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Why is my bread so dense?

DoobieWah May 6, 2013 10:14 AM

I've recently started baking and almost every loaf of bread I've made has been heavy and dense.

I'm guessing it's one of three things:

1> Over kneading
2> Under kneading
3> Failure to properly rise

I've followed several different recipes, (say 5 or 6) with consistently poor results. The bread tastes fine, it's just a bit ... "dense".

Thoughts?

  1. DoobieWah May 28, 2013 08:23 AM

    OK. So I made a "pain ordinaire" using a recipe I found in a book called "Bread".

    I did the mixing and kneading by hand.

    It uses a sponge technique and extra long rise.

    I exchanged some of the flour with semolina and brushed the top with olive oil before baking.

    It turned out terrific. Light with a crunchy crust. (I did the ice cubes in the lower pan trick.)

    Thanks for the help.

    1 Reply
    1. re: DoobieWah
      chowser May 28, 2013 11:31 AM

      Nice--thanks for reporting back. The sponge/extra long rise makes all the difference.

    2. potterstreet May 7, 2013 04:29 PM

      Interesting. I've just gotten into making pizza dough, bread and focaccia and it's been a real learning curve. I've had a lot of success using a wetter dough. I'm not sure why it works, but it does for me.

      It's been a huge amount of fun earning this. Previously, yeast intimidated me, but now I'm really digging it!

      1. DoobieWah May 7, 2013 11:54 AM

        Thanks again everyone.

        I watched the Bertinet video for basic dough and the hands-on kneading appeals to me greatly. I've been using the Kitchenaid, (and even bought it for this application!), but I think I'll go to using my hands until I get a feel for what I'm looking for.

        (BTW, my cookies, cakes and pies have been outstanding!)

        3 Replies
        1. re: DoobieWah
          y
          youareabunny May 7, 2013 12:33 PM

          Rose levy beranbaum has a nice video on brioche if that interests you at all. It's an enriched bread and is very airy so that may be something to try. You can compare her technique and recipe with Bertinet.

          1. re: DoobieWah
            SWISSAIRE May 7, 2013 03:44 PM

            We have a stand mixer at home and make bread once a week or more. But more and more I do the kneading by hand. One can then do other needed tasks between each rise of the bread dough.

            It get the heart going early before dawn, and is quieter.

            Nothing better to start the day than a little fresh bread and butter with coffee, or tea.

            1. re: DoobieWah
              p
              pedalfaster May 7, 2013 04:43 PM

              I must say there is something really super-duper lovely about hand-feel when it comes to bread/pizza dough.
              Happy Baking!

            2. DoobieWah May 7, 2013 10:41 AM

              Thanks everyone.

              To answer a question, I'm using a Kitchenaid 620.

              Regarding measuring, I don't think any of the recipes I used called for weights, only volume measurements. I've been very careful, but several of the recipes gave a range for the amount of flour. I think most of my doughs have been pretty smooth and dry, but this last batch was using a bolillo recipe and the dough was very sticky.

              Same result though.

              After considering all of the thoughtful replies, I now see that my problem is one of *four* things:

              1> Over kneading
              2> Under kneading
              3> Failure to properly rise

              OR

              4> Too much flour.

              (HAHA!)

              How about this, can someone direct me to a proven recipe that you like and that gives consistently good results? I will just work with it until I get the hang of it.

              Thanks again.

              6 Replies
              1. re: DoobieWah
                ipsedixit May 7, 2013 10:45 AM

                This is hard to do, DoobieWah.

                Personally, I think bread making or just working with dough is *all* about feel and touch, which is why kneading by hand is so critical.

                You just have to do it enough to know when the dough feels "right" and when it kneads (punny, right?) a little more TLC from your hands.

                Plus, you have to factor in things like humidity, elevation, ambient temperature, etc., which makes following a recipe a nearly Sisphyian task.

                You just sort of have to do it enough to know when you've done it right.

                1. re: DoobieWah
                  k
                  kengk May 7, 2013 11:01 AM

                  18 ounces flour, 12 to 12 1/2 ounces water, 1 teaspoon instant yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Those four things will make a delicious loaf of bread. Keep working on your technique until they do and you will be all set.

                  1. re: DoobieWah
                    chowser May 7, 2013 11:06 AM

                    I would eliminate no. 1--Peter Reinhart says it's difficult to overknead and he's the guru of bread, imo. Try Lahey's no knead bread. Extremely high hydration, super long rise. Even when I've measured incorrectly, it turns out great.

                    1. re: chowser
                      g
                      gildeddawn May 7, 2013 12:05 PM

                      Overkneading is a lot easier when you're using a mixer, though. I've done it, more than once.

                    2. re: DoobieWah
                      b
                      bcc May 7, 2013 11:43 AM

                      Should you choose, for any reason, to get a metric digital scale, I translate as follows:
                      1 cup flour = 125 grams
                      1 cup water = 237 grams

                      Weighing ingredients does not remove all wrinkles from the process, but it does let you know what the hydration is, and thus it gives you an idea of what the recipe is looking for. 1000 g of flour and 600 g of water gives you a 60% hydration, which is pretty standard. Jim Lahey's bread works well with a 74.5% hydration.

                      1. re: bcc
                        LMAshton May 28, 2013 08:02 PM

                        For converting recipes to weights instead of volume, I use http://www.onlineconversion.com/weigh.... It's given me reliable results over the years I've been using it.

                    3. s
                      sandylc May 6, 2013 07:45 PM

                      Too much flour and/or too little rising time.

                      1. ipsedixit May 6, 2013 07:37 PM

                        Under kneading.

                        1. y
                          youareabunny May 6, 2013 02:18 PM

                          Check YouTube for Bertinet technique. There is also a French chef episode on baguettes that can be useful too.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: youareabunny
                            SWISSAIRE May 6, 2013 02:31 PM

                            Yes, by all means measure your baking ingredients.

                            An investment in a small kitchen scale (spring or digital) will really help your baked products to come out of the oven as they should. This can be used for all baking and cooking.

                            I perform 2 to 3 kneads when baking, even with Pizza dough. The end product comes out tasting and looking much better.

                            1. re: youareabunny
                              j
                              jammy May 7, 2013 06:17 AM

                              Seconding the Bertinet technique. It's especially good for wet doughs.

                            2. j
                              jammy May 6, 2013 11:40 AM

                              Try Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe. I now use his technique for almost all breads from sweet to sourdoughs. It will make your life much easier if you're interested in a different approach.

                              1. g
                                gildeddawn May 6, 2013 11:30 AM

                                If you're kneading by hand, it's probably underkneading and/or too much flour. If you're kneading with a stand mixer, it's probably overkneading. It could also be, as you noted, too short a rise - or too long a first rise, which sometimes makes the second rise not quite work.

                                I've also found that, in bread that calls for milk,substituting powdered milk for a quarter cup of your flour, and water for the liquid milk helps keep the crumb light. Not sure why, but it does.

                                1. DoobieWah May 6, 2013 11:22 AM

                                  Thanks all.

                                  1. r
                                    rasputina May 6, 2013 11:11 AM

                                    I had this problem when I first started baking yeast breads. For me it generally was a result of too much flour.

                                    The cure was getting more comfortable working with doughs that have some stick and proper measuring.

                                    I also think I had issues with not allowing enough time for dough to rise.

                                    1. chowser May 6, 2013 11:02 AM

                                      I'd go with 2 and/or 3. Don't go by the rise time suggested in the recipe but by the description (it can be way off, especially when it's colder). If there isn't a good one, depending on the type of dough, try the windowpane test for the first go through on the kneading. Then you can tell the bread has risen enough by poking it. If it doesn't come back quickly,it's risen enough.

                                      1. b
                                        bcc May 6, 2013 10:56 AM

                                        Another hint is to weigh your ingredients. If your proportions are off, your bread can be dense. If you weigh everything, including the liquids, you can get standardized, reproducible results.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: bcc
                                          LMAshton May 28, 2013 08:00 PM

                                          Could not agree more.

                                          When you measure a cup of flour, is it sifted, spooned, scooped, or what? Depending on how you fill your measuring cup, a cup of flour can be anywhere fro 100 to 250 grams of flour, which means you could be adding twice as much flour to a dough than is actually required, and that dough will take forever to rise.

                                        2. k
                                          kengk May 6, 2013 10:52 AM

                                          I would guess it's one of two things, or a combination. Not allowing to rise properly or the dough is too dry.

                                          What type of bread are you making?

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: kengk
                                            DoobieWah May 6, 2013 11:21 AM

                                            White Bread/French Bread/Baguette/Bolillo

                                            Ironically, the best loaf I've made was the most complicated, a rye bread with a sponge.

                                            It was purt near purrfect!

                                            1. re: DoobieWah
                                              j
                                              jpc8015 May 28, 2013 08:33 AM

                                              The sponge technique is a great way to get your yeast going and helps a lot with getting a proper rise. You can use this technique with most any sandwich loaf you make.

                                          2. z
                                            ZachK May 6, 2013 10:46 AM

                                            I had this same problem when I first started making my own bread. After taking a baking class at a local bakery my results improved dramatically.

                                            Part of my problem was definitely under-kneading. I find that kneading consistently for 10 minutes works well. The other part was rising time, I wasn't giving it enough. Now I let the dough rise for two hours (sometimes more) in the warmest part of my kitchen. The bread is still slightly denser than what you'd buy at the store, but I like it that way. It's still way less dense than the heavy, chewy loaves I was making before taking the class.

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