Common Bread Making Problems and How to Fix Them

Bread making problems crop up all the time. Once you’ve been baking for a while, you can often tell if a dough is right by how it feels and how it responds to your touch. But, in the beginning, when things don’t work out it can be quite difficult to figure out what went wrong.

Just this afternoon I found myself kneading a ridiculously stiff Rosemary Dough. A year ago, I would have probably given it up as a bad job and started again. Now, I know what to do which means I’m sat eating gorgeous Rosemary Cheese on toast as I type. Here’s a look at some of the more common issues.

Sticky Dough

If your dough is sticky, the first thing to do is make sure you are using bread flour. Normal white flour isn’t strong enough to make good bread.

The next option is to use more flour and keep kneading. Often when you tip your dough out, it is either too wet or too dry. In either case, try kneading it first as it often resolves itself. If it’s sticky, I throw a little flour down on the surface and knead. Adding more flour if I need. Eventually, it works itself into a nice smooth ball.

If the dough was fine to start with, but then became too sticky, you may have over-kneaded. Try adding a little flour, and briefly kneading until it’s smooth again. But don’t overdo it. From start to finish I typically knead for between 8 and 12 minutes.sticky dough

Tough Dough

Kneading should be hard, but not too hard. You should be able to work the dough. If the ball seems too tough, you probably need more water. To avoid adding too much once I’ve already started kneading, I wet my hands and carry on kneading the dough. I then knead until it’s dry again. Repeating if it’s still tough.

If after 12 minutes of kneading it’s still very tough, I put it to prove as I normally would. After an hour, I punch it out, knead for 5 more minutes and prove for another hour. This second proving is often effective even on a tough dough.

dry dough

Dough Not Rising

There are a few reasons your dough might not be rising.

  • If your dough was tough, it will take longer and the first proving might not have great results. The second will be better, be patient.
  • You might need more yeast. I literally always use a sachet of instant yeast. But if your dough is repeatedly not rising, try 2.
  • You’ve used too much sugar or salt. Both can slow down the yeast fermentation. I generally use 2tsp sugar and 1tsp yeast. In this case, a second proving might work.
  • The water was too warm. Hot water destroys the enzymes in the yeast. It needs to be warm to touch, but not hot.
  • The water was too cold. This will slow down the yeast too. Try a second proving.
  • Your rise environment isn’t warm enough. I normally just Clingfilm my bowl and leave it on the side. In winter, I find I have to put it near a radiator or on top of our boiler to get it to rise. If after 30 minutes your dough isn’t rising try moving it.

Dough Rose, but Collapsed in Oven

This often means your dough is over risen. Mine has on occasion spilt its Clingfilm. When this happens, I punch it out and prove it again. For less time. It should roughly double in size.

Holes in Bread

Small holes are fine. A nice place for the butter to soak. Large holes are more problematic. The reason for this is often that the bread hasn’t been punched out. Even if you are only proving once, you need to punch your dough out well, before shaping it in your loaf tin and leaving to rest for 15 minutes. Don’t rise, place in the tin and bake straight away. Even bread like naan and flatbread need to be punched out before cooking.

punching out the dough

Bread Too Solid

Solid bread can mean that your rise wasn’t long enough, or the dough was still too tough after the second prove. Remember, it should double in size.

Thick Crust

I like a crunchy crust so I usually bake my bread on a higher temperature for the first 10 minutes before reducing the temperate for the remainder. If your crust is too thick and crunchy, you may have baked at too high a temperature. Alternately, you may have baked too long on too low a heat. Generally, for a loaf, I find 40 minutes at 180 degrees (200 for 10 minutes for a crunchy crust) is about right.

Soggy Crust

Soggy crusts often occur when you leave the baked bread in the loaf tin, which causes it to sweat. Once you’ve taken the bread out of the oven, remove it from the baking tin and leave to cool on a cold surface or wire tray.

I love baking bread. Once you learn to deal with bread making problems like these, you’ll be able to spot and fix them before it’s too late, just using your senses. The best way to become a great baker is to bake. Try different recipes and ideas and get a feel for the different doughs. The best part, of course, is eating them to make sure!


bread making problems

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