Bread Not Rising? Here’s Why (and How to Fix It)
Yeast can be a fickle ingredient, but it's essential for homemade bread recipes. Learn why your bread is not rising (and fix it!).
When it comes to baking, there’s nothing more satisfying than baking bread from scratch. Hearty, crusty and so delicious, homemade bread is a real treat.
But sometimes baking with yeast isn’t such a treat. The little organisms that help your bread rise require some extra care—warm temperatures, food and just-right conditions. If any of these variables are off, you can end up with bread that doesn’t rise the way it should. After all that work of kneading and proofing, this can be such a letdown. To avoid future flops, check out these reasons your bread might not be rising.
The Yeast Is Too Old
If the yeast you’re using is expired, chances are your bread will not get a good rise (if any) from it. Yeast is a microorganism and does have a definite life span. For best results, always use yeast before the “best by” date.
To make sure it is ready to go, always proof yeast before adding it to your bread dough.
The Water Is Too Hot
When you proof your yeast, be sure that the water you use is at the right temperature. Our Test Kitchen recommends water between 105 and 115ºF. Anything hotter than that could kill the yeast and all its rising powers.
It’s Too Cold
Making bread in the summertime is a real joy. The warm, humid temperatures help the dough rise beautifully. But in the winter, it can be hard to get the lift you need in a colder home. That’s because doughs proof best in warmer temps—around 80º is just right for yeast.
If your kitchen is too cold, the yeast doesn’t have the right atmosphere to help the dough rise. If you don’t feel like cranking up the thermostat while proofing your bread, there are other ways to encourage your dough to rise if it’s cold.
The easiest way to proof bread when it’s cold is to pop your bread dough in the oven (make sure it is off!) and place a pan of boiling water with it. The warmth and steam from the water turn your oven into a proofing chamber.
Overall, though, just be patient with your bread dough. If you’re new to bread baking, it can be surprising how long bread dough takes to rise.
Too Much Salt
Another yeast killer: salt. While most bread recipes call for a bit of salt, too much can keep the yeast from doing its job. To prevent salt from foiling your bread bakes, measure carefully and never pour yeast and salt on top of one another in your mixing bowl.
Too Much Sugar
In general, sweet doughs take longer to rise. That’s because sugar absorbs the liquid in the dough—the same liquid yeast feeds on. If you have too much sugar in your dough, it could gobble up almost all of the food the yeast needs, leaving you with dry, ineffective yeast.
To counteract this, allow sweet doughs, like the kind used to make cinnamon rolls or babka, plenty of time to rise. You can also use a special type of yeast designed just for sugar-heavy doughs. Look for osmotolerant yeast (that’s yeast that doesn’t require as much liquid) at your grocer if you plan on stirring up something sweet. Learn how to make gorgeous swirled cinnamon babka.
Too Much Flour
The big lesson here: too much of any ingredient can make your bread not rise—even flour. Too much flour can make your dough stiff and dry. And we all know what happens if there’s not enough liquid for the yeast to use: It doesn’t work how it should. So, be mindful of your measurements and how much flour your dough picks up in the kneading process. You want the dough to be slightly sticky and elastic.
Our Test Kitchen’s best tip for ensuring your measurements are spot-on: Use a kitchen scale.
Using Whole Grains
Adding more grains to your diet is great for your health, but adding more grains to your bread can be a bit of a headache. White flour, the base for most bread, creates all those wonderful gluten strands that help your bread get its airy texture. On the other hand, whole wheat and other alternative flours don’t develop gluten as easily or at all. Without the stretch of gluten, bread doesn’t achieve the same lift.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should skip baking with different types of flour (who doesn’t love a slice of rye bread or multi-grain toast?). Use a recipe specially formulated for alternative flours to get the right lift.
The Exterior Is Too Dry
When proofing bread, you need to keep the dough nice and moist. If a crust develops on top of the dough after it’s been sitting out proofing, it can be difficult for the bread to rise in the oven later.
To keep your dough moist and elastic, cover it with plastic wrap, a reusable wax wrap or a damp tea towel. If you’re worried about the dough sticking, give it a quick spritz with cooking spray.
Using the Wrong Pan
Sometimes you get everything right—the measuring, the proofing, the kneading—and your bread still doesn’t have the height you envisioned. In this case, double-check that you’re using the correct pan size.
Most yeast bread recipes require an 8-1/2″ x 4-1/2″ pan. This helps them achieve that great height and square size that’s so good for sandwiches. Make sure you’re not using a 9″ x 5″ pan, commonly used for quick breads. If you bake your yeasted bread in this larger pan, it will still rise, but it will be wider and shorter—not a good look for your BLT!