why is my bread collapsing or shrinking after baking

As a bread baker, you want to make sure that all your hard work is worth it. If you’re not aware of all the pitfalls, bread can easily collapse or shrink after it’s baked. These defects can be negligible, from a slight dimple to a giant crater! Either way, if there’s a way to avoid it, you’ll want to know how to prevent your bread collapsing or shrinking!

So why does this happen? Well, first let’s look at the overlying reasons for bread to collapse:

Bread collapses after baking due to excessive moisture that remains in the crumb. As it cools, moisture escapes out from the crumb. Water latches onto the outer perimeter  making the crust heavier. If the crumb structure isn’t strong, the crumb contracts and pulls the crust down. This leads to the crust collapsing or wrinkle lines to appearing on the surface.

There are several reasons this could happen. The cause could be down to one issue, but most likely it’ll be due to a combination of small faults. Eradicating the issue may take a handful of test batches. Expect to be patient and keep tweaking, even if you don’t succeed at first.

Likely causes of bread collapsing after baking

There are seven things you should consider when fixing bread that is collapsing. Cooling and shaping is important for any type of bread. But, depending on the bread being made there are two main avenues to focus on.

For quickly made bread, a low hydrated dough, plenty of kneading and a high protein flour is important.

For longer proofed artisan bread, give the dough plenty of time to ferment and master the baking temperature and duration.

Let’s look at the solutions in more detail. We’ll cover the reason for wrinkles in the crust in afterwards as they are semi related.

#1 Reduce the water in the recipe

A strong gluten network is reliant on well hydrated flour. If the dough has too much moisture, this can cause the crumb to contract as it cools. Quickly made loaves generally prefer dryer doughs to avoid shrinkage. If you think your dough is too wet, lower the amount of water used in the recipe next time.

Baking for longer can also help to solve the problem.

#2 Bake for longer

To make a dough structure less moist, but have an open crumb structure instead of lowering the hydration of the dough, bake it for longer. Use my guide on the ideal oven temperature for bread for the perfect solution.

A loaf with a crisp, set crust will resist caving during cooling.

#3 Extend the fermentation time

An artisan loaf needs plenty of time for the water to be slowly soaked up by the gluten. Awarding the dough more time to rest allows it to strengthen the gluten.

There will also be benefits from increased amounts of organic acids and ethanol. These will strengthen the gluten to make the bread less resistant to collapse.

#4 Reduce the yeast/ more kneading

Bread can collapse if there is too much gas in a dough that is not mature enough. A weak gluten structure can create big irregular pockets of air through the crumb, sometimes called tunnelling. These are often found near the crust area which can cause the crust to sink as it cools.

Reduce the amount of yeast used to increase the rise time, or knead for longer to fix the problem.

#5 Switch the flour

Like using too much yeast, a weak crust causes bread to collapse. A common issue in commercial baking is when a new batch of flour arrives. This can make the dough behave differently.

A strong crust comes from a well-developed dough. To achieve this, a flour with high quality gluten which is well kneaded is essential. Sometimes lowering the water in the recipe can prevent recurrences. Otherwise, adding a little vital gluten powder or changing to a high protein bread flour will fix the problem.

#6 Work on your shaping

To control the rise of bread, shaping has a major impact. Stretching the outer membrane to create tension will help a lot. This provides support for the dough as it rises.

Poor shaping is especially prevalent in bread machines. Here, the bread often collapses as the dough is not shaped.

#7 The importance of cooling

As the bread cools it needs to expel moisture from the crumb. It’s an important step in baking that is often not taken as seriously as it should.

Moisture clings onto the starch particles on the outside edges of the crust as it exits the core of the cooling bread. This allows the starch to harden and burst which contributes to making the crusty crispy.

If the bread can’t escape from the edges because say, the bread remains in the tin after baking, or cooling loaves are lined up next to each other, we will have a problem!

As moisture can’t escape from the sides it tries to force itself up through the weakest points in the top of the bread. This creates irregular patches of moisture which can lead to random craters on the surface of the bread or the bread collapsing.

Why does my bread wrinkle on the surface?

It’s common to see breads, particularly soft rolls wrinkling once they exit the oven. This is due to the amount of moisture retained in the dough, a soft, thick crust and close proximity of the rolls on the tray. To keep the rolls soft we actually need these features so it’s hard to prevent wrinkles.

To make soft and fluffy breads, we use high amounts of yeast alongside fast mixing. These accelerate the proofing time and retain moisture in the crumb. They are baked quickly, again to keep a moist crumb. The issue of wrinkling occurs after baking when the rigid gluten structure allows moisture to escape upwards. The crust absorbs some of the escaping water and as its weight increases, it contract. This pulls the crust down and reveals wrinkles on the surface.

How to stop my soft rolls from wrinkling after baking?

If you want a nice and smooth surface to your bread rolls you can try using a high protein flour or baking for a longer time, but it is very hard to remedy.

The best solution to prevent wrinkle lines on your bread is to give the tray a hard bang on the table as they leave the oven.

This sets the crumb and prevents wrinkles appearing.

It’s funny to think that such a simple step could have such a big impact, but it’s a common stage in commercial bakeries.

Should I cover the bread with a towel?

Covering the bread with a tea towel or similar during cooling is a popular way of softening bread. It works well for this purpose, but if you are finding wrinkles on the surface you might prefer to let the bread cool for a bit before adding the tea towel.

Other cases of wrinkles include high humidity, high proofing temperature, too much fat, too much sugar or over-proofing.

Why do my cinnamon rolls shrink after baking?

The most common reason for shrinkage is that the dough was chilled before shaping. This will cause the butter to be too cold and stiff, which can lead to a denser dough that doesn’t rise as well. Make sure your buns are at room temperature when you shape them so they don’t get too dense or tight.

Another possible culprit is over-kneading the dough. This could produce an elastic dough that’s more suitable for bread. A strong dough contracts more as it cools and you will end up with shrinking buns. Try and aim for a light and fluffy cake batter texture when you make cinnamon buns.

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