The first step, once you have your ingredients, is to proof the yeast. Combine your active dry yeast with 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl. You can test the temperature of your water by putting a few drops on the back of your hand, as you would do to test the temperature of a baby's bottle. If the water is too hot for your hand, it's too hot for the yeast. You cannot kill yeast with water that is too cold, only slow its activity slightly, so it is best to err on the side of caution and not overheat your water.
Mix the water and yeast with a fork to blend. After 5-10 minutes, the yeast should look slightly foamy. Time to add the rest of the ingredients in the next step.
[Photo by Nicole Weston]