Grit

What to Do If Your Homemade Bread Does Not Rise or is Too Crumby

Baking bread is a learned art. The right proportions of flour, yeast, measuring, kneading, proofing, and right temperatures make the difference.

Reader Contribution by Lois Hoffman

Bread feeds the body and the soul. There is something about kneading the dough, watching it rise, and anticipating that aroma when it comes out of the oven. But there is a knack to baking that perfect loaf. There is nothing quite like the success of seeing that golden brown, mounded loaf cooling — or the frustration of a fallen, crumby loaf after you have put so much effort into it.

Baking bread is a learned art and perfection comes with time. There are many things that affect how crumby (literally) a loaf is or how high it rises. It requires the right proportions of flour, yeast, measuring, kneading, proofing, and right temperatures for the different stages.

Loaf is Too Crumby

Bread is supposed to have crumbs, but sometimes homemade loaves have way too many. Bread baking is a science and there are many reasons for excess crumbs.

Not enough gluten. Gluten is a combination of two different proteins found in grains. They are essential in traditional breads, giving bread its elasticity, helps maintain its shape and produces the crumb or texture. If there is not enough gluten, the crumb will not come out as expected.

Different flours have different amounts of gluten, with white having considerably more than whole wheat. Bread flour is designed to have the right amount for producing a quality loaf of bread. All-purpose flour will yield more crumbs if the gluten content is not adjusted. It is best to use recipes designed for the particular flour you are using or add gluten at a rate of one tablespoon for each cup of flour.

Bread has too much flour. Always remember that flour measurements in recipes include what is needed for kneading the bread. Adding the extra flour when kneading can add up quite quickly, especially when the dough is sticky to work with. The goal is to have enough elasticity in the dough but not have it too wet or too dry and — you guessed it — this only comes with practice.

Too much yeast. The general thought is that more is better, it will provide a bigger and lighter loaf. Yeast is a living organism and it needs the right balance of gluten, carbon dioxide and steam to produce a great crumb. If excess yeast is used, it will rise too high with bigger air pockets that makes the bread go flat when they burst. For most breads, one packet of dry yeast or 2 ¼ teaspoons of bulk yeast is the right amount.

Not enough salt or fat. Yeast feeds off sugar and fats and salt slow it down. Usually, the amount of salt called for in a loaf of bread is minimal, so don’t cut it down because the salt is crucial to keeping the yeast in check. Fats such as oil, butter, and lard retard the yeast’s growth and keep the loaf less crumby and moist. Add a little extra to improve the crumb, but too much will affect the rise. When adjusting the salt, yeast, and fat amounts in bread, they all have to be adjusted to keep the right balance.

Not kneaded enough. Kneading is an important part of the process. It mixes the ingredients and creates good gluten and structure. Most recipes call for the first knead to be 10 minutes and the second one to be two to five minutes. It’s easy to skimp on the first one because 10 minutes is a long time when kneading. However, if you cut it short, your loaf will have more crumbs. It’s tricky to get it just right, again, practice makes perfect.

Bread was over-proofed. Proofing is letting the dough rise undisturbed, usually for 45 minutes to one hour or until it has doubled in bulk. The fallacy here is that if you let it rise longer, it will get bigger and make a lighter loaf. The problem here is that the more active the yeast is, if it goes too long, it relaxes too much and the bread will go flat when baked. A simple test to tell when it has raised just enough is to poke your finger into it. If the hole doesn’t close, it is ready to punch down and work but if it closes completely it needs to rise longer.

Dough is sensitive to temperature. Yeast is pretty persnickety when it comes to hot and cold. The ideal temperature for the liquid used with yeast is between 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 115 degrees. If the temperature is too high, the yeast will begin to die and if it is too cool it won’t be activated. It is also sensitive to room temperature. Ideally, the kitchen should be between 70 to 80 degrees. Sometimes setting the dough on a warm cooktop or in a slightly warm oven will provide the right temp.

Baked at the wrong temperature. Always pre-heat your oven before putting the loaf in to bake so it bakes at a consistent temperature for the right amount of time. If it is baked too long, it will be dry and crumbly.

Not cooled enough before sliced. This is my culprit…after all, who can resist slicing into that fresh-baked loaf with the heavenly aroma? Well, the crust traps steam inside so it is still baking even when you take it out of the oven. If you cut it, it will let it cool too fast. White bread should cool at least an hour and whole wheat even longer. When cutting, use a serrated knife to reduce the crumbs.

Not stored properly. Do not put loaves in the refrigerator. Either leave them at room temperature or freeze them.

Bread Doesn’t Rise Properly

There is nothing more disappointing than to watch dough set and not rise. There are a few common reasons for this.

Old yeast. This is probably the most common mistake. Remember, yeast is a living organism and if kept at the right temperature, it is good for years. However, yeast cakes left in a pantry probably won’t last very long.

Yeast is too hot or cold. Again, like Goldilocks who searched for the perfect bowl of porridge, yeast likes its temperature to be “just right”.

Kitchen is too cold. If the yeast sets too long in a cold room, it will die.

Not enough time to rise. A slow rise will yield a more flavorful loaf. There is not a “golden” standard for rise time. It all depends on what kind of flour is used, temperature of the room and water used and the yeast itself.

Wrong size pan. Sometimes it just looks like it didn’t rise because the pan is too large for the amount of dough. A good guideline is to use an 8 ½ inch by 4 ½ inch pan for recipes that call for three cups of flour and a 9 inch by 5 inch pan for those that call for four cups.

If, after all these guidelines, your bread falls in the middle while cooling, it is probably due to too much rise, not enough gluten development, or dough is not kneaded enough.

When the dough just doesn’t rise, all is not lost. You can make it into flatbreads or crackers, stretch it thin, and cook it in a skillet and add a little sugar and cinnamon or be real creative and wrap it around a stick and cook it over an open fire!

Baking bread is an art in itself, learned by trial and error. With so many variables, it is a challenge to get that perfect loaf — but when you do, the reward is worth the effort.

Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Michigan.

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  • Published on Jan 28, 2022
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