There are few things more satisfying to a baker than taking out the freshly baked loaf from the oven, slicing it up (after it has cooled down of course), and slathering on some butter. It’s the simple things in life.
But all too often in the baking bread process, there can be some frustrating hiccups along the way. One of the most common problems is when your dough doesn’t rise properly. Whether you’re a novice baker or an experienced one, this can be a difficult problem to solve. Sometimes it seems like no matter what you do, your dough just doesn’t want to cooperate.
So what do you do if this happens to you and your dough just refuses to puff up? Why is my bread dough not rising?!
Bread dough can have trouble rising for a number of common reasons. Here’s a list of possible reasons why your dough might not be rising and what you can do about it.
What makes bread dough rise?
Before we start troubleshooting unrisen bread, I think it’s important we quickly understand how bread rises.
Fermentation is the process that is used to make bread dough rise. This is a chemical reaction that happens when yeast is added to the dough and it starts to eat the sugars in the flour. The by-products of this reaction are carbon dioxide gas and alcohol.
The CO₂ gas will form bubbles in the dough, which will cause the dough to expand and rise. The alcohol will evaporate during baking, leaving behind a light acidic flavor in the bread.
The Importance of Yeast
Bread simply can’t rise unless you have yeast. Yeast is a living organism and it’s what makes bread rise by producing carbon dioxide gas. As we just discussed, this gas gets trapped in the dough and begins to expand, causing the bread to rise.
There are two popular types of yeast that you can use for baking: active dry yeast and instant (or rapid-rise) yeast.
Active dry yeast needs to be dissolved in water before using, while instant yeast can be added directly to the dry ingredients. I personally prefer using instant yeast because it’s more reliable, but either type will work.
For yeast to work, it needs to be in a humid and warm environment. If it’s too cold, the yeast will go into hibernation mode and won’t produce gas. If it’s too hot, the yeast will die.
Why is my bread dough not rising?
There are several reasons why your dough might not be rising. Here are some of the most common causes for this problem.
Your yeast out of date
If yeast is out of date, there is a strong possibility that it has indeed died. That said, I have used yeast that is a few months out of date and still works, so the date on the packet isn’t always a good indication of the lifespan of the yeast.
Instant and active dry yeast can stay good for a pretty long time. To check if your yeast is still active you need to test it.
To do this, add the yeast to some warm water (between 105-115°F) with a little bit of sugar and stir until dissolved. Then let it sit for a few minutes. If the mixture starts bubbling and foaming, then your yeast is still alive and active.
But if there’s no reaction, then your yeast is most likely dead and won’t work for rising bread dough.
If you find that you are throwing out yeast more times than using it, look at the way you are storing it. Yeast should always be stored in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight.
You can also store yeast in the fridge or freezer in an air-tight container to make it last even longer. Just make sure to bring it back to room temperature before using.
Incorrect water temperature
Yeast needs warm water to thrive in, so the temperature of the water is really important.
If the water you’re using to dissolve the yeast is too hot, it will kill the yeast. Make sure that the water is between 105-115°F to get the yeast working.
Similarly, if your water is too cold, the yeast will not activate at all and won’t produce gas to rise the dough.
If you aren’t sure what temperature your water is, it might be worth investing in a thermometer. This is an essential tool for cooking and baking in general and I think anyone who is serious about cooking should have one.
Not enough sugar
The yeast needs sugar to feed on in order to produce carbon dioxide gas. If there isn’t enough sugar in the dough, the dough will simply not be able to rise. Add about a tablespoon of sugar per cup of flour in your dough recipe.
Salt inhibits rising
If you’re using salt in your bread recipe, make sure to add it after the yeast has been dissolved in the water, if using active yeast.
For instant yeast, make sure the yeast and the salt don’t touch until you have started mixing all the ingredients together.
Salt inhibits rising, so if you add it too early, it will prevent the dough from rising properly.
On the other hand, salt is really important for rising dough. It puts the breaks on yeast and helps it rise in a controlled manner. Without salt, the dough will rise too fast and cause it to collapse in the oven.
Too much flour
If you’ve added too much flour to your dough, it will be dense and heavy, and won’t rise well. You need to have the correct proportion of yeast to flour in order for the dough to rise.
To make sure you measure out your ingredients correctly, I recommend using digital scales. This will take all the guesswork out of baking and ensure your recipes turn out perfectly every time.
Your kitchen might be to cold
Could it be that your bread isn’t rising because your overall environment is too cool? Attempting to make your bread rise in a cold environment will take the dough a very long time to rise, and sometimes, the dough might not even rise at all.
The environment ideally needs to be between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (26.6-32 degrees celsius) for the dough to rise.
Here are a few tips on how to rise dough when all you have is a cool environment:
- Rise the dough in a warm oven. This allows you to keep the environment at the optimum rising temperature.
- Cover the dough with warm blankets. This can be done right from the start of the proving process, and the blankets can be changed when they start to cool off.
- Place the dough next to the radiator. The warmth radiating from the radiator will help the dough rise quickly.
- Use a fermentation box to keep the temperature constant and the dough out of harm’s way, or use a proving drawer that can be heated to low temperatures and keep the atmosphere warm.
Patience is Key
It can take at least an hour for the dough to rise in a warm environment and a bit longer than that if it’s cooler, so be patient.
The rate your dough will rise depends on a lot of factors, including:
- Environment: Is it too warm or too cool for optimum rising? If the dough is in a cold environment, it will take longer to rise.
- How much the dough has been kneaded: If you have gone for the no-knead method, the dough will take longer to rise.
- How much yeast is in the dough: If there is a small amount of yeast, it will take longer to rise.
Just because the dough hasn’t risen in the first hour doesn’t mean it won’t rise.
So here we have seen that getting your bread dough to rise is a little bit of science, a lot of trusting techniques that work, and a lot of patience.
Rome was not built in a day, so don’t be discouraged if your dough hasn’t risen in an hour.
By eliminating the things we know that are bad for dough rising, such as using water that is too hot or having a room that is too cool, we can have more success by focusing on the things it loves to thrive in, such as a warm atmosphere.