Why Is My Bread Hard?

There is just something about a homemade loaf of bread. It is warming and fresh when just out of the oven. You can enjoy it with just a bit of butter or peanut butter while it is still warm. Perhaps you plan to serve it with a comforting Sunday dinner? For sandwiches? Whatever the reason you made your 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? 

There are so many questions you can ask yourself right after why is my bread hard. We get it. It’s frustrating. All that work and all you have to show for it is a hard, dense loaf of bread that 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. I know you are anxious to get that end product. Everyone is! But after taking a bit of time to learn a few new tricks, you will find that you will be turning out perfect loaves of bread in no time!

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Kneading your dough

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 of the flour, it releases gases that get trapped in the dough by the gluten matrix. The result leaves you with a fluffy, airy loaf of bread.

You turn the gluten in the flour into a gluten matrix by kneading your dough or awarding the moistened flour enough time to naturally fall into place. So, unless you are letting your dough ferment for 12-24 hours, you will want to knead your dough long enough to build that structure.

Keep in mind over-kneading your dough isn’t good either. Overworking your dough will cause the gluten to weaken, leaving the yeast less effective. 

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 want your dough to be soft and springy to the touch. 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. 

Once you have enough practice, you will be able to tell exactly what you are looking for when you knead your bread.

The type of flour used

What 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 heavy flours such as rye or wheat. When you want to add a complex flavour while maintaining the lightness, add a small amount of these flours to your mix. Your loaf will come out light with more depth in the taste. 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 at different quantities, at varying rates. Whole grain flours are slow to soak up water but absorb more water overall. Bread dough made with white flour is fast-absorbing, but without requiring as much. 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 to make it perfect for you.

Adding extra 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?

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. So, be patient and work the dough a little longer.

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 some more water as soon as you realise.

Measuring the ingredients

When it comes to baking, it is very important that you 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 we recommend at Busby’s Bakery.

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Under proofing your dough

Again, the question, why is my bread hard? When you pull out your loaf of bread and notice that the edges of the dough look compressed?

This is because you should have let that dough rise a little 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 do keep an eye on the time. Most breads require proofing for a couple of hours before moulding and then proofing yet again after you have molded it before finally baking.

Proofing boxes are an excellent tool 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 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 asking yourself why is your bread hard? You put all this time and effort into making your loaf of bread. So, hang in there a little longer! Molding, 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 your shape 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 center 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 more gassy, the longer rest. You should cover the dough with a tea towel or greaseproof sheet to prevent it 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 around the table to round the edges further and add some extra tension.

3b) Final shape into a loaf pan

For a long loaf, roll your dough in a rectangular shape. Start by taking the right and left sides of the bread. Stretch them out and then fold them in towards the center. Next, take the top and bottom and fold them in towards the center one at a time. Then, take the top half and roll it to the center, to form a sausage. Keep rolling by tucking it in with your thumb until your cylinder reaches the end of the dough and using your fingertips, close the loaf. 

What if my bread has a hard, thick crust?

When you get that loaf out of the oven and find it has a hard and thick crust, you will be asking yourself, why is my bread hard? The crust is important when it comes to a perfect loaf of bread. You would want just a bit of a crust, but not so much crust that the bread is too thick and hard to eat. 

  • Did you over-bake your bread? Overbaking your bread will lead to a hard, over 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 190 – 210 F. 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. Another trick – don’t use a ton of flour on your prep space. This will add additional flour to your dough as you are kneading it.

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 center. Here are a few tricks of the trade to help your bread come out with a soft, delicious crust. 

  • Changing up 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 color 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, which can leave 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. 
  • 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 can cause it to dry out quicker than storing it in a plastic bag. 
  • 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. With practice and patience, you will soon be mastering those loaves of bread.

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