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

“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 grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. John

    Hi..

    my regular white bread consistently turns out looking like the picture above the “Why didn’t my bread rise?” question. It does rise.. but it seems like it is rising too much on one side or the other and the surface “breaks”. I don’t see that specifically addressed. Any guidance would be appreciated.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      John, it sounds like your dough might actually be over-proofing, which is causing it to deflate. You might want to try deliberately shortening your rise times a bit. Or, if you find that dough rises quickly in your kitchen (due to a warm and humid climate, for example) and that it gets away from you, you can always follow the guidelines in this blog post: Over-proofed dough: how to save an over-risen loaf. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Barbara! You sure can. Depending on what kind of dough it is, you could use it for pizza crust or you could make a flatbread with either savory or sweet toppings! Morgan@KAF

  2. Nancy Sheltra

    I made rolls the same way but they did not rise and tasted terrible.
    I use dry yeast as usual.
    However I refrigerate my yeast and my grandson turned off my
    refrigerator and freezer for several days and the yeast was
    in there at that time. Could the yeast have spoiled.
    I can not think of any other reason for this to happen and they
    tasted more like a sour dough rolls but awful. I also used King Arthur flour.
    Can you help?? Never had this happen before.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Nancy! While not being refrigerated for a few days shouldn’t cause your yeast to go bad, we’d definitely suggest testing your yeast to see if it is still viable. Just dissolve 1/2 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water and then stir in a 2 teaspoons of the yeast. Let this mixture sit for about 10 to 15 minutes — it should become bubbly and expand. Yeast that is no longer viable shouldn’t have given your rolls an offputting taste though. We wonder if another ingredient had spoiled? Without more details about ingredients or the process used, it can be hard to say. We’d suggest giving our friendly Baker’s Hotline folks a call at 855-371-BAKE (2253), so we can help you troubleshoot this. Kindly, Morgan@KAF

  3. Rene' Stewart

    I just found a Keto bread recipe and I am very excited to bake it. Here’s my issue, I live in Denver so we are about 6000 ft above sea level. I have to modify all of my recipes for high altitude baking which I think is the problem. Do you have any suggestions about how to modify this recipe? I haven’t got that much experience baking with almond flour and coconut flour and tapioca flour so I don’t know what modifications I should make. Could you please help?

    2 cups blanched almond flour
    2 Tbsp coconut flour
    1/4 cup golden flax seed meal
    1/2 cup tapioca flour or arrowroot flour
    1/2 tsp baking soda
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder *aluminum free, or make your own paleo baking powder
    3/4 tsp fine grain sea salt
    3 large eggs whisked
    2 large egg whites whisked
    6 Tbsp almond milk unsweetened or other non-dairy milk
    1/2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
    1/4 cup coconut oil melted and cooled (use refined to avoid coconut flavor)

    I look forward to hearing from you and thank you!

    Rene’ Stewart
    Centennial, CO

    Sent from Rene’s iPhone

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Rene’, you’re in luck! Rather than just telling you how to modify this particular recipe, we’re going to share with you guidelines for modifying any recipe for your elevation, so you’ll always have exactly what you need: High-Altitude Baking Guide. This resource is definitely worth bookmarking (or even printing out!) if you’re baking at higher altitudes on a regular basis. Enjoy! Kat@KAF

  4. Hanna Walther

    i live in Calgary AB, Canada. my banana loaves or cakes don’t rise in the middle. i bake usually with baking powder. could the altitude be the reason? it is very disappointing. i have increased baking powder and baking soda – to no avail.
    thanks,
    Hanna

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Hanna! We’d suggest following some of the recommendations in our High-Altitude Baking chart. There are additional changes that usually need to be made so we think that may help. Kindly, Morgan@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Karen. Yes, flour that’s past its best-by day will not perform well. The natural oils in flour can also go rancid so we strongly encourage you to discard it and pick up a new bag for best results. Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

  5. Kim Bunce

    Hello! I was attempting to make a stollen from scratch. I soaked fruit in brandy overnight. So I prepared the dough and folded in the fruit. Then put it in my proofing oven. My bread did not raise at all. My yeast was not expired, my mixer did the kneading. I was wondering if it could be the raw sugar I used instead of white sugar? I’m so upset that all that good stuff is wasted.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Aww, that’s frustrating, Kim! We’ve definitely been there. Have you tried using a yeast that’s designed for enriched or sweet doughs? SAF Gold Yeast is the one we use, and it has extra strength to work through all of that sugar and still give your dough a good rise. It may be worth trying!

      We don’t expect that the raw sugar specifically caused the problems. It may have eventually risen (at least a little bit in the oven) but it’s hard to say for certain without seeing/feeling the loaf.

      We’d love the chance to talk through the recipe with you, so we encourage you to reach out to our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline staff to help troubleshoot at 855-371-BAKE (2253). Kindly, Annabelle@KAF

  6. Henry

    I’m having issues with rolls not rising in oven. They look great before going into oven but just don’t get any more rise in oven. Two biggest problems I can think of not listed here might be a dough that’s too sticky (not enough flour) and/or I’m using an all purpose flour that’s lower on gluten than golds (and certainly less than king author), still all purpose, just a bit lighter. Are those likely to hurt in oven rising?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Henry! We can confidently say it’s the flour. If the gluten-forming protein content is lower, it just doesn’t have as much strength and can’t rise as high. If you’re able to find some bread flour in your area, it’s worth experimenting use that either for all of the flour or for half of it in combination with your all-purpose flour. Happy experimenting! Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Diane! We’re sorry to hear that you’re having trouble getting your dough to rise. The dough probably just needed a little extra liquid — a dough that isn’t hydrated well won’t rise properly. This is one of the most common reasons why baked goods turn out dry or dough is slow to rise. To ensure you’re using the right amount of flour in a recipe, we recommend checking out the “Recipe Success Guide,” link next to the ingredients header above. You’ll see that either measuring your flour by weight using a scale, or fluffing and sprinkling the flour into your measuring cup are the best ways to ensure your recipe turns out perfectly. You can give the dough a little more time to see if it will rise, but you may just want to carry on with the recipe as best you can. The cinnamon rolls may be a little dense in the end, but they’ll still be cinnamon-y and delicious. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  7. Barbara Schenck

    I follow KAF on Facebook and always get such quick responses to any questions or inquiries. Making fresh bread is something I always want to master but usually end up being disappointed/discouraged with my results (although my husband loves heavy dense bread so it doesn’t go to waste). This was a clear, easy to follow “class” (chuckle), that included awesome add in links saving me time not having to look up things not common to a beginner. Thanks again KAF! (Gulp!) Now on with the bread making! Oops! I forget to look up any changes when using a bread machine! Probably see bread machine’s manufacture’s instruction, right?! LOL

    Reply

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