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Why won't my bread rise?

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My husband makes bread every weekend, and over the last few weeks the bread has failed to rise two or three times (normally it turns out fine..this is a recent problem). Today I tried making cinnamon bread, and it also failed to rise. We thought the problem was the yeast, but my husband did a "test proof" in which he put water, yeast and sugar in a bowl and let it sit. Sure enough, it bubbled up and did everything it's supposed to do. So it appears that the problem is not the yeast. Any thoughts about what could be going wrong? The problem has occurred regardless of whether we use the bread machine or the stand mixer.

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  1. Where do you live? Has the weather changed? Yeast is so testy!

    1. Hmmm...we live in NJ. I don't think the weather has changed noticeably. You have a good point. We've been making bread using the bread machine for a long time and haven't had this severe a problem before. We thought the bread machine was the problem (old!) but seems to be an issue with the stand mixer too.

      1. Could it be that your water is cooler than earlier in the season?

        1. I actually test my water temp with an instant thermometer. Yeast/baking scares me to death!

          1. Cinnamon can kill yeast. Is it mixed throughout the dough, or just added in a swirled layer?

            1. Perhaps, in the colder weather we now have (I'm in PA) you just need to leave it longer to rise. I have a "warming drawer" that I use......but if you don't..............just let it rise longer..............if that doesn't work..............get some new yeast........the price relative to results are puny

              1. Is it possible that it's just been colder in your kitchen and it's taking a lot longer to rise? You could use your microwave as a proofing box or use your oven briefly turned on and then off again to the same effect.

                1. If you and your husband are using the same yeast supply and are making bread in the same kitchen, and his dough always rises while yours sometimes fails, then it may just be the cussedness of things in general. One variable is how long you allow the yeast to proof, another is the temperature of the water you proof it in (hot tap water is usually fine), yet another is whether you add the sugar in the recipe to the water and yeast so the little beasties can eat it or throw the sugar in with the dry ingredients including the salt which inhibits yeast.

                  1. Bread is not an exact science. Professional bakers will adjust their recipes to the weather, a new batch of flour, the moon ...
                    Some things to help:
                    Use bread flour. You may have to add more liquid, but your bread can rise higher without collapsing.
                    Do an autolyse: mix liquid, flour (and any preferment) and let rest for half an hour.
                    Then add yeast and mix the dough, adding salt towards the end. Add any fat only when the dough is fully developed.
                    Give your dough time. As others have said, it will take much longer in winter. I personally add a little more yeast in winter.

                    1. I have had that problem before when my kitchen was freezing during winter months. Others have posted about proofing it in the oven.

                      1. Salt as you know will inhibit yeast cell production. Has the amount or more importantly the type of salt you are using changed? Also when the salt is added is very important in the raising process. Are you by any chance making home made wine or beer in your home? I know from first hand experience that floating yeast cells in the air from bread making can kill the natural yeast found on grapes. Maybe it works the same way in reverse.
                        I know a classically trained professional 'Dutch trained' (according to him the very best bakers on earth. LOL) baker who owns a very beautiful, large successful bakery. He swears he must be constantly adjusting his recipes according to the phases of the moon. And I mean he's SERIOUS! He's just sponsored a new baker from Holland to come work at his bakery. The 'new' baker has twenty five years experience and was trained at the same baking school in Holland as the owner was. That was a must. He also is adamant that the moon phases must always be taken into account. Buy a Farmers Almanac. LOL

                        1. In colder weather, I put H2O in a bowl in the microwave and bring to a boil, remove it then put my dough in the humidified microwave and let it rise for 2hrs, do not put the microwave on!

                          1. Try buying new flour. I had the same problem and that is what it was.

                            1. Edit: nevermind... using a machine...

                              1. I bake bread regularly, too, and once in a while have a yeast failure. I have found if that happens I can knead some rapid-rising yeast into the dough, and it will then rise normally and things will be fine. Takes a bit longer, but you can save the batch that way.

                                Are you using rapid-rising yeast or active dry yeast? Only the former works reliably when mixed in with the dry ingredients before the water is added. Active dry yeast must be hydrated first in warm (not hot) water. Also, either kind can be killed if the water is too hot. You don't want it warmer than body temp. But cold water definitely will not hurt the yeast. Some very excellent recipes actually use ice water to no ill effect.

                                In past decades (makes me sound old...) when I thought packaged yeast was less reliable I'd always proof it with a little warm (not hot) water and enough of the flour to make a batter. Then I'd wait a few minutes until I saw some bubbles, and throw it in with the rest of the ingredients. Once you see that the yeast is alive, you'll be fine.

                                None of the ingredients mentioned in other posts, when used in edible concentrations, will kill yeast. Salt can slow it down but you'd have to put in way too much salt to actually kill it. The only caveat with salt is to be sure you don't happen to put the yeast right next to the salt in the bowl, exposing the yeast to very high salt concentrations when water is first added. Mix the salt into the flour before adding the yeast to avoid that.

                                1. If the yeast is packets, there is no guarantee that all of them will be good if one is. I always start with flour water and yeast to ensure that it's good (I almost never use sugar in bread dough except for breakfast or sweet breads).

                                  If you are using a jar, it is probably all equally healthy. I have never used cakes.

                                  It may be your kitchen temp as others have mentioned. I have a proofing bowl with short feet and have even placed it on a hot pad set on low when it was very cold (below 70) in the kitchen.

                                  A few tips:
                                  Bread dough rises best at 75-80F. Much colder than that and the rise is very slow.
                                  Never use iodized salt.
                                  Make sure your water is not too hot or too cold when adding the yeast -- too hot will kill the yeast and too cold and it will likely never get warm enough to rise.

                                  1. Thanks for all the help everyone. Lots of useful info here.

                                    We had the kitchen remodeled recently and added radiant heat in the floor...no more drafty kitchen! And, at any rate, I did put the dough in the oven to rise so I don't think the house temp was the problem.

                                    The recipe called for heating milk and butter, then letting it cool before adding the yeast. I think I added the yeast too soon. Too warm milk would have killed the yeast, yes?

                                    As for my husband's issues with the bread machine...he thinks it's leaking liquid because it's old. Since he puts it on a timer overnight, there's probably too little liquid left by the time the machine starts mixing.

                                    Thanks again for all the help everyone. I gave it another try, this time with Kitchen Aid's recipe that came with the mixer. The dough is on its second rise and so far, looks good.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: NJFsa

                                      Use a thermometer. Don't let anything over about 125 to 130-F come in contact with the yeast.

                                      I've had some bread machines that needed a little help with a rubber spatula to completely mix ingredients to start kneading properly. Without help, large lumps of ingredients would stick to the side of the mixing pan and not form a good lump of dough.

                                    2. The problem is the yeast. I have been baking for 40 years. When I began baking I used compressed fresh yeast, excellent bread, fine grained, soft, and chewy. Then they changed to dry yeast. At first it was okay, then they started changing it, adding chemicals to it. Now it is only worth throwing in the trash.
                                      Took me awhile to figure out what was going on, I like you had tried everything! Nothing worked, bread would also be course and dense, nothing like the loaves I baked before. I ordered some fresh yeast by the lb. from New York Bakers. Perfect bread! The aroma is wonderful and the bread is delicious.
                                      I use a stand mixer when using it. I have a good recipe if you would like it.
                                      Get ready for a surprise. It really does make a difference.

                                      3 Replies
                                        1. re: jhjhjhjh

                                          Yeast Bread

                                          2 lb. flour
                                          3 T. sugar
                                          1/3 cup extra light olive oil
                                          1 T. salt
                                          1/4 cup crumbled cake yeast
                                          19 oz. warm water

                                          Add all ingredients to mixer bowl, mix until a soft dough forms that does not stick to sides of bowl.
                                          Knead 7 minutes
                                          Put dough in a greased bowl, cover with a thin cotton kitchen cloth, place in oven with oven light on.
                                          Let sit 25 minutes
                                          Lightly punch down, divide into 3 loaves, regular size bread pans, place in well greased bread pans.
                                          Put loaf pans in oven, lightly cover with kitchen cloth.
                                          Keep oven light on, let rise for 25 - 35 minutes. It will double.
                                          Gently remove kitchen towel. Do not remove loaf pans.
                                          Turn oven to 350, bake 25-30 minutes, until a golden brown.
                                          Remove from oven and cool.
                                          I use King Author unbleached bread flour. It is very good.

                                          I usually freeze two of the loaves of bread. It freezes well. It keeps well too.