13 Reasons Why My Bread Didn’t Rise – Let’s Fix It FAST

Published on
13 July 2020
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

In this article, we are going to cover the 13 reasons why bread doesn’t rise so you can make fantastic bread at home every time. I’ve been there…You put all your passion and time into making (what you think is) the perfect loaf to discover it doesn’t rise. Disaster! Sometimes you can proof dough for what seems like forever, but it simply will not rise, or not rise much. Well, have no fear, we’ve all had a few stinkers! After reading this article you will know the most common reasons why bread doesn’t rise and discover ways to improve your rise.

It doesn’t matter about cheese stuffings, einkorn flour or stretch and folds. If the bread simply won’t rise, there’s nothing to celebrate! So let’s go through the most common reasons why your bread is not rising to the top of the tin.

Steps to solving why bread didn’t rise

The reason bread might not rise can be down to many things and often a combination of the errors shown below. The way I eradicate issues in my bread is by starting with the dough. So let’s discuss what to look for so that your bread rises in future.

1) Didn’t put the yeast in

Let’s start with the basics. Back as a bakery manager, I had many bakers insist that they had put the yeast in the mixing bowl to later find it next to the scales on the table behind. It’s a silly mistake but it happens more than you might think.

How do you tell?

If the yeast is in the dough you should feel some gassiness in it. If not, give it a smell, the aroma of the yeast will be noticeable

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If you are still not sure tear a piece of dough and put it in a jug of water and place it in the microwave. As it warms the dough should rise to the surface, if it doesn’t, the yeast has been forgotten or is out of date.

Testing if the yeast rises

You will need to restart the recipe but you can reuse a portion of the dough in the fresh mix. It’ll aid the doughs maturity and enhance the gluten structure. But, if the dough has a long bulk fermentation time ahead of it (over 8 hours) you might be able to just add the yeast, mix it in and leave it to ferment.

2) The yeast was out of date

Yeast does have an expiry date. If you follow the guidelines on the packet, most brands of dried yeast should be used within 7 days of opening. I know, it’s silly right? Dried yeast will keep for months if kept in the fridge and the fresh yeast can last up to a month, depending on how fresh the yeast was when you got it. A large block of fresh yeast keeps fresh for longer than a handful of crumbs.

The yeast is out of date

How to tell if your yeast is passed its best?

Fresh yeast will start to dry out and you will see it turning a dark, nearly charcoal colour in places. You can still use it when it gets to this stage, but it’s not as effective. It’s worth adding a little more or allowing more time for the dough to rise. If it gets to the stage where it is dry and hard throughout it should not be used.

If you are unsure if your dried yeast is still usable, take a small bowl of warm water and add a teaspoon of yeast and another of sugar to it. If it froths after 5-10 minutes it’s good. If not then it’s best to get another packet.

3) The water was too warm and killed the yeast

Many recipes request warm water to be used for activating the yeast. The temperature of this warm water should be 100-110F. If the water temperature is above 60C (140F) the yeast will be permanently deactivated.

4) Sourdough starter wasn’t active enough

A sourdough starter should have nice strong bubbles running through it and smell fragrant and aromatic. It should at least double in size within 6 hours. You can get around twice-a-day feedings by leaving it in the fridge – see sourdough starter feeding methods.

If this is not the case it will take a long time for the bread to rise. This can cause high amounts of lactic acid to develop during fermentation. Excessive lactic acid destroys the dough’s ability to hold its shape. This is the main factor for “Frisbee” bread.

5) Relying on the oven spring to do too much of the rise

Oven spring gives the bread a lift of around 10-20% of its pre-oven size. Oven spring is not solely responsible for raising the bread. The bread should be almost, if not at full size when it goes into the oven. In fact, the bread shrinks as it cools meaning the volume gains from the oven spring are largely lost.

Placing the bread in the oven when under-proofed will make it shoot up more than 20%. This often creates unwanted holes, ripped crusts and tunnelling in the crumb. 

6) The dough was too cold

Yeast doesn’t need oxygen for the bread fermentation process, but it does require warmth. Cold kitchens and cold ingredients slow the rate of dough fermentation. This is a significant reason for bread not rising, or rising very slowly. To remedy this, use a proofer such as this one from Brod & Taylor.

Check price at Brod & Taylor or Amazon

Tip: You should also control your Desired Dough Temperature by using a formula and a thermometer. 

7) The dough needed to rise for longer

Sometimes the dough just needs longer than the recipe states to rise. With any bread recipe, it is best to watch the dough more than the time. Different ingredients and environments create different results, it’s the magic of bread making, whilst also the challenge!

Learning how the dough should look and feel at the end of each stage of the bread making process is the most powerful skill in baking bread.

8) Too much salt was added

Salt inhibits the yeast which slows dough the production of gas. This is great for supporting the gluten structure though too much salt can stop the dough from rising.

How to tell if you are using too much salt

Most recipes call for the amount of salt to be at around 2% of the weight of the flour. The 2% also includes any other salted additions such as butter and olives. Sometimes by accident, the salt gets added twice or misread the recipe. 

The only way to tell if too much salt is first to check the recipe has a maximum of 2.5% (pizza recipes can go up to 3%) salt. If that looks OK, taste a piece of the raw dough. The flavour of salt should be available to the palette, but not overpowering.

Reasons my bread didn't rise

9) Too much sugar was added to the dough

Similar to salt, sugar defers water passing through cells in the dough through osmosis. Too much sugar in the recipe will slow down the rise significantly. Sweet bread recipes that contain over 5% of the total weight of the flour will affect the yeast. To avoid the effects of osmotic stress, a specialist osmotollerant yeast should be used.

10) There was too much fat added to the dough

Fats lubricate the gluten found in the flour and prevents the development of strong, flexible strands of gluten. The addition of large amounts of fat at the start of mixing creates a tighter and more ridged gluten structure which fails to expand during proofing. 

Adding fat during mixing often leads to dense bread. It is best to delay the addition of fats to near the end of mixing -after much of the gluten has developed. It is a challenge to do this as fats contain water in some format. This means that delaying the addition of fat can produce an overly dry dough.

To get around this you could add half at the start of mixing and the remainder near the end. This utilises the bassinage method, often used to split the water addition.

11) The water contains too much chlorine

Sometimes chlorine or other agents used to clean the water are at such high levels that it destroys yeast or sourdough activity. Make a batch of bread with bottled water to see if it improves the rise of the bread. You can check with your local water board to see if they can give you any information on the quality of your water. They are expected to provide these details if requested.

12) Bulk fermentation was not effective

For a good rise, the flour must be matured. This is created by the action of the levain and the conditioning of the flour. Organic acids mature the dough while the hydrated flour breaks down to present sugars to the yeast.

Bread needs long, strong and elastic gluten to be able to retain gas effectively as it rises. Without a good gluten stricture, the bread will not rise to its full potential. Bread made at a warm fermentation temperature may rise so fast that the gluten structure remains too weak to capture the gas. A long bulk ferment or an autolyse will support this. See my bulk fermentation article to learn more. 

Use prefermented flour instead of long bulk fermentation

Alternatively to autolyse and long bulk fermentation, the use of prefermented flour in the form of biga, poolish, pâte fermentée or sourdough levain can be used. Instead of maturing the flour in the dough, preferments introduce previously mature flour to the mix. 

These additions create different properties to long bulk fermentation in the bread. Preferments must be ripe when added for the maximum benefit of their inclusion.

13) The dough became hard during final proofing

If a dough comes into contact with too much airflow, it dries up which can build a strong, dry layer of dough on the outside. This barrier is often called a skin. It can become so strong that the dough cannot rise anymore. To prevent the dough from “skinning up”, cover it during bulk fermentation and final proofing with a bag or sealed container.

Not covering the dough as it rises can also make the bread expand at the bottom during baking.

Commercial bakeries have proofers that add humidity as well as heat when proofing bread, For the majority of home bakers a bag, box or overturned mixing bowl are used, but if you want to level up, get a home proofer or make a DIY proofing box!

As an extra bonus: Consider your oven set up

Improving the oven set up for baking bread will turbocharge your bread baking! It’s not going to cure flat bread issues on its own, but it will give your bread a more professional appearance. Using a preheated baking stone is pretty much a must if you are baking bread. It will help your bread to spring up in the oven which is called oven spring. If you don’t already have one, maybe check this one out:

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For crusty bread and a higher rise in the oven, adding water is required. The how to add steam to an oven for bread article explains how to do this correctly. The addition of steam delays the setting of the crust to allow the bread to rise further in the oven.

Conclusion

When I first started baking I went straight into a commercial bakery. The recipes were laid out for me, the equipment was amazing, the water tank forced me to probe the flour before it would release the water, and the proofer was set at a constant temperature… It was pretty easy really.

The reason was there were very few variables. The ingredients were the same, the recipes were measured out, the environment was controlled and the equipment was always constant. But when we bake at home it’s not that easy! We don’t have the same equipment or environment. Yet by expanding your knowledge you can learn how to eradicate the issues in your bread so that you can start hitting those grand slams!

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