5 Reasons Your Homemade Bread Is So Dense

Why did my bread come out so dense? When people start to learn to make bread that is often the most common question. Unfortunately, it is also one of the hardest ones to answer. On one hand, bread baking is so simple. Flour, water, salt, yeast. It really is very easy to bake a loaf of bread at home. What’s hard is to bake a consistently good loaf at home. 

One of the things that scares or intimidates people most about bread baking is how inconsistent the processes and outcomes can appear despite following the recipe to the letter.

Everything about bread baking is connected, so if one thing changes or goes sideways, it can throw the whole thing off. The end result might not be a complete disaster but the bread might be slightly less than what you had in your mind when you started out to bake it.

Don’t fret! Every bread baker has opened the oven to find loaves that end up misshapen, under-baked, under-proofed or flat as a pancake. Welcome to the club.

 

Why does my bread feel like a brick?

First, I’m sorry, that stinks. There isn’t one simple answer and if your bread has a heavy, dense texture then there are a number of potential reasons for this but here are the five main reasons that are the most likely for the home baker and we can probably narrow it a bit further.

The flour could have too low a protein content, there could be too much salt in the bread recipe, you did not knead it or leave it to proof long enough, or you could have killed the yeast by leaving the dough to rise in a place that was too hot.

The bottom line is that dense, heavy bread means that the dough didn’t trap enough gas or the yeast didn’t produce enough gas. If you are confident you followed the recipe (water temperature, amount of salt) and didn’t swap in different flour willy-nilly (check this handy chart for flour substitution and how it might effect the recipe) then the issue is likely down to time and/or ambient temperature.

 

What’s the temperature of your kitchen?

If your kitchen (or wherever you are making bread) is a little too warm (above 75-80F) or a little too cool (below about 65F), it might be effecting the proofing stage of your bread.

If it’s on the warm side and you ended up with a dense loaf, it’s likely the bread over proofed, the yeast got too active and produced so much gas that the dough effectively popped like a balloon.

If it’s too cold, then the opposite might have happened. The yeast didn’t get a chance to become active enough and create enough gas to lift the dough. You should try letting it sit out a little longer.

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How long is long enough?

So what is proofing and how do you know when enough is enough?

Proofing is the final resting of a loaf of bread dough before it goes into the oven. It’s the most delicate and frustrating stage of bread baking. You are so close. The dough probably smells delicious and looks primed to go into the oven. But you need to remain patient and let it proof completely.

For most loaves you can use the finger dent test to check for readiness. Softly poke the dough with your fingertip leaving a small indent. If the indentation slowly creeps back almost the entire way, you are good to go.

If you poke it and there is no or little bounce back, it is over-proofed. If you poke the dough and it  feels firm and leaves little impression, it is under-proofed and needs more time.

 

Can the dough recover?

What can you do if your dough is over proofed? Unfortunately, not a whole lot but….maybe? The gluten is overstretched. The balloon has popped. But it might have a little energy left. If you used active dry yeast (not rapid-rise which is really designed for one quick power rise) then you can try to reshape the over-proofed loaf and let it rest for 20 minutes then pop it in the oven and hope there’s still enough energy left for some oven spring.

It might have a bit denser crumb and not rise quite as high but should still taste okay. Butter helps everything.

Treat it as a learning experience.

You have a little more luck if your dough is under-proofed. If you’ve baked an under-proofed loaf it will likely have some random bubbles on the outer edges but be more more dense in the center because the gluten hasn’t had time to fully develop. You’ll likely notice the bread looks fine (if a bit misshapen) around the edges, but the middle is gummy and dense.

 

Summary

Learning about dough, the look, the feel and the smell is about experience. Keep baking and soon you will have a much more intuitive sense just by looking at the dough that it is ready to go into the oven.

I promise this isn’t about making bread baking more complicated or scary. I love making bread. It’s magic but it’s also a learning process and like most things that appear simple, it’s complicated and takes time and practice to achieve any level of consistency and mastery.

Mistakes like dense, brick-like loaves, are just part of the process. Keep failing. Keep baking.

 

MIKE'S WINDOW

6 comments

  1. I have noticed water temperature affects the development and proofing of dough as well. I have through experimentation added water to the dough slowly after the “cleanup” stage. Also, I would like to know what are the ingredients that home bakers do not have access to. Ive noticed dough conditioners and malted something or other in commercial products.

  2. We’re looking for just the opposite. We love dense heavy bread. Especially rolls. Our grandma use to make bread and rolls They we’re real dense and heavy. Had a little sweet to them too. I do know she had a start in the refrigerator at all times. Every time she made bread. She would take out the start and when she was done. She would put a start back in the refrigerator. We’ve been trying to figure this out for over 30 years with no success

  3. Yeh I hate dense bread , but even now, all I get is dense bread and I am running out of recipes to try. I have tried all methods and still it’s heavy.I tried all flours still too dense , I tried poolish, I tried sour dough starter, I tried making it over 2 days and tried making over 2 hours, still the same .I tried a dutch oven, I tried leaving it in the oven and adding water to steam it,I used my left over pizza dough on my last attempt The pizza was fine, crisp and 80% perfect , but the rolls I made, wow, horrible, even the honey I used as a sweetener could be smelt as if I had thrown a bunch of roses and a sheath of lavender into the mix .I have tried, milk, water, Himalyan Pink salt, apple cider vinegar , bread improver, unsalted butter, olive oil, vegetable oil , milk powder…….results heavy bread.

    1. Dont knead or fold it too much after the initial rise.
      Respect the dough.. dont rip the dough folding. When it is done rising, be super smooth with handling the mold.. dont hit it nowhere etc let the air in..

      1. Great point. This likely comes with experience but you almost can’t be too gentle with the bread. You really want to preserve the gas that has built up during proofing.

  4. I’ve been baking bread for a few years now with pretty good consistency but lately had heavy results, don’t know if it’s me over working it , flour is not as strong, or using too much flour when shaping the buns, tried oiling the work surface last time to avoid excess flour,not much better.To the person who mentioned their gran putting some of the dough in the ‘fridge to start the next batch this is a tip I picked up on line, after the first prove I cut about 4 ounces off the batch and put it in an oiled airtight container in the ‘fridge to start the next batch, 7/10 days is ok, gives a better flavour to the bread, (slightly sourdough )but use dried yeast as well, thanks for the tips Mike.

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