It’s a trademark of baking bread: you put it in the oven, and the yeast within causes the dough to rise. This gives you a light, airy, delicious loaf. Yet your bread just came out of the oven dense and heavy. Why didn’t the bread rise or not reach its full volume?
Your bread might not have risen or reached its full volume for the following reasons:
- You under proofed the dough
- Or you over-proofed it
- The oven wasn’t hot enough
- Did not use steam
- You didn’t use enough leavening agents
- The leavening agents you used were killed off or not good to start with
- You forgot to put your leavening agents in the dough – YES IT HAPPENS
Underproofing? Overproofing? Huh? What does any of this mean? Keep reading for detailed explanations of the above bread problems as well as fixes so you can prevent your next bread-baking disappointment!
The bread is under proofed and did not rise
The first problem that can cause your bread to not rise is that the dough is underproofed. Proofing or proving bread dough is how long you allow the dough to sit before it goes in the oven. By allowing it this rest time, the dough has a chance to rise ahead of being baked.
This happens because the yeast within the dough ferments, creating leavening gases. You can even proof the yeast itself, which is sometimes called blooming.
To proof or bloom the yeast, you’d add it to a cup of warm water, especially when using active dry yeast. Then, you might include sugars, such as carbohydrates. Live yeast will get foamy as the yeast eats the sugars.
Getting back to bread dough, your dough can be underproofed or overproofed. We’ll begin by talking about underproofing. Since you didn’t give your bread enough time to rest and naturally rise, here’s what’s happened.
Gluten mesh and carbon dioxide gases are underdeveloped. This means your bread dough lacks the carbon dioxide bubbles that travel throughout and allow the dough to expand and rise.
Under proofed dough will result in a bread that is dense and has not risen much in the oven.
Fixing under-proofed bread
Now let me make it clear. If your bread was under proofed and you put it in the oven I can’t help. What I can help you with, is your timing the next time around.
What you need to understand about proofing bread it that no recipe book and no one including me can tell you exactly how long your dough should proof before putting it in the oven. Only your bread dough can tell you this.
How will your bread tell you it is ready you might ask? Simple, It is called the poke test.
Wet your finger or put a bit of oil on it and give your dough a poke about a half cm or 1/3 of an inch deep.
- If your dough bounces back right away it is under proofed.
- If your dough comes back slowly ( about 3-4 seconds ) your dough is ready to go.
- If your dough does not come back at all your bread is over-proofed.
The reason no one can tell you how long your bread should proof for is that there are so many variables that affect the proofing time. Take the timing of your proofing in your recipe as a guideline but do not think that it is accurate.
Here are some variables that will have an effect on shortening or prolonging your proofing times.
What is the temperature of the room or place you are proofing your dough? 5 degrees, either way, can have a major effect on how long takes to proof your dough. This variance in temperature can mean your dough will proof 30 min to an hour longer or shorter than instructed by your recipe.
The ideal dough temperature when proofing should be 72-74 degrees Fahrenheit or 22-23 degrees Celsius. This should also be your proofing environment temperature or your room temperature. The temperature of your dough can be greatly effected by the temperature of the water you used.
Also take into account that when you are mixing your dough it actually heats up.
If you are in the middle of the summer and you might want to use colder water to cool down your dough and slow down the proofing time.
The Temperature of the form you are using
By form I am referring to the bowl or pan you are using to proof your bread dough in. If you are using a metal pan for example, and it has been sitting in a cool place you will find that you proofing times will be extended.
Yes, you heard me. Air pressure. The elevation where you make your bread will have an effect on how long it will take to prove your dough. Among many other things. So if you are used to baking bread at high altitude and then you are at a family or friend’s house making bread at a lower altitude, , know that your proofing times will be affected.
Bread dough is over-proofed and either did not rise or not rise enough
While proofing is great for your bread, the dough can get too much of a good thing. In such a situation, overproofing results.
If you have over-proofed your dough the yeast within it has extended itself to its max potential. It has fed on the starches and sugars in the dough and has nothing left to feed on and has exhausted all its strength.
When the dough is over-proofed the gasses have pushed out as much as they can before baking. Your dough has lost its pressure within, resulting in a collapsed dough in most cases, or the dough will just not rise and stay the same size.
You can tell a dough is over-proofed by using the poke test method. If you poke your dough and it does not come back your dough is under-proofed.
Fix over-proofed bread dough
Luckly for you, if you notice that your bread dough is overproofed before you bake it there is a solution.
Take your dough out of its pan, boowl or off the cloth you were proofing it in.
Punch down the dough ( get the air out ), and reshape the dough. Once you have reshaped it put it back in your bowl or where ever you are proofing your bread and let it sit until ready.
This will work in most cases.
The oven temperature is incorrect
Oven temperature is crucial in the first stages of baking. In the first 5-10 min or so of the baking process, your bread goes through the rising stage known as the oven spring stage.
If your oven is not hot enough your bread will either not rise to its full potential and if it is really below the desired temperature it might not rise all.
Sourdough bread or bread doughs that do not have any sugars or fats in them usually require a very high temperature. This means as hot as your home oven can go ( around 240-250 degrees Celsius or around 465-480 Fahrenheit )
You could get away with less than that but I would not go with less than 210 Celsius or 410 Fahrenheit
Doughs that have sugars in them will need a lower temperature as to not burn them, so with these, you can go with much lower temperatures of about 190-175 Celsius or 375-350 Fahrenheit.
The reason that your oven temperature in a dough that has sugars in it can be so much lower than a dough without sugars is that the sugars accelerate the activity of your yeast and the dough rises much quicker.
TIP – use an oven thermometer to tell the actual temperature of your oven. The knob or the digital display on your oven is usually not accurate. I’m willing to bet that if you put an oven thermometer in your oven you will see that it is not as your digital display shows.
Did you use steam in your oven when baking your bread?
OK, so steam is not the total reason why your bread did not rise but steam is crucial to giving your dough its full volume potential.
Steam gives the crust of your dough the elasticity it needs to rise.
If you do not have steam in your oven at the initial stages of baking, your bread will form a crust too early and will prevent it from rising and most likely cause bursts in your bread.
There are 3 main leavening agents used in bread baking. The most commons ones are Fresh yeast, dry yeast, and sourdough starter. For this section, I will break it down to 3 ways your leavening agents may have caused an issue with your dough not rising or not rising enough.
- How much you should use
- Is your leaving agent too old or has gone bad
- Did you forget to add yeast?
How much yeast should I use in bread dough?
The amount of yeast used in a bread recipe is in relation to the amount of flour used. This is based on a percentage referred to as “bakers’ percentage” and is how all ingredients are scaled. Water, salt, yeast, sugar… all are scaled in relation to your flour where your flour is 100% and all of the other ingredients are a percentage of the flour.
When making bread doughs you should ALWAYS scale your ingredients. Scaling ingredients is the only way to get consistent results. I have written about this in many previous articles and will say it again. Always use a scale. Using spoons and cups to measure out your ingredients is simply not accurate and bread is chemistry and should be as exact as possible.
If you are in the market for a digital scale we have a review on a great scale right here. This is the one I use and highly recommend. It also has a bakers percentage functions build right into it to make your life easier.
You can always use more yeast than your recipe calls for but never less, although too much yeast is not always good. Below are the percentages of yeast you should use in your bread dough. The amount of yeast has a range and this is because as mentioned earlier in this post room temperature and other parameters can have an effect on your proofing times.
- Dry yeast or Active yeast 1% to 1.5%
- Fresh Yeast – 1% to 1.5%
- Sourdough starter – 10% to 30%
Has your yeast gone bad?
Yeast like anything else has a shelf life. Depending on which type of yeast you use will determine how long your yeast is good for.
Fresh yeast – Fresh yeast has a shelf life of up to 3 weeks at the most, if you do not use it by then the yeast will either be dead or very weak. Fresh yeast should also be kept in the fridge to prolong its shelflife.
Dry yeast / Dry active yeast – this is the most common yeast used and sold in supermarkets and grocery stores. The reason for this is because of its long shelf life (about a year ). Most people that bake at home do not bake daily and might not even bake weekly. This is why dry yeast is the go-to choice for most people. If you kept your dry yeast in a warm place or it’s past its expiration date it has probably gone bad so don’t use it.
Sourdough starter – a sourdough starter is a bit different from the other 2 types of yeast / leavening agents mentioned above. This is because you must feed your starter constantly just to keep it alive.
If you are into sourdough bread I’m sure you already know your feeding routine. If not and you are interested in getting into sourdough bread and sourdough starters we have a full article dedicated to making your own starter right here.
When making bread with a sourdough starter you actually make your leaven from your “mother starter” so it would most likely not be your sourdough starter that has gone bad in this case as you would easily be able to tell that it has gone bad.
If your sourdough starter is not mature enough it might be weak and will result in a smaller volume loaf that is more dense.
Did your damage your yeast when mixing
Let’s say your yeast is fresh, or you just bought it from the store or you just perepared yourleven from your sourdough starter. You know for sure you yest is good and ready to go but yet your bread did not rise or not reach its full size why is that?
The answer could be that you actually killed off some of your yeast during mixing.
The most common enemy of yeast is salt. Keep salt away from your yeast in your bowl. always keep these two ingredients separate.
Another way you might have damaged your yeast is by mixing your dough too fast causing the temperature of your dough to bee too hot. This too can kill off some of the yeast.
Did you forget to add the yeast?
Yes, it can defiantly happen. I hate to admit it but it has happened to me a couple of times in my professional career. I know, it’s sad. This is why it is super important that when scaling your ingredients and mixing your dough not to talk to anyone during this time.
It is one of the first things my father told me when I started scaling and mixing doughs at the bakery. And yet, I still screwed up a couple of times.
So stay focused and have a checklist when scaling and mixing. This way you won’t make the same mistakes I have.
You can’t go into bread-baking expecting each loaf to rise on its own. You must proof your bread (but don’t underproof nor overproof it), use the right leavening agent, and allow your oven to reach its optimal temperature to make bread that reliably rises each and every time. Best of luck!