The Bread Also Rises: Dump the slump of over-risen bread

Picture it, if you will. Lebanon, NH. 1991. A newly married young woman carefully balances a loaf pan of yeast bread dough as she brings it to the oven.

The loaf is magnificent, standing at least 6″ high and domed on top like the crown of a hot air balloon. Although gentle, her footfalls cause the loaf to wobble like pale, puffy Jell-O.

Lovely and lofty, the bread shares other features with a balloon. The dough at this point is nearly transparent; a slight breeze seems enough to blow the dome to one side. Placing the pan on the oven rack, she closes the door with a small thump, then watches in horror through the glass window as her perfect loaf collapses to roughly the height of a leaky inflatable wading pool.

Well, you’ve probably guessed by now that the bread in question was one of my first breads, and I’m sure most of you have shared a similar experience. Watching your “perfect” loaf wither away is one of the most disheartening things that can happen to a baker, and I’m sure has caused many a newbie to give up on yeast breads forever.

Luckily, I lived close enough to the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Store that I was able to talk with a baker and learn how to prevent the colossal collapse from happening again. Over the years I’ve learned more from my fellow bakers, and added it all to my bag of tricks. So, speaking for my fellows, I’m here to help you determine when your bread is perfectly risen, to give you that consummate crown on every loaf you bake.

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Let’s start with a batch of basic white bread that’s risen once, and been divided into two equal loaves. Usually I eyeball it when dividing dough, but for the sake of clarity I made sure to divide the dough by weight.

Each ball of dough was shaped and pressed into an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan. They were lightly covered with lightly greased plastic wrap, and set on the counter to rise in a 68°F room.

One loaf is destined for greatness; one will be forced into failure. Don’t mourn the loaf, it’s for science.

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On our Baker’s Hotline we frequently tell folks that when dealing with yeast breads and rise times,  always go by the look of the dough, not by the clock. A loaf may rise in 25 minutes in one kitchen, but take 35 in another. Timeframes given in recipes are guidelines, rather than deadlines.

Our first loaf is looking good. It’s risen visibly, so let’s start checking to see if it’s ready for the oven yet.

So, how do you tell when a loaf is perfectly risen?

First, the knuckle test.

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I’m sure nearly every baker has seen a line in a recipe advising “let rise until 1″ over the rim of the pan”. In a perfect world, that line would actually read “OK, tilt your head to the side so you can look at the crown of the bread from the side. The very top of that dome should be 1″ over the rim of the pan. No, no, not right at the edge, but in the very center.”

That’s all a little too wordy, so it’s been shortened over the years, and now can lead us easily astray.

The good news is, you have a built-in 1″ measure that can really help you determine how high your loaf has risen at a glance. From the tip of your thumb to the first knuckle is approximately 1″.  If you view the loaf from the side, placing your thumb on the rim of the pan, you should be able to tell if your loaf is under, over, or just about right.

Take a look at the photo above. Do you feel it’s over 1″, under, or just right? If you said under, you’re right. I’d give this bread another 10 minutes, then check again.

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Next, let’s check with the poke test.

Lightly flour your index finger and press it gently into the dough, about to the bed of your fingernail. If the indentation remains and doesn’t spring back/fill in, then the bread is well risen and ready for the oven. Have no fear, the “belly button” will rise and bake out just fine in the oven.

Adios, first loaf. You’re good to go. See you in 25 minutes!

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Bread #2 was left to sit at room temperature while bread #1 baked, so it got an additional 30 minutes on the counter. It looks like a buxom, well-rounded loaf. Let’s give it the first test.

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Well, I’d say it’s more than 1″, wouldn’t you?  Let’s look at something else as well, from a different angle.

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On the end of the pan, you can see the dough has crested over the rim and is starting to overflow. This is not a good sign. Remember, what goes up must come down, and if your loaf is starting to come down already, the internal structure from the gluten is becoming compromised and weaker.

The bread may not be a total loss at this point though. You can gently deflate the dough, reshape it, and set it to rise again. Watch it very carefully, as this third rise will go quite quickly and probably won’t be as high. The yeast is becoming exhausted, and doesn’t have as much oomph as it did a couple of hours ago.

Let’s get this loaf to the oven before we wait any longer, to see what happens when you don’t choose to deflate, reshape, and go for the third rise.

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Here are the results.

Loaf #1 is on the far left, loaf #2 is on the far right. In the middle is one more loaf that I baked the following week. As you can see, catching the loaf at the right time gives you the roundest, fullest crown.

The middle loaf is an example of how you can catch a loaf that’ slightly over-risen and still bake it. You’ll see a slightly sunken center, and you may see more bubbles and gaps under the top crust; but it isn’t as big a flop as loaf #2.

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Poor, poor loaf on the end. The deeply sunken center, the curl of crust that fell over the edge of the pan, and that hideously coarse crumb all speak to severe over-rising. The scent of the bread is sour, but not the good healthy sour of sourdough: it’s a more perfumed sour that makes you think of over-ripe fruit.

All in all, quite the disappointment for all the hard work and ingredients you’ve put into this loaf.

Now, wave good-bye to this kind of sad slab forever, for you know the secrets to never having this happen again. Armed (thumbed?) with your own personal measuring tools, you’ll forever be able to judge when your loaves are ready to slide into the oven to emerge as golden brown domes of handsomeness and flavor.

Now, I’m sure there are questions or details that you still want to ask about, and that’s great. Let’s fill up the comments section with as much helpful information as we can. Tell me your own stories about “The Giant Loaf that Ate Cleveland.” And, of course, my pals and I at the Baker’s Hotline are happy to help you, too.

 

MaryJane Robbins
About

MaryJane Robbins grew up in Massachusetts and moved to Vermont 20 years ago. After teaching young children for 15 years, she changed careers and joined King Arthur Flour in 2005. MaryJane began working on King Arthur Flour's baker’s hotline in 2006, and the blog team ...

comments

  1. Mary Ann Tyska

    Hello, I’ve made bread for a number of years and never had a problem until I tried a new recipe, Applebutter Spice Loaf. The first couple times I made it I didn’t have a issue but my last couple loaves have fallen in the center once I put them in the oven to bake, after having risen beautifully. When cut they have what my husband calls a tunnel the whole way down the center. I’ve never had this happen in the past, and if course he absolutely loves the taste so he doesn’t want me to not bake it. I will add that I added raisins to the recipe at his request and I thought perhaps this may be the reason. Hope you can help, thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We can help you there, Mary Ann! When a loaf collapses in the oven, that just means the dough had over-risen. The gluten gets all tuckered out, and when it hits the heat of the oven, it doesn’t have the strength to give you one final rise. If you shorten your rising time by 10 to 15 minutes you should be fine.
      To know if your dough is ready to bake, you can do what we call the “poke test.” When you give the dough a poke, you want your finger indent to stay there and slowly fill back in. If the indent pops right back out, it needs longer to rise. If the indent causes the loaf to collapse, it’s already over-risen, so you’ll want to deflate and reshape it before baking for best results.
      Feel free to check out our blog article on over-risen doughs for some more helpful cues and tricks so your next loaf will be as wonderful as they always have been. Annabelle@KAF

  2. Laurella Case

    I bake bread regularly and appreciate the information you share here. I am wondering what the reason is to let dough rise twice? I have made bread both ways – with a second rise and without and just placing it in loaf pans to rise only once. I tend to like the flavor and texture of the bread when I only let it rise once. It seems to keep its moisture better as well and not get dry and crumbly. Why do most recipes say to let it rise twice? And is there a reason I can’t just do it once?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Laurella. Bread typically rises twice for a couple of reasons. One, the longer it rises, the more flavor will develop. The second reason is that rising and stretching strengthens gluten, allowing for a nice high final rise, or, ovenspring, in the oven. You might consider looking for recipes that use rapid rise yeast, which can be found in the grocery store, and typically only gives you one rise. Annabelle@KAF

  3. Autumn

    I just had a 1# loaf of a nice fig and walnut bread collapse in my breadmaker. I made it virtually the same last week & it was lovely. I’m using my own recipe of white, whole wheat, rye, and wheat gluten. This week I added slightly more dsrk rye, so I also increased the gluten by 1/2 tsp, and the sugar by the same. Which of these adjustments do you think might be the problem?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It might be the gluten, Autumn. It may have been just enough to cause it to overrise and then collapse. Next time, add the rye and sugar but skip the gluten and see if that helps. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Cletus J. Sterling

    Have been experimenting with cold fermentation pizza dough. 24 hour rise time at room temperature followed by up to a week in cold refrigerator. Tiny amounts (1/4 tsp.) of yeast. No sugar.

    Anyhoo, after getting tired of pizza (temporarily, I’m sure) I wondered if this dough would be OK for bread. The answer is YES. Cold fermented doughs taste better to me.

    My question is – should french style bread loaves that have proofed in a clay bennington be baked in a hot oven or a cold oven? Have seen recipes for both.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      The answer is both methods of baking work beautifully, Cletus — that’s why you’ve seen recipes for both. Some bakers opt for the cold start method because it’s gentler on bread bakers/Dutch ovens. The preheated oven method is known for creating lots of steam, which is the key to a crispy crust and high-rising loaves. We’d recommend trying both to see which works best for your equipment and taste preferences. (Check out full instructions for the cold start method and the preheated method of baking artisan bread on our blog.) Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  5. Denise

    So what about the first rise? Should I keep it at an hour? Or eyeball as well? Lately, my loaves are doubling in size in just my first riise. This didn’t happen when I first started making bread just a month ago. But my family (as well as my friends) are asking for bread at least once a week! This week hasn’t been so good for loaves. Thanks so much for the tips! Cannot wait to try it out!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Denise, most recipes will indicate what you’re looking for in the first rise. It might say “allow the dough to double in size,” in which case you might want to use a container with straight sided edges (like a dough doubler) or a large measuring cup. This way you can clearly track the dough’s progress and know when it’s time to move on to the next step. Other recipes might say, “allow the dough to rest for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the dough becomes puffy.” This is more common with enriched dough, which tend to be heavy, slow risers and may not double in size. A general rule of thumb that you can follow is the poke test: when you poke the dough with your finger and the indent stays put or just slowly fills in, it’s ready. If it springs right back, it needs more time. We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  6. ML

    I just had to comment about what a delight this article was to read! I am attempting to learn sourdough, and haven’t been baking in conventional metal pans for my loaves, but definitely learned something here, reading about the “belly button” test. Thank you for this. It is informative as well as a great read!

    Reply
  7. DIANE SHEELY

    Thank you Kye. I wonder if adding some Vital Wheat Gluten would keep it from collapsing? Then I wonder how much VWG? I get so frustated.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re welcome to consider adding some Vital Wheat Gluten to your recipe; it won’t hurt. Use about 1 tablespoon per cup of whole grain flour in your recipe for additional support. We think your results would be markedly improved if you used some wheat-based, high-gluten flour (as we mentioned, like Bread Flour) in your dough, or simply expect a more squat loaf. Keep a lookout for tried and tested recipes so you’re not working from scratch. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  8. Diane Sheely

    I am on a low carb diet. For a couple of years now, 99% of my yeast bread attempts have had that “sinking”issue. Most of the breads are made of various kinds of milled seeds, brans ie flax seed,almond and flours, ie: oat, wheat, soy, spelt, just to name a few. The usual liquids, oils, etc. I was wondering if some of your suggestions above could be a help to my dilemma. Thank you for “listening.”
    Diane

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Diane, the potential pitfalls outlined here are more common when baking traditional sandwich bread. The structural problems you’re experiencing are likely a result of the various flours and other adjustments you’re making. Our best advice is to follow a tried and tested recipe — the recipe developers will have taken the time to ensure that the hydration and overall gluten content of the dough is just right to ensure a high rise. Whole grain flours typically need to be used in conjunction with a high-gluten flour (like Bread Flour) to have enough support and structure. Kye@KAF

  9. Linda Varnadore

    Hello
    Happy New Year.
    i bake a bread for the first time last night. My yeast was good i made sure my water and milk were the right temps, and they rose beautifully, i punched them down and I made them into loaves I used my kitchen-aid mixer with dough hook for the kneading. the second rise didn’t seem to rise as high but i cooked them anyway and they didn’t get brown and they seem to have got shorter, not as tall as i thought they would be. they are good but a bit dry. what did i do wrong?
    thank you

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Linda. It sounds like there may have been a bit too much flour in the dough. For ideal measurement accuracy, we recommend fluffing the flour with a whisk or spoon, sprinkling it into the measuring cup, and scraping off the excess. The other possibility is that the first rise was a bit too long, and the gluten got tuckered out and didn’t have the strength to hold a good rise the second time or when it was baking. We encourage you to reach out to our friendly Baker’s Hotline staff to help troubleshoot at 855-371-BAKE(2253). Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

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