Baking bread is one of the most satisfying things to achieve in the kitchen!
There is a great deal of therapy that you can seek from the kneading of the dough, the proving of the dough, and producing one of the best smells to ever exude from a kitchen!
But have you ever had one of those moments where you think you have done everything by the letter, only to look at your masterpiece to see your dough not rising?!
What a disaster! Why is my bread dough not rising?!
When I am making bread, my secret weapon ingredient is yeast.
yeast creates a very clever action within the bread dough that makes it light, airy, and risen.
When yeast is added to the flour and water mix to create the bread dough, the yeast will use the natural sugars in the flour as its fuel (almost as if it eats the sugars!) and produce Carbon Dioxide and Ethanol.
Don’t panic; we are not making alcohol-laden bread!
Although this process doesn’t sound like the most appealing process on the planet, those tiny carbon dioxide bubbles get trapped within the gluten in the dough and can’t escape!
The only thing the bubbles can do, however, is go up!
There you have your rising dough, courtesy of the fermentation process!
Types of raising agents used in bread
There are many types of yeast you can use to make bread which will generally come under these names:
Active dry yeast
Active dry yeast is probably the most popular yeast available.
It is semi-dehydrated and comes in pre-measured and sealed little packets for convenience, and needs rehydrating before use in a dough mix.
You would usually proof yeast in water for 10-15 minutes before adding it to your flour mixture.
A step up from the active dry yeast, instant yeast (rapid yeast) is finer in texture and tends to have a better rising rate for quicker and more efficient rising.
The great thing about instant yeast is that it doesn’t require any proving. You can add it straight into the flour mixture.
Instant yeast is definitely my most preferred type as its quick and easy to use and is the most ideal type if you tend to use a bread machine quite a lot.
Fresh yeast is generally found in the fresh section of your supermarket and comes in a block.
This yeast can be mixed straight in with your other ingredients directly and doesn’t require any proving.
Fresh yeast is a little harder to get your hands on though, so if you can’t find it, just opt for some instant or active dry yeast.
Levain or sourdough starter is a super clever way to get a starter for dough, but you have to keep it alive to make it super effective.
It is added to flour and water but takes on natural yeast cultures from the air to ferment.
If kept in peak fermentation, you can use this to make your bread dough rise.
Why is my bread dough not rising?
Making bread may look like an easy and simple activity, but it can sometimes have a mind of it’s own, meaning your bread dough might not even rise at all!
Now that we know what ingredients to use that make dough rise ie yeast, let’s take a look at the reasons why your dough doens’t rise.
Yeast out of date
If yeast is out of date, there is the possibility that it has indeed died (this makes it easier to understand that it is a living thing!).
This will give your bread no reactivity as it no longer ‘breathes.’ The best place for this is, unfortunately, in the bin!
It is also important to mention here that storing yeast correctly can drastically improve its effectiveness when you come to use it.
Dry yeast is best kept in a cool and dry place before opening and in the fridge once opened, away from moisture in a plastic container.
The storage for fresh yeast is a bit stricter, and it should be kept in the fridge in an air-tight container until needed.
If you really want to preserve yeast, you can also store it in the freezer for up to 6 months!
Water too hot
Please don’t be under any illusions that activating your yeast with water hotter than recommended will speed up the bread-making process or make your dough rise higher than the rest!
If the water is too hot, even by a little bit, it will kill the yeast, and your dough will not rise at all!
The optimum water temperature to add to your yeast to activate it is no hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (around 48 degrees Celsius), which is lukewarm, ideally around 110F.
If in doubt, use a cooking thermometer to gauge the correct temperature.
Water too cold
Similarly, if you use water to activate the dry yeast and it is too cold, the yeast simply will not activate and will not start producing those lovely carbon dioxide bubbles we desperately need for a light and risen bread dough.
Heating water from cold on a gentle heat will help to bring it up to temperature slowly.
Environment not warm enough
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 a few tips on how to rise dough when all you have is a cool environment:
- Rise the dough in a warm oven. Rising dough in oven 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. Top tip: Place some hot water bottles underneath the blankets to create a nice warm environment.
- Place the dough next to the radiator. Obviously making sure it won’t be disturbed by anything and is not in a draughty place!
- Use a fermentation box to keep the temperature constant and the dough out of harm’s way. You could always install a proving drawer in your kitchen too.
Too much salt
Salt and yeast don’t mix very well together! It is needed for sure, but there is a science applied to find the optimum amount!
When we looked at dry yeast, in particular, we decided that it needed warm water to activate, right?
So when we look at salt, too much salt in the dough, in particular, we notice that it will actually dehydrate the yeast we were perfectly hydrating in a previous stage, which obviously makes no sense to do!
And we all know what happens when the yeast doesn’t activate, don’t we? (You should know by now!).
The perfect amount of salt for bread is 2% of the total weight of the flour used for the recipe, so keep this in mind when the scales are out!
I usually add about a teaspoon of salt to my dough, which is the right amount.
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!
Make sure you have something else to do so you don’t clock-watch waiting for it to be ready!
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 the dough has not been kneaded enough, the dough will take longer to rise.
- How much yeast is in the dough. If there is too little 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 – patience is key, my friend.
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!
When trying to get your bread dough to rise, be sure that your yeast is activated correctly with warm water, be sure that the correct amount of salt is used, which is enough to flavour but not to stop the activation process of the yeast and apply plenty of patience!
Rome was not built in a day, so don’t be disconcerted if your dough hasn’t risen in an hour! It takes time!
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 is focussing on the things it loves to thrive in, such as a warm atmosphere or warm blanket hugs!
After proving comes baking, and that is the BEST bit about all of your hard work!
So now, you never have to worry about why is my bread dough not rising, ’cause now you know all the tricks!