Bread is the stuff of life. It's how we start our day in the morning, pack for lunch and dinner, and it's a perfect complement to any meal. But at some point, you'll find your homemade bread just isn't as soft as you want it to be. Well, fear not! Here are several ways to make your bread soft and fluffy.
How to make bread soft and fluffy
Soft bread has a moist, close-knit crumb that when eaten produces an amazing sensation. It is accomplished by reducing the amount of moisture that leaves the bread, increasing hydration in your loaf or adding some tenderizing ingredients to keep it super nice and fluffy!
It's a confusing topic where the route to soft bread can take many angles. To help you, I’ve created 3 strategies at the bottom of the page for you to follow or check out my recipe for the ultimate soft bread rolls.
Techniques to make bread soft - which work!
Here's a list of tips and tweaks that will help you to improve your homemade bread. Keep reading to the end to find out which methods work best together.
Using a tea towel to make any bread less hard
To soften bread after baking, place a tea towel over the bread or rolls whilst it cools. This helps to retain moisture in the crust to make it less hard and crusty.
This can create a soggy loaf though so be careful!
Increase the amount of water in the recipe
A common response to making bread soft is to increase the hydration of the dough. A well-hydrated dough allows the gluten to properly extend and promotes a strong gluten network.
A moist crumb feels soft when eaten. This means that increasing the hydration of a recipe makes sense if we want to achieve this. And it works well for lean artisan loaves. Yet, too much water can weigh down the gluten structure which causes an overly dense loaf that doesn’t rise too well.
Add fat to lubricate the crumb
A wetter crumb has a softer texture, but increasing the hydration of the dough also increases gluten extensibility. This results in larger air pockets which are appealing in certain bread styles. Though as a counterbalance the crumb won't be compact or fluffy.
By introducing fat, such as butter, oil, or vegetable fat, for a portion of the water, we can yield better results.
Fat lubricates and tenderises the gluten, keeping it moist and chewable. They reduce the browning temperature, which shortens the time it takes for the crust to form and protects the outer perimeter of the bread during oven spring without the need for additional steam.
Proof for longer
One of the simplest causes of overly dense bread is under proofing. Whilst a tighter crumb is achieved, the bread won't be light and fluffy. The solution for this is to use the poke test to determine when the dough is ready to bake.
Adding sugar to benefit the crumb
Sugar provides many of the properties that soft bread endures. It’s a natural tenderizer and, importantly it reduces water activity. With the addition of sugar, bread will be softer and keep fresh for longer. For quickly made bread, sugar is useful to provide food for the yeast.
Use higher protein flour
A short fermentation time is ideal for retaining moisture in the dough and achieving a tightly-knit crumb. Though it sadly means that there will be less time for damaged gluten to repair.
Damaged protein is present in all flours, though the ratio of damaged to healthy protein varies by brand. The only way to test the flour's quality is to use a flour testing instrument, which will determine its falling number and other variables.
Unfortunately, these instruments are out of most home bakers' price range. We can use high protein flour from a reliable source to maintain a well-structured gluten structure.
Reduce the mixing/development time
Quick breads made by intense kneading and a short (or zero-time) first rise will create bread that is nice and fluffy. They require few extra ingredients making them cheap to produce. The close-knit crumb of these doughs is dense yet, subtly fluffy.
If you're concerned about losing flavour or the benefits of organic acid development, you'll have to make a trade-off. Either go for a creamy texture via short development times, or soften an artisan style, long fermented bread. This will become clearer in the three strategies set out below.
However, a lightly flavoured loaf or roll with a golden orange crust is both delicious and visually appealing!
Using malt flour to enhance the loaf
Bakers often compensate by adding fats, sweeteners or dough enhancers. Adding a small amount of malt flour speeds up the production of the degeneration of starch. This feeds the yeast so less can be used whilst producing a sweeter flavour.
What do eggs do to bread dough?
Eggs are high in fat and protein, making them the trademark addition of many famous soft breads. Pain de mie, brioche and Vienna rolls being the most common.
Using egg enhances the protein of the flour, alongside tenderising the texture of the dough. They also impart a rich, distinctive flavour.
Due to the rise in dairy allergies and the popularity of veganism in recent years, it is becoming more common for commercially prepared bread to contain egg replacements such as soy lecithin, whey, or xanthan gum.
Switching the flour
You know how they say the devil is in the details? Well if you're a baker, it's also hiding out there in your flour! From brands to types, each has its own properties that can make all the difference. Flour retains water at varying levels. They also produce unique eating textures. I’ve found flours that produce results that cannot be replicated by others. Sometimes switching the flour to a different brand is the difference between a soft light crumb and a harsh dense disaster!
How to make a bread crust soft
The use of the oven has a massive effect in the texture of the crust and the crumb. I'd say it's probably the most important factor to making bread softer. There's two key factors to consider, the length of time the bread spends in the oven, and, the use of steam in the bake.
Reduce the baking time to increase the amount of moisture
Less time spent in the oven means less moisture departs the dough. Therefore it's important to consider the baking time when it producing any bread. Soft bread needs to be baked for less time than crusty bread. Just like pizza is baked at a high heat for a short time.
In a typical bakery, crusty rolls take 20-25 minutes to make. Soft rolls that are the same size/weight will take around 10. In a commercial bakery oven, the top heat setting increases for soft bread. This can be replicated at home by switching on the broiler and/or raising the shelf inside the oven.
Steam or not to steam?
Mastering how you add water to the oven for producing steam is a key skill in any bakers toolbox. Steam aids the oven spring and also forms beautiful crisp crusts.
Bread with a delicious creamy textured crumb can be made with or without the inclusion of steam, but a true soft crust will only arrive if no steam is added.
In an oven without steam, the bread will browns quickly. This will reduce the baking time and trap more moisture in the bread.
Baking bread without steam also produces a thicker crust.
Moisture departs the crumb in the oven and during cooling. But when the outer perimeter is so thick it struggles to escape the bread. Instead, the starch particles in the crust absorb the escaping moisture, softening the crust and slowing the rate at which water leaves the bread's core.
What about the oven rise?
There will still be an oven rise regardless of steam or not. There will be less growth without steam but you might not even notice the difference! Adding fat to the dough offers protection to the dough in the oven and replicates the effects of steam.
Three set strategies for a soft crumb
Making a bread softer can open up a can of worms. Some of the tweaks listed above will complement each other. Some won't.
There are three core strategies to follow for softer bread. The recipe and methods are built from either of theses approaches. With tweaks and adjustments to make them special for the baker or the region of origin:
- An artisan way that suits long-fermentation.
- A bread influenced on the brioche-style.
- A leaner, fast loaf.
1. How to soften artisan bread
To make an artisan or sourdough loaf softer, increase the amount of water in the dough. It is also helpful to include a small amount of olive oil and honey in the recipe.
If you are making sourdough or other long-fermented bread this is the solution for you. These changes complement each other nicely to give a less harsh crumb in artisan bread.
2. How to use brioche techniques to soften bread
To incorporate the ingredients used in brioche for softer bread, include fat and dairy. Switch water for milk and add high amounts of egg, butter and sugar to the dough.
Brioche bread is one of the softest breads. They have to be lightly baked otherwise they'll be an expensive bore! Including the ingredients and techniques found in a brioche to an existing recipe, will produce lighter tasting textures. - You may need to chill the dough in order to shape it if it becomes too subtle.
3. How to soften a basic dough
To soften a standard tin loaf or roll, reduce the amount of time it takes to make it. Minimal slow mixing, followed by an intense long mix, no first rise and a warm proof. The dough can contain a small amount of sugar and oil.
This is the basics of how modern sliced bread is made. To enhance it, add eggs, ascorbic acid or conditioners and extra fat or sugar to the dough.
How to store bread to keep it softer
To store bread, seal it in a bag before it cools completely (35C recommended). You will find it stays fresh for days! Keep sealed in the bag. If I plan to keep bread for more than 3 days I find it best to pop some of them in the freezer until needed.
As you can see making bread less hard is a bit of a challenge and isn’t necessarily resolved by changing one method or adding an ingredient. A combination of changes and forward planning is required. Getting it right will make you a favourite in your household! I can testify on that one!