“My Bread Didn’t Rise”: 5 quick tips for high-rising yeast loaves

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“Why didn’t my bread rise?”

Here at King Arthur Flour, we field hundreds of questions each week from people all over the world. A steady stream of puzzled, challenged, and sometimes frustrated bakers call our telephone baker’s hotline, access our online chat, email us (customercare@kingarthurflour.com), and connect with us via social media and our blog – all with problems that need solving.

Most common question? Anything to do with sourdough. Feeding it (“Why do I have to throw some away? Seems wasteful…); baking with it (“How can I make my bread taste more sour?”), and resuscitating it (“Help, I think I killed my starter!”).

Most common area of concern? Yeast baking. And beyond sourdough, the most frequently asked question is this:

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“Why didn’t my bread rise?”

Talk about loaded…

There are soooo many reasons for bread rising poorly, it’s impossible to address every one of them here. But let’s just look at a few of the more common causes.

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1) Your bread did rise. You simply baked it in the wrong pan.

See these two pans? The one on the left is a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, most commonly used for “quick” breads: batter breads that rely on baking powder or baking soda for leavening. Think banana bread, zucchini, pumpkin… you get the picture.

The loaf pan on the right measures 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″. It’s most commonly used for yeast breads. Think sandwich loaves.

So, what’s a mere 1/2″ difference among friends, right?

Believe it or not, that 9″ x 5″ pan has a 30% greater capacity than the 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan.

So what happens when your sandwich bread recipe calls for an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan, and you decide, “Ah, the 9″ x 5″ is close enough”?

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Same recipe; same rise; same oven; same everything – except the pan.

That’s a 9″ x 5″ loaf on the left; an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf on the right. Both rose just fine; it’s simply that the loaf on the left rose sideways, rather than up.

Lesson learned: when the recipe calls for an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan, use it.

And what if your recipe simply calls for a “loaf pan,” without specifying size?

The basic rule is, if the recipe uses 3 cups of flour, choose the smaller pan. If it uses 4 cups of flour, choose the larger pan. For any amount in between 3 and 4 cups, use either pan – understanding that you’ll get a taller (though possibly mushroom-shaped) loaf in the smaller pan.

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2) Your bread did rise; but then it fell.

My fellow blogger MaryJane recently posted a great guide on determining when your rising loaf has reached its optimal level (which is NOT “as high as possible”), and is ready to go into the oven. Read The Bread Also Rises for some nifty tips.

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3) Your dough was too dry.

See that dough on the left? Here in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen, we’d call that dough “gnarly.” It’s fairly soft, and doesn’t feel particularly dry, but during kneading it doesn’t come together in a ball. Instead, it twists and turns itself into a bunch of separate pieces that keep slapping against one another; it’s gnarly.

See that dough on the right? It’s soft, but not overly sticky; e.g., it doesn’t cling to your hands when you pick it up. Instead, it just barely “kisses” the side of the bowl, if you’re kneading in a stand mixer. If you’re kneading by hand, it will stick to your kneading surface in a “tacky” way, rather than viscously, like glue.

This degree of stickiness shows that the dough’s flour/liquid balance is right on.

So does it really matter that much?

Sure does. A loaf made with too much flour (or not enough liquid – same thing) will be dry, dense, and heavy. Yeast is happiest in a moist environment, feeding happily when it’s got enough to drink. Likewise, gluten (the network of protein strands that allows your loaf to expand and hold its shape) stretches more readily when there’s more liquid present.

Think of trying to blow bubbles out of thick, viscous soap. Now think of the ultra-thin soap/water you dip your wand in to make those backyard bubbles. Get the picture?

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Two loaves. Same recipe, same pan, same rise time, same oven, same bake time.

The loaf on the left was made with 2 tablespoons less water than the loaf on the right. That translates to a 12% difference.

Not a lot, right? But look not only at the rise, but the shape. You can see that the loaf on the left struggled to rise, crowning only at the top, while the sides sluggishly resisted. The loaf on the right rose more evenly, side to side.

Takeaway: yes, measuring your ingredients carefully is important (which is why I always use a scale).

Also, if you’re kneading dough by hand, resist the urge to add more flour as you knead; if the dough is perfectly balanced (flour/liquid) to begin with, every extra tablespoon of flour you throw down on your kneading surface and pick up with your dough is upsetting that balance.

Hint: Knead on a lightly greased surface, rather than one that’s floured. A silicone kneading mat is very handy.

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4) The more whole grains in the loaf, the harder it is for it to rise.

Loaves, left to right: 100% all-purpose flour; 50% all purpose/50% whole wheat; 100% whole wheat flour.

Look at the difference between the white flour loaf on the left, and the whole wheat loaf on the right. Pretty significant, eh?

Don’t get me wrong; it’s possible to make a lovely, high-rising 100% whole wheat loaf. But you need to follow a recipe written for especially for whole wheat flour.

Many of you love to take a favorite yeast bread recipe and make it more nutritious by adding whole wheat (or rye, or oats, or bran, or…) That’s fine; but those flours and grains don’t provide the stretchy network of gluten all-purpose flour does, and thus these whole grain loaves won’t rise as well.

Still, adding whole wheat to a favorite white bread recipe is a laudable goal, health-wise. Want to learn more about converting your favorite yeast recipes from white flour to whole wheat? Read Yeast Bread: From White to Wheat, a Baker’s Guide.

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5) Your loaf had trouble rising because its top crust was dry.

A little thing like that can make a difference? You bet.

Maestro, the metaphor, please!

Think about blowing up a balloon. Usually it’s pretty easy, right?

But what would happen if you painted that balloon with a thick layer of hard-drying paint, and then tried to blow it up?

You’d huff, and you’d puff, and… well, you wouldn’t blow the balloon up very easily, would you? You’d have to crack that layer of paint first.

Same with yeast bread. If its top surface has dried out and hardened while rising, it’ll struggle in the oven.

Covering your rising loaf with a dish towel protects it from dust and flying insects, it’s true; but it doesn’t keep it moist. Plastic wrap keeps it moist – but it can stick, too, even when it’s greased. How many of you have tried to remove sticky plastic from your risen loaf, only to see it tear and deflate? I sure have.

The solution? An inexpensive shower cap (pictured above).

Use a clear plastic cap, if you can; you get a better view of what’s going on inside. The elastic keeps the cap firmly anchored to the pan, while the plastic on top “poofs” nicely, sheltering your rising loaf without actually touching it.

Where do you find these clear shower caps? Well, every time one of my co-workers goes on a trip, I ask him or her to bring me back a souvenir: a shower cap from the motel room.

Don’t have any traveling pals? The dollar store usually stocks packs of these inexpensive caps.

OK, I know I’ve covered the promised five reasons for low-rising bread, but here’s a bonus I can’t resist, one of the most common reasons for poorly risen bread –

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You’ve added too much sugar to the dough.

Any loaf where the weight of the sugar is 10% or more of the flour weight* is going to rise sloooowly. Add too much sugar, and your bread will stop rising entirely.

*Example: Make a loaf with 3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) flour and 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar, and the weight of the sugar will be 14% (1 3/4 divided by 12 3/4) of the weight of the flour.

Why the problem? It’s that liquid balance again. Sugar is hygroscopic; it absorbs as much liquid as it can. The result? Thirsty yeast is left high and dry, and simply goes dormant.

The solution? “Osmotolerant” yeast, a type developed especially for high-sugar doughs, e.g., SAF Gold. This yeast is like a camel; it simply doesn’t need as much water as normal yeast, and thus performs better under dry (read: high-sugar) conditions.

Well, class, have you learned something today? I hope so. Our goal here at King Arthur Flour is to teach the world to bake – and share. We’re happy to do both regularly, here in our blog.

Happy baking!

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Suzanne M

    Any tips for slow, and I mean SSSLLLOOOWWW, rising breads? Every recipe I try I have to extend the rise time significantly. I have started using my microwave as a proofing box. I nuke a cup of water for a minute or two and leave the warm water in while the dough is rising. It helps, but still takes longer than expected. This has happened on rolls, sandwich loaves, pizza dough, everything! I use all KAF flour and yeast and the yeast isn’t too old and passes it’s proof test and is stored in the freezer. I have slacked off baking breads now because I can’t count on the dough to be ready for dinner. Bummer!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Cool dough and dry dough are both slow to rise. As you have already worked on finding a warm place for your dough, I would suggest being sure your dough is soft enough. Best of luck, Jaydl@KAF

    2. Sara

      Have you tried using the oven? If it goes as low as 100F then you can just set it to that and leave the dough to rise in there. My oven goes to 170 so I preheat it to that then turn it off. The residual heat lasts long enough for the dough to rise and it’s not too hot.

    3. Carrie

      The article name many for why bread doesn’t rise. BUT it was not mention to have yeast at room temperature and proof it. I always put my bread in an oven that I have heated for 3 min and turned it off. Also having the oven light on helps.

  2. jenni

    thanks for this! a lot of this stuff i knew from experience, but not with all of the corresponding “science-y” info. :-)

    Reply
  3. Chris Wenchell

    I bake sourdough bread.I have been for thirty years.Recently I moved my family from Long Island,NY to Monument,CO. Sea level to over 7000′ altitude. I learned all I know by reading and doing.When it comes to sourdough I have to say I bake very good bread until now. My yeast is Fleischmann’s. The bread flour is ConAgra Mills bread flour .I purchased it from Costco. I know the high altitude will cause the bread to rise faster but this not my problem.the yeast is good.It proofs in warm water with a pinch of sugar.The volume more then doubles.When I lived at sea level I knew what went wrong if the bread didn’t rise.I used General Mills All Trump hi gluten flour spring wheat. This is the first time I bought ConAgra bread flour. Made to attempts to bake bread here in the mountains and both times after a real long time to rise it didn’t work .Dense bread thick hard crust, nothing good about it except to toss in the garbage.I’m at a loss. Any ideas?

    Reply
  4. Sue

    While I agree on most of this, what you gloss over is the feel of the dough. Any good recipe should mention the desired texture of the dough (wet, tacky, dry, heavy, etc). And because the amount of moisture in the flour can vary (Is it humid out? Is your air conditioner on?), the amount of flour needed for a given amount of water will vary. (At my altitude and low humidity, a recipe can take anywhere from 25 to 30% less flour.) I’m not trying to discourage new backers; I occasionally teach friends and family how to make yeast breads and I always tell them, “You’ll learn something new every time you make bread. It may come out a brick, sometimes, but it’s a really good tasting brick!” Believe me, I’ve had a few bricks over the years–and not just when I was learning!

    Reply
  5. fabian

    What about temperature.There are many variables.Yeast crust density temperature force at dough.How temperature regulates volume.Good luck.Good bye.

    Reply
  6. Lynda

    Nice article with very helpful info. I would like to suggest a better alternative for the shower caps. For many years I have been using clear plastic bowl covers. You can get these at any grocery store, and they’re reusable and not too expensive. I use the large size to cover both the bowl during the first rise, and then the loaf pan when the bread is on the second rise. At first glance the bowl covers look just like the shower caps, but with two important differences: First the plastic used is guaranteed to be food-safe. You don’t have that guarantee with a shower cap, and you could have nasty toxins leach into your food. Second, they’re much more durable than shower caps. Just my two-cents. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Bakeraunt

    Large plastic containers make good rising chambers for breads or rolls. I also grab any large deli covers that come my way at work. I’ve used two deli covers (one upside down and one right side up over it) to make a covered chamber for a recipe that bakes three loaves of bread.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you so much for sharing! It’s always great to be able to re-purpose things in the kitchen and this is a new one I’ll have to try out soon. Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      You’re most welcome, Leslie – we love helping people to bake their best! :) PJH

  8. Larry

    Make Walter Sands Bread, used the old bread machine to mix the dough then put in pan and baker off it is very good. Did this many times. Thank you for all the recipes. Read you site all the time, thank for your hard work.

    Reply
  9. susanwarder

    How to measure loaf pan? Opening or base? The ends of mine are a trapezoid 4 ⅜ at widest and 3 ¾ at bottom, 2 ½” high (deep) by long sides: 8 1/2 x 8. Is this the smaller pan you mention above or what size? Thanks

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Susan, good question – you always measure a pan at its top, so this is the smaller (yeast bread) pan. PJH

  10. Margy

    You forgot one more very important reason–you forgot to put in the yeast! Has to have happened to someone besides me! 8D

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That is a pretty big factor, Margy! It does happen, so it is always a good idea to keep track of what you are adding. Jon@KAF

    2. Marya

      Early in my bread baking, i was melting shortening for a bread recipe– heated it to nearly frying temperature– and put it in the bowl. You could almost hear those poor little yeasties screaming as they died… so of course it didn’t rise a bit. So, don’t kill the yeast!

  11. Jean Arno

    For proofing – I put a sheet cake pan on the lowest oven rack, put my loaves on the middle rack, pour boiling water into the sheet cake pan, close door and voila – a good rise. I live in Maine and my kitchen sits on a crawl space. I rarely makes it to degrees all winter. Since it is very cold, bread would not rise until I tried this.

    Reply
  12. kent p thalacker

    Fabulous tips for the young and us old bakers. An off and on bread baker from WI thirty plus years. Never knew before how to measure a baking pan, thanks. On using ingredients, after setting out what I need from the pantry for the recipe I measure into cups or bowls then add to as needed. Haven’t forgotten the yeast, yet.
    The salt: My bread sometimes needs a bit more salt. I am not a heavy salt user. I tend to under-salt in regular cooking but follow the recipe in bread. It is that sometimes the salt balance just isn’t there.
    On storing sourdough starter. Cover loose, or tight. Plastic wrap or shower cap. Appreciate the suggestion that shower caps may not be food safe. I have used screw top containers and left them loose. What are your thoughts?
    Thanks for the wonderful tips and expertise offered on Bakers Hotline.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello Kent! I always use plastic wrap to cover the top of my starters. Plastic wrap is porous enough to allow the starter to “breath”, but it holds in the ever important moisture. I sometimes hear of folks developing a dry skin on their starter, this is usually caused by covering the starter a bit too loosely. Jon@KAF

  13. HellboundAlleee

    Our last loaf had a great rise. I don’t know about other factors, but it was over 100 degrees outside, so we covered it up, put it on the deck in the shade, and ended up with more of a rise than we anticipated. Go nature!

    Reply
  14. Melissa

    My kitchen in Hawaii is always between 72 and 83F, so as you can imagine, the loaves rise really quickly. I’ve read that this means the favors don’t fully mature, though the bread tastes fine. Using the refrigerator for the first rise (~ 2 hrs) resulted in poorly rising loaves on the second rise. Suggestions?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello Melissa, I believe I answered your last reply. Feel free to check out that response as it will answer this question as well! Jon@KAF

  15. wozniaksusan

    I cover my rising dough with a piece of wax paper topped with a kitchen towel but I pour olive oil over the dough and spread it with my hand to create an oil envelope for the dough. I would guess that this both helps the dough maintain moisture as well as serving as a coating for the rising dough.

    A woman I knew close to 40 years ago, made bowl covers by sewing a square piece of linen to an equally sized square of heavy plastic and simply reused them for years. She just draped the covers over her bowls and let the dough rise that way.

    Reply
  16. Judy Griffiths

    This is a great article. Very informative and extremely helpful.

    Looking at things from a humorouos twist, I loved the photo of the Walter Sands white bread that didn’t rise. Your caption and that pic of the loaf of bread made me laugh out loud. Thanks!

    Reply
  17. Lorena

    Learning to bake bread is my goal this year. Thanks much for the info in this post-most helpful.

    I’ve had some success. Some not so successful. But I continue on. KAF has given me the confidence to try the first loaf.

    I have no living family member who bakes bread so am learning from the web and you-tube videos. My Mother baked bread when I was little but I didn’t learn how to do that. I’ve been using a bread machine to knead the dough, but my Ultimate Goal is to actually knead the dough with my own hands.

    Thanks KAF for all the info and passing on your tips and knowledge to this novice baker

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re here for you, Lorena! When you have questions, don’t hesitate to use the LiveChat option of our website or call our Baker’s Hotline (855-371-2253). We have staff to listen to your baking dilemmas or assure you along the way. Call us in Vermont – 8 AM to 9 PM weekdays and from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekends. We’ll do our best to help you achieve those family favorite breads. Happy Baking – Irene@KAF

  18. Joe

    Greetings PJ et al,

    As a long time home bread and pizza baker, I enjoyed reading the blog and reply comments.I have a question of a slightly different, but related nature for the bread baking community. The time has come to start investigating replacement of our multipurpose (bread as well as regular dinner cooking) oven. We are replacing a four burner stove top, convection with broiler Viking.

    I am not sure if this is the correct forum, but would appreciate other bread/pizza baker’s thoughts on what equipment they have used successfully.

    Thanks in advance for the feedback.

    Joe

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      HI Joe,

      I’d say you’d probably reach more folks and get a bit more input by posting over on our community pages. Great bakers from all over the world, so happy to give great advice. ~ MJ

  19. Leslie Fok

    How about this? The first rise was nice and easy, but the second rise and proofing was slooooow. It happened to me a few times and I am at a loss. It couldn’t be the yeast since it rose beautifully the first time.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Leslie, I’m wondering what kind of yeast you’re using? This sounds quite typical of “rapid rise” yeast, which goes hard and fast, and then tends to slow down/poop out. If you’re using rapid rise, stick to a single rise; or, switch to active dry or instant yeast, and see if that helps. If you’re not using rapid rise, then I’m a bit at a loss. Unless your first rise was super-long (like, overnight in the fridge, or 7-8 hours at room temp), the yeast should actually be getting stronger, not weaker… Please feel free to contact our baker’s hotline to discuss this further. PJH

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