How To Make Bread Less Chewy | Why Is Bread Chewy?

Published on
24 June 2021
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

What makes bread chewy? Bread can be chewy for a variety of reasons. Do you love soft and fluffy bread? Some people prefer chewiness because it feels like you are getting more food in your mouth. Other people don’t like the chewiness because it is tough on their teeth and jaw muscles. This post will show you how to make bread less chewy for softer, more enjoyable bread!

What do we mean by chewy bread?

When we eat something that we describe as chewy, we mean something dense or hard to chew. Chewy bread doesn’t easily slide straight down the throat. It requires a lot of jaw action before it can be swallowed. If you eat bread that is very chewy, you have a sore jaw afterwards!

The dictionary.com definition of chewy is:

adjective, chew·i·er, chew·i·est.

(of food) not easily chewed, as because of toughness or stickiness; requiring much chewing.

What sort of bread is supposed to be chewy?

Some types of bread are supposed to be chewy. Bread such as baguettes, focaccia, bagels and ciabatta can be chewy. Being more of a challenge to eat isn’t a problem for these types of bread. They are to be eaten with wet accompaniments such as soup, pasta or sandwich fillings.

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The general consensus is that chewy bread is made from lean dough. These are recipes that don’t contain sugars, fats or dairy. They are simply made from flour, water, salt and yeast.

Why is my bread chewy?

The most common reason for chewy bread is the type of flour. Using flour that is hard wheat or high in gluten can make bread chewy. This, combined with a lack of kneading and proofing, lead to a lack of gas in the dough, making bread dense and chewy.

How to make my bread less chewy

It is often easy to blame a recipe when we’re unhappy with the results. I definitely experienced this when I first started baking. I even threw my first artisan baking book in the bin because it didn’t match my professional experience. I regret it now. It was probably a very good book!

Anyway, I digress… Sometimes the recipe is absolutely fine. It’s just in need of a few minor tweaks to achieve the same result as the author. It could be as simple as switching the flour or warming the proofing temperature. I’m going to cover many of the solutions to prevent your bread from being chewy. Let’s start with the basics of making perfect bread:

Check your levain activity

You’re either going to be using a yeast-based levain, or sourdough to make your bread rise. There can be issues with them that impact how much your bread dough rises:

How to test if yeast is active?

Yeast does go out of date. If you have an old tin of dried yeast in your cupboard, it’s best to test it before using it. Add a teaspoon of yeast to some warm water and a little sugar. If it bubbles up, you’re all set!

If you’re using active dried yeast, you’ll have to activate it in some warm water beforehand anyhow. Simply follow the instructions on the packet and deduct the water used from the recipe. When using instant dried or fresh yeast, they can go straight into the dough, but as mentioned, if you are worried that it might be out of date, you can check it to see if it bubbles before you bake with it.

Baking with sourdough

When using a sourdough starter to make bread, the end result relies heavily on the quality of the starter. A healthy starter should be nice and bubbly and have a fragrant smell. It should double, if not triple in size within 6 hours from being fed. If you are having trouble getting your starter to rise, see my sourdough starter troubleshooting guide to find out more.

Accurate measuring with scales

There is no way anyone can say using cups and measures is an accurate way to weigh the flour. I even frown when pounds and ounces were suggested, but that could be because I’m from the metric generation! To weigh the ingredients for a bread recipe, you need to weigh every ingredient. Because yeast, sugar and other smaller weighted ingredients can be finicky when weighed in ounces, it is best to weigh everything in grams.

To do this, an accurate set of reliable scales is vital. I prefer a set that will go to 0.1 of a gram whilst also being able to weigh a couple of kilos of flour. These are very expensive, so I use a set of heavy-duty my-weigh scales for the flour and water, coupled with a cheap set of jewellery scales for the lighter ingredients. 

You may already have a set you trust, and that’s great. But if you don’t, a small investment will be worth it 100%!

Work the dough harder

Kneading gluten makes it more stretchy. This is important for a lighter and less chewy bread texture as it is more able to trap the gas produced by the yeast. This makes it airier and less chewy. If you’ve not got a light crumb, try kneading more or working on your technique a little. Here’s a guide on efficient hand-kneading techniques.

Change the hydration of the recipe

Bread can be dry and horrible to eat if there isn’t enough water in the recipe. Different flours absorb water at varying rates. So, to replicate a recipe, you should think about the dough’s hydration level. Adding more water to the dough hydrates the gluten and improves the structure’s extensibility. This allows the structure to retain more gas to be lighter. This can make the bread’s texture softer, like a bread roll.

Be careful, though, as too much water leads to a stickier dough, meaning the bread will have to be baked for longer to remove the water. This hardens the gluten, making it less soft.

See my guide on reducing the amount of water in bread to learn more.

Work on your shaping

The strength in the outer perimeter of your bread affects how moisture leaves the crumb during baking and cooling. Perfecting your shaping technique adds strength to the crust, thus improving the quality of your crumb. 

If you want a guide on shaping, no fear, you can find my shaping and preshaping guide here!

Adjust the proofing time & temp

The dough needs to rise sufficiently to fill the bread with air to make it light and fluffy. Yeast works faster when it’s warmer, so if it’s warmer or cooler in your area, your dough will need a longer or shorter rise. 

Use the poke test to ensure it’s ready and proof your bread between 25-38C (77-100F) unless otherwise specified. To control the temperature of your dough when it is proofing, I recommend investing in a proofing box. These bits of baking equipment eliminate the variable of temperature. This means you will be more accurate in your proofing timing and make your bread more consistent. Here’s the proofing box I recommend by Brod & Taylor:

Proofing box

Don’t over bake!

To bake soft, delicious bread you need to bake it quickly at a high temperature. The bread shouldn’t take longer than 40 minutes to bake. Baking for longer than this causes the crumb to dry and become chewy. I recommend adding water to the oven to make steam and baking at a high temperature (220-230C (430-450F) recommended). This will improve the oven spring, lightening the crumb and crispening the crust.

Switch the flour

Too much gluten can make bread dough overly strong and chewy. If you are using super high-protein bread flour, try switching to a lower protein version. The protein level of the flour is a good indication of its quality. However, selecting flour is not all about the protein percentage. Switching between flour brands will often completely change the texture of the bread. So experiment a little.

Use natural tenderizers

There are plenty of bread recipes that use ingredients like eggs, milk, or fats. These recipes are rarely dense and chewy. This is because these ingredients tenderize the flour to make a lighter texture. Ingredients such as eggs, vegetable oil and soya flour contain the emulsifier lecithin, which will bond the dough structure together, making it softer and less chewy.

If you’re looking for a simple fix to your chewy bread recipe, add a small amount of sugar (10 grams) and 50-100 grams of butter. It’ll make all the difference!

Use Tangzhong

Use a Tangzhong to make bread less chewy

If you’ve never tried a Tangzhong paste, maybe today is the day! Tangzhong is a Japanese method of mixing flour and water in a warm saucepan to make a roux. Add the roux to your dough and see how the bread becomes so much softer!

Ending thoughts on making bread less chewy

Making bread can be a fun and tasty activity for the whole family. We’ve walked you through all of the steps needed to create your own delicious loaf to suit everyone’s preferences! Let me know if this was helpful by leaving a comment below.

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