One of my local bakeries makes bread that is always so crumbly. I keep going back, hoping they have just had an off day, but it’s always the same! So if you are asking the question, “why is my bread crumbly” you’re most definitely not alone in your struggles! It’s an issue many bakers have, even the professionals.
The most likely causes of crumbly bread are under-hydrated flour or that the dough wasn’t kneaded enough. It can also be due to the bread being baked for too long or improper cooling.
So let’s break each one down in detail to discover why your bread is crumbly and how to fix it!
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Too much flour
Flour contains protein which is what knits the structure of the bread together. The proteins primarily responsible for producing the crumb network are gliadin and glutenin. These proteins need to soak up water to develop into long stretchy gluten. Once stretchy, they’ll be able to bond together to form a strong yet flexible structure. If protein is not fully hydrated, the dough has little strength and crumbles like dry, flaky pastry. Aside from simply misreading the recipe, there are a handful of reasons why this might happen:
Flour absorbs water at varying rates. In general, bread flour wants more water to hydrate its extra protein. Yet, there are still anomalies between flour brands. Getting the dough hydration levels correct is a challenge. It can sometimes require a few attempts to understand how much water is suitable for your dough!
Solution #1: Not enough water
When using a new flour, it’s best to hold back 5% of the water in the recipe and add it if required. Have some water nearby, though, as if your dough is particularly dry and dense, you’ll want to add some more!
Solution #2: Use scales
The reason your dough is too dry might not be down to the recipe or the type of flour you use. It could be due to improper measuring! If you’ve read any bread baking tips on this site (or many others), you’ve probably heard that you should be “weighing your ingredients in grams.” So if you’ve not already joined the Scales Club, now is the time!
Weighing the flour provides accurate measurements every time, so you can follow a recipe precisely. This drastically improves the chance of flawless bread and lets you keep a check on the amount of water added to your recipes to rule dough hydration out as a cause of crumbly bread! I use the MyWeigh KD7000 scales as they are perfect for home bread baking.
Raw flour was added to the dough
It’s common for bakers to add flour when kneading or shaping. And dusting the worktop with flour before kneading is one of my pet hates. So much so I’m thinking of starting a “no adding flour when kneading society” are you in?! Anyway, jokes aside, there is no need to add flour to the table when kneading, not even a little bit. The flour will be absorbed into the dough, making it an unspecified part of the recipe.
The result is a dryer dough, and the possibility of under-hydrated protein is likely. But it doesn’t just stop at causing under-hydration! Raw flour will break up the existing gluten structure, preventing the structure from rising when the yeast does its work.
Most sticky doughs firm up after a little more kneading. But if you’re not too confident handling sticky doughs, reduce the water in the recipe by 5% in the future, and only add it if the dough needs it.
It’s tempting and often necessary to flour-dust the surface before shaping your bread. Try to use an oil slick for stretch and folds and when shaping, but flour is often the only solution when using bannetons. Try to keep extra flour to a minimum and avoid folding it in as the bread is shaped.
Not enough gluten in the flour
For a strong crumb structure that doesn’t crumble when sliced, you need gluten! Bread flour is high-gluten wheat flour that is best for a springy crumb. All-purpose and plain flours will contain fewer gluten proteins or at least fewer healthy gluten proteins. If your dough doesn’t have enough gluten, it won’t bond together. The result is a dense loaf that’s likely to be crumbly.
Whole wheat flour can lead to incredibly dry bread, especially when stone ground. It also requires a lot more water than white flour and takes longer to soak up liquid into its structure.
Whole wheat flour does contain plenty of protein. They are often higher protein than many bread flours! But these gluten proteins are less accessible than white flour. A whole wheat dough requires some time for hydrolysis and enzymes to break down the flour to reveal the proteins.
Switch to a higher protein bread flour with between 11 and 13% protein percentage.
An autolyse or soaker is a great way to prepare whole wheat flour to be ready for the remaining ingredients.
Instead of making a 100% whole wheat loaf, you can trade some whole wheat flour for white flour. Try a 50–50 combination. You might be surprised by the difference this makes!
Baking at the wrong temperature
If you are baking your bread at a temperature that is too cool for bread, you’ll probably be baking it for too long. This is because there will be less caramelization and enzymic reactions (Malliard reaction) to colour the crust, so it’s natural to bake it for longer.
While this can produce a nice even crumb, it can also cause too much moisture to exit the dough, causing the bread to be dry. This will intensify any crumbly texture, making the crumbly sensation even worse!
It could also be baked too quickly at a high temperature. A short baking time can look great on the outside, but inside, where the starch has not gelled, the structure can be limp and fall apart.
Lean, standard bread is usually baked between 210 – 230C (410-445F). See my best temperature to bake bread guide to learn more about the correct settings for a particular loaf.
Ovens often deviate from their intended temperature. Many bakers are surprised to find that their oven is 20-30 higher or lower than expected. If you think that your bread is baking much faster or slower than expected, get an oven thermometer. One of these devices will tell you exactly what temperature your oven is running at so you can adjust your actual baking temperature if required.
Not kneading enough
Kneading can be vital to making great bread, but a no-knead recipe can equally provide you with baking delights. Confused? Let me explain. The dough should either be kneaded or lightly incorporated and allowed plenty of time to bulk ferment. Yeast and enzymes mature the dough during bulk fermentation (also called the first rise). At the same time, the gluten structure develops naturally, albeit much slower than if it was kneaded.
Use the windowpane test to check dough development before the dough is shaped.
Kneading too fast
Hydrating the gluten so that it can stretch doesn’t happen instantly. Flour needs time to soak in water before any intense kneading. While it tends not to be an issue when hand kneading, some home bakers using a stand mixer damage the gluten by kneading the dough too quickly, too early. The result is weak gluten cannot form strong bonds, and the dough either collapses as it rises or turns out crumbly once baked.
Autolyse the flour and water before adding the remaining ingredients.
Gently combine your dough for at least 3 minutes, preferably 5-7 minutes, before the speed of the mixer is increased. Some mixers don’t have a slow setting. If you don’t hand-knead, manually turn the dough hook in the dough, or try a Danish whisk. See how to knead dough.
Too much yeast
If you have added too much yeast to your dough it can rise before the gluten structure matures. If this happens, you are likely to see large holes throughout the crumb and a crumb that crumbles in many cases.
If using fresh yeast, the amount used should be less than 2.2% of the total amount of flour. For dried yeast, only use 1% compared to the amount of flour. It’s much easier to calculate these amounts if you measure your ingredients in grams.
Use a yeast conversion tool to convert between active, instant, and fresh yeast.
Not enough salt
Salt is not only for flavour. It strengthens the gluten bonds and slows the activity of the yeast. Aside from a weaker flavour if you don’t have enough salt in your dough, two things will happen:
- The gluten structure will be weaker, making the dough less elastic and spreading outwards when it rises
- The dough will rise quickly, which results in a weaker gluten structure
All in all, this can lead to the crumb crumbling away and falling apart.
Salt levels are usually between 1.5% and 2% of the total flour used. So in a typical tin loaf using 550 grams of flour, there should be between 8 and 11 grams of salt, roughly 1 ½ teaspoon. Increase the amount of salt in the recipe if less.
Didn’t rise for long enough
If a piece of bread is under-proofed, it lacks the softness and chewiness that you associate with great bread. The tight, unaerated crumb produced can feel dry, and while it may not always crumble when sliced, it can have a texture close to eating cardboard.
If your bread is dense and under-risen, proof it for longer next time you bake. You can also use the finger poke test to determine whether the dough should rise further. To do this, wet your finger and poke the top of the bread. It will stay indented for around 3 seconds before springing back up if it’s ready. If it pops straight back up, give it a bit longer to rise before baking.
Too much fat
While adding some fat to bread dough can be great for uniting the dough structure and making bread less crumbly, too much fat added early on during kneading can make things worse. Fat lubricates and protects the gluten strands making the dough structure harder to develop. This results in the dough not being developed effectively, no matter how long it is kneaded.
If a dough contains more than 5% fat, try to delay some or all of the fat until near the end of mixing. This allows the gluten structure to develop ahead of its inclusion. As liquid fats such as oil and eggs make a dough wetter, it’s not always possible. Solid fat such as butter or lard is easier as they contain less water.
The dough was too warm
As yeast is more active when it is warm, a hot dough will rise quicker, thus causing issues when making bread. While a warm dough isn’t an actual cause of crumbly bread, compensating for it leads to many of the problems discussed.
A fast rise produces a less mature gluten structure. Suppose a dough was not to pass the windowpane test at the end of kneading. In that case, chances are that the gluten will be fragile, and the bread will be defective and potentially crumbly.
It’s tempting to add extra flour to soak up the water excreted by the yeast while kneading. It’s also tempting to under or overproof the dough as it’s hard to manage workload, especially when doing multiple doughs or other tasks.
Didn’t let it cool
Bread needs to cool down after baking so that the gelatinized starch can harden. Not allowing the bread to cool down to at least body temperature can damage the structure of the crumb so that it falls apart effortlessly.
Leave the bread to cool down to a core temperature of 35C (95F) before cutting into it or storing it. When left on a cooling rack, this will take around 2 hours for a large loaf.
Extra tips to improve crumbly bread
The power of protein
One of the best ways to stop bread from being crumbly is to add extra protein to the dough. You can buy vital protein flour, which adds extra gluten, but other proteins such as those found in eggs or soy flour can be used. They help to bond the gluten together.
Lecithin, also found in soy flour, vegetable oil, and eggs, strengthens the crumb structure. Using one of these natural bread improvers will enhance the dough network to make better bread.
Soaking dry ingredients
We’ve already covered how soaking whole wheat flour can help to form a more robust dough structure. Still, other ingredients can be considered for soaking too. Soaking ingredients such as seeds, dried fruit, and nuts before their addition means they don’t absorb liquid, which would dry the dough (and gluten) out. You also have the option of adding a bit of salt, strong alcohol, or honey to bring out extra flavour.
Why is my bread crumbly? – conclusion
Together we’ve covered everything I can think of that can cause crumbly bread. Did this article give you sensible ideas to try? If so, or if you have any further questions, let me know in the comments below. I’m always trying to make my articles the best resource for home and professional bakers, so your questions are welcome! And if you’re new to the site, sign up for the newsletter to join our fantastic bread baking community!!