in the warmest area of your home, next to the heater or stove.
If the dough STILL does not rise (and you're sure that the yeast was good) then preheat your oven to a very low temperature, like around 90 C. Once heated, turn the oven OFF and then stick your bowl of dough (covered) in the oven. The warmth in there will help the dough rise faster.
Another way to speed dough along especially in cold weather is to put the bowl holding the dough in a BIGGER bowl which contains some hot water. Like a water bath. The warmth of the water will help the dough to rise evenly.
3) HOT WATER/LIQUID USED DURING KNEADING
During preparation of dough, most recipes require you to use some water/milk to bring the dough together. In most cases, recipes require WARM water/milk. As mentioned above, warm liquid helps activate the yeast. But if you end up warming the water/milk too much such that it is HOT instead of WARM, you will end up killing the yeast as you pour it into the ingredients. Therefore the dough will not rise. Make sure that the water/milk is warmed just enough to be 'bearable' when you stick a finger into it and count to 10. If it burns, too hot! Let it cool a little bit and then use.
Yeast needs to be stored in an airtight container and then refrigerated to ensure that it lasts a long time without spoiling. I normally buy a big pack of yeast, and gradually add some into a small very airtight container which I keep in the door of my fridge. The remaining pack of yeast I normally seal in a plastic bag and also store it on the door of the fridge, away from moisture. The yeast lasts up to a year without expiring.
TIP ON HOW TO MAKE USE OF DOUGH THAT DID NOT RISE
If you're sure you're yeast was tested and is fine, and you've done everything right but STILL the dough won't rise, you can still re-use it for something else. Break the dough into small balls, roll them out thin like chapatis and cook them on a tava/flat pan to make wraps. Add a filling of your choice, some salad and sauces, roll them up and serve! :)