When it comes to baking, there’s nothing more satisfying than baking bread from scratch. Hearty, crusty and so delicious, homemade bread is a real treat.
But sometimes baking with yeast isn’t such a treat. The little organisms that help your bread rise require a little extra care—warm temperatures, food and just-right conditions. If any of these variables are off, you can end up with bread that just doesn’t rise they way it should. After all that work of kneading and proofing, this can be such a letdown—definitely speaking from personal experience here!
To avoid future bread flops, I’ve rounded up a few of the most common reasons your bread isn’t getting the right lift.
1. Your yeast is old
Like I said, yeast is finicky stuff. If your yeast is too old, chances are you aren’t going to get a good rise (if any at all) out of it. To make sure your yeast is ready to go, be sure to proof it before adding to your dough. The Taste of Home Test Kitchen can walk you through that process here!
2. The water is too hot
When you proof your yeast, be sure that the water you use is the right temperature. The Test Kitchen recommends water between 105 and 115ºF. Anything hotter than that could kill the yeast and all its rising powers.
3. It’s too cold inside
Making bread in the summertime is a real joy. The warm, humid temperatures help dough rise beautifully. But in winter, it can be a real bear to get the lift you need in a cooler home. That’s because doughs proof best in warmer temps. If your kitchen gets too cold, the yeast could die, killing that nice lift you’d get in a warmer room. So when winter hits, be sure to crank up the thermostat, set your dough near a fireplace or heating vent or in your oven’s warming drawer.
4. You added too much salt
Another yeast killer: salt. While most bread recipes call for a bit of salt, too much of the ingredient can keep the yeast from doing its job. To prevent salt from foiling your bread bakes, measure carefully and never pour yeast and salt on top of one another in your mixing bowl.
5. You added too much sugar
In general, sweet doughs take longer to rise. That’s because sugar absorbs the liquid in the dough—the same liquid that the yeast feeds on. If you have too much sugar in your dough, chances are that it will gobble up almost all of the food the yeast needs, leaving you with dry, ineffective yeast.
To counteract this, be sure you allow sweet doughs, like the kind used to make cinnamon rolls, plenty of time to rise. You can also use a special type of yeast designed just for sugar-heavy doughs. Look for osmotolerant yeast (that’s yeast that doesn’t require as much liquid) at your grocer if you plan on stirring up something sweet.
6. You added too much flour
The big lesson here: too much of any ingredient can mess with your bread’s rise. Even flour. Too much flour can make your dough stiff and dry. And we all know what happens if there’s not enough liquid present for yeast to use: it doesn’t work the way it should. So be mindful of your measurements and how much flour your dough picks up in the kneading process. You want the dough to be slightly sticky and elastic.
7. You’re using whole grains
Adding more grains to your diet is a great for your health, but adding more grains to your bread can be a bit of headache. White flour, the base for most breads, creates all those wonderful gluten strands that help your bread get its airy texture. Whole wheat and other alternative flours, on the other hand, don’t develop gluten as easily or at all. Without the stretch of gluten, breads just don’t have the same lift.
But I understand if you still want to get grains into your bread! To get the right lift, be sure to use a recipe specially formulated for alternative flours, like this one for seeded multi-grain bread. If you want to add wheat flour into a recipe you already love, be sure to keep some all-purpose flour in the equation for the best results.
8. The crust is too dry
When it comes to proofing bread, you need to keep the dough nice and moist. If a crust develops on top of the dough after it’s been sitting out proofing, it can be difficult for the bread to rise up in the oven later.
To keep your dough moist and elastic, be sure to cover it with plastic wrap while proofing, not a tea towel. Air makes its way through the tea towel and can dry your bread right up. So play it safe and use your standard plastic cling wrap. If you’re worried about the dough sticking, give it a quick spritz with cooking spray.
9. You’re using the wrong pan
Sometimes you get everything right—the measuring, the proofing, the kneading—and your bread still doesn’t have the height you envisioned. In this case, be sure that you’re using the appropriate bread pan. Most yeasted breads require an 8½” x 4½” pan. This helps them achieve that great height and square size that’s so good for sandwiches. Be sure that you’re not using a 9″ x 5″ pan, commonly used for quick breads. If you bake your yeasted bread in this larger pan, the bread will still rise, but it will be wider and shorter—not a good look for your BLT!