Why Is My Bread Hard?

Why Is My Bread Hard?
Published on
27 November 2021
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

There is just something about homemade bread. It’s irresistible when just out of the oven! Perhaps you plan to serve it with a comforting Sunday breakfast? For sandwiches? Whatever the reason you made a loaf of bread, you have the highest hopes for perfection. However, if you pull it out of the oven and it is like a rock. You are left wondering, why is my bread hard? 

You can ask yourself many questions when bread is hard. I get it. It’s frustrating. All that work and all you have to show for it is a hard, dense loaf of bread you don’t want to eat.

Remember, baking takes time to learn. If you are a new baker, remember to be patient and follow the directions closely. Take a bit of time to learn a few new tricks, and you will find that you’re turning out perfect loaves of bread in no time! Here are my top tips to prevent hard bread:

Knead your dough a little more

Developing gluten

Kneading your dough or well, not kneading enough could be why you find yourself asking – “why is my bread hard?” As the yeast consumes the sugars in the flour, it releases gas which gets trapped in the dough by the gluten matrix. The result should leave you with a fluffy, airy loaf of bread.

To build a robust gluten matrix, you’ll knead your dough or award it enough time to naturally mature and fall into place. Unless you let your dough ferment in the fridge for 8+ hours, you will want to knead your dough to build that structure.

Keep in mind that over-kneading dough isn’t good either. Overworking your dough will cause the gluten to weaken as it rises, leaving it less able to capture the gas produced. 

So, how long should you knead your dough?

  • If you are using a mixer with a kneading hook, knead your dough for a minimum of 10 minutes. 
  • If you are kneading by hand, knead your dough for at least 20 minutes.

You should also split your kneading into 3 stages; gentle incorporation, slow mixing, and fast kneading. This ensures that the gluten is sufficiently hydrated before intense kneading commences.

You want your dough to be soft and stretchy to the touch by the time kneading finishes. You can test this by doing the windowpane test

Do a test of your dough by taking a piece of dough in your finger and stretching it. Does the dough rip as soon as you start pulling? If so, you will want to keep kneading that dough. You are looking for a dough that stretches and pulls but does not tear apart. Think about an elastic texture. 

Change the type of flour

Flour can be another factor when you are asking yourself, why is my bread hard? How much flour did you use? And what type of flour did you use? The type of flour has an impact on the end result of your bread. For example, if you want light bread, you don’t want to use whole grain flours such as rye or wheat. Not if you are a beginner, at least. When you want to add whole grain flour such as these for flavour, add a small amount of these flours to a white bread recipe. Your loaf will come out light with more depth in the taste while maintaining lightness. This is the trick that I use to make my unique loaves of bread.

It’s also worth considering that each type of flour absorbs water in different quantities and at varying rates. Whole grain flours are slow to soak up water initially but absorb more overall when compared to white wheat flour. There will also be differences between brands and even batches of the same brands. This means that a recipe that you follow may need some tweaking of its hydration to make it perfect for you.

Resist incorporating extra flour

You want to be careful about how much flour you use. Too much flour can make your dough tough, which will make your bread hard. Only use the amount of flour called for in your recipe. If your dough is sticky, try working the dough a little longer before adding any more flour. We know that sticky dough is not fun or easy to work with, but it’s what you want for light bread. Adding unnecessary raw flour into the dough whilst kneading or shaping will soak up water without developing its gluten. The result is a dry-tasting loaf of bread.

If you feel that you’ve added too much or too little water to your recipe, either follow my how to deal with sticky dough guide or add more water or flour right at the start of kneading.

Measure your ingredients accurately

When it comes to baking, you must use accurate measurements. Many people use measuring cups. However, as you gain experience with baking, you will find that scales are much more accurate. And because scales are more accurate, they are much easier to bake bread with. Measuring cups leaves room for error by air pockets and differences between the coarseness and density of the ingredients. The KD-7000’s are the scales that I recommend at Busby’s Bakery.

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Properly proof your dough

Proofing bread in the oven

If you pull your loaf of bread from the oven and notice that the edges of the dough look compressed, it is because you should have let that dough rise longer. More experienced bakers know this is more of a feel than following directions to the letter. Make sure your dough is in a warm place to rise, and keep an eye on the time. Most bread requires proofing for a couple of hours before moulding and then proofing again after you have shaped it. This is the 2 rise method that many bread recipes follow.

Proofing boxes are excellent tools for all home bakers looking to make the perfect loaf of bread. Not only do proofing boxes improve your end baking product, but they also improve your proofing times. You can cut your proofing time down by approximately 50-100%. The Brod and Taylor proofing box is the best solution for home bakers, or you can take a stab at making your own DIY proofing box

If you are not sure if your dough is ready to bake, use the poke test. Push your finger into the dough. It should spring back in around 3 seconds. If it springs back straight away, it needs longer to rise.

Push your finger gently into the dough
Push your finger into the dough. It should spring back in around 3 seconds. If it springs back straight away, it needs longer to rise.

Work on your shaping technique

Shaping your bread is another way you can end up being the cause of hard bread. You put all this time and effort into making your loaf of bread. So, hang in there a little longer! Moulding, or shaping bread dough is maybe more important than you think. It can make your loaf…. or it can make your loaf hard. It’s another point in the bread-making process where patience pays off. You can’t just roll it into a ball and throw it in the oven. Well, you can, but the result probably won’t be what you want!

You have a lot of options when it comes to shaping your bread. The main thing you are looking for is tension in the dough remaining after it is shaped. You create tension by stretching the outer membrane of the dough as you mould it before it’s ready for final proofing. You can learn more in my how to shape and preshape bread dough guide, but here are the basics:

1) Preshape the dough

Before your final rise, you want to flatten it out and “preshape” it. Flattening the dough will get all of the air out of it. Once flattened, you can start folding or tucking the dough towards the centre to produce a ball or batard shape.

2) Bench rest

Between preshaping and final shaping, you’ll want to let the dough rest for 10-30 minutes. The length of the rest is determined by how gassy the dough is. The gassier it is, the longer rest is required. You should cover the dough with a tea towel or greaseproof sheet to prevent it from drying out as it rests.

3a) Final shape into a round

For round shapes, make your way around the outside of the dough, tucking it in as you go until you get back to your starting point – creating a round loaf. Then placing your hands in a v-shape, drag the dough towards you on the table to round the edges and add tension.

3b) Final shape into a loaf pan

For a long loaf, roll your dough in a rectangular shape. Place your dough on the table in a rough square or circle. Grasp the right and left sides of the bread in their respective hands. Stretch them out a little before folding them in towards the centre. Next, take the top and bottom edges, and fold them towards the centre, one at a time. Then, take the top half and roll it like a swiss roll towards you to form a sausage. Keep rolling by tucking it in with your thumb until your cylinder reaches the end of the dough. Using your fingertips, close the loaf at the seam.

Tip: Don't use a ton of flour on your prep space. This will add additional flour to the dough when you are shaping.

What if my bread has a hard, thick crust?

The crust is essential when it comes to a perfect loaf of bread. You want just a bit of a crust, but not so much crust that the bread is too thick and hard to eat. Here are some points to consider:

  • Did you over-bake your bread? Overbaking your bread will lead to a hard, overly crusty crust. To check if your bread is done, you can test it by doing the tap test. Take it out of the oven, tap the bottom, if it makes a hollow sound, your bread is done. You can also use a thermometer. Stick it into the thickest part of your loaf of bread. Your bread is done when the thermometer reads 90-93C (190–200F). The exact temperature depends on what type of bread you are making. 
  • Did you have enough moisture in your dough? When your dough does not have enough moisture, it can result in a dry hard crust. Again, you want to be careful about adding extra flour into your dough. Follow the directions and be patient. Your bread may need more kneading, not more flour.
  • A common way to turn rolls into soft rolls is to wrap them in a plastic bag (or beeswax wrap) once they are cool. The escaping moisture will be retained in the bread, making the crust soft and spongy.

How can I make my crust softer?

Why is my bread dry? How can I make a loaf with a softer crust? A perfect loaf of bread is all about having a perfect crust and a soft centre. Here are a few tricks of the trade to help your bread come out with a soft, delicious crust.:

  • Changing the ingredients in your dough can impact how your loaf of bread turns out. By adding milk, oil, butter, or eggs, you can create a lighter crust and a soft texture.
  • Use a light colour tin like stainless steel rather than a darker tin or one with a non-stick coating. Lighter tins will reflect the heat. Dark tins will hold onto heat for longer, leaving your crust darker and harder.
  • You can try using a Pullman tin. A straight-sided tin that has a lid. This will keep your loaf uniform and create a light crust on your bread. 
  • Try brushing your loaf with butter when it comes out of the oven. Brushing with butter can help soften that crust. It will also add just a bit of butter flavour to your bread. I’m not a fan of this method, but hey, you’re welcome to give it a go!
  • Cover your bread with a tea towel for 30 minutes as it comes out of the oven. This retains the moisture escaping the loaf in the crust, making it softer.
  • Storing your bread in a plastic bag will affect how long your bread stays in the same “fresh out of the oven” texture. Storing your bread in a bread box is the best way to keep it fresh for several days. Bread will stay fresh wrapped in a bag for around 3 days before mould starts to step in.
  • If your bread is just a little dry, you can try popping it in the microwave for a second. This will create a bit of moisture to moisten that bread up. 

Baking takes patience

Learning to bake takes time and patience, especially when you are going for those perfectly baked goods. The lovely golden loaves of bread that taste just as good as they look. At first, it can seem overwhelming or challenging but stick with it. You will soon be mastering those loaves of bread with practice and patience! Which of these tips are you going to attempt? Let me know alongside any questions in the comments below.

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