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Why does my bread turn out dense?

I love making bread and I admit that i'm not great at it. I've tried countless recipes and though they often taste great, they always seem so much more dense then store bought bread. I usually make whole wheat or a combination and the yeast always seems to make it double or triple and yet, it's still dense. Not hard, but dense.

Any idea what i could be doing wrong? Are there any additives i could use to make the bread lighter? Is that what gluten does?

TIA for any advice!

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  1. Are you adding bread flour to your wheat flour or just using all purpose? Bread flour contains more gluten which gives the bread it's elasticity and airiness. You can also achieve this by adding gluten to your flour mix, which will help with low protein flour like wheat.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cherylptw

      Just whole wheat flour and sometimes a mix of whole wheat and oat flour.

      I had the same problem though when i used to make all white flour bread.

      Also, I use a standmixer for the initial kneeding if that makes a difference. Thanks!

    2. I make bread using 50% Whole Wheat flour / 50% bread flour. It turns out lighter.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Antilope

        Yesterday I made a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread. I used a couple of ingredients and techniques to make it lighter.

        1. I used a Tangzhong roux (an unflavored flour and water pudding) added to the recipe, like adding pudding to a pudding cake. It makes a moister, lighter loaf of bread. The pudding like roux traps more moisture in the loaf and retains it during baking. The roux is made from 3 Tbsp of flour and 1/2 cup of water, heated to 149F (65C) until a gel like pudding is formed. All of this is added to the 1 1/2 lb loaf.

        2. I added diastatic malt powder to the loaf. It's a yeast food and encourages more rise from the yeast. I used 1 Tbsp of diastatic malt powder to the 1 1/2 lb loaf.

        3. I added vital wheat gluten. Using this makes a softer crumb and also with the structure it provides encourages a higher rise. I used 1 Tbsp per cup of flour used (in this case 3 1/2 Tbsp for the 3 1/2 cups of flour used in the 1 1/2 lb loaf).

        All of these together made a lighter whole wheat loaf. But it is still not as light as a light wheat loaf (50/50 bread flour & whole wheat flour).

        Here is the recipe I used:

        Honey Whole Wheat Bread With Tangzhong

        Tangzhong Roux:

        1/2 cup (120g) Water
        3 Tbsp (25g) Bread Flour
        Mix in plastic cup and microwave until it reaches 149F(65c) and a smooth gel-like pudding forms.
        Cool to room temperature before adding to recipe.
        (The small amount of bread flour used, instead of whole wheat, makes a better quality roux than whole wheat. I've tried whole wheat in the past and it doesn't have the softening effect on the loaf that a bread flour roux does.)


        All of the Tangzhong roux from above (145g)
        1 cup (240g) Milk
        1/4 cup (85g) Honey
        1/4 cup (25g) Milk Powder
        1 Tbsp (30g) Diastatic Malt Powder
        1/4 cup (60g) Butter
        1 1/4 tsp (8g) Table Salt
        3 1/2 Tbsp (30g) Vital Wheat Gluten
        1/3 cup (40g) Wheat Germ
        3 1/3 cups (400g) Whole Wheat Flour
        2 1/4 tsp (8g) Instant Yeast

        1/4 cup (30g) Rolled Oats for Topping

        Mix all of the above ingredients (except oats).
        Knead 20 minutes in stand mixer (or bread machine).

        Allow to rise 1 hour. Punch down.

        Form sandwich loaf, place in a loaf pan. Mist top of dough with water and sprinkle with rolled oats.

        Let rise 45 minutes, until doubled in size.

        Bake in 400F preheated oven for about 60 minutes (Until center of loaf reaches about 195F on a digital probe thermometer.)

        Makes one 1 1/2 lb loaf.

        1. re: Antilope

          Thanks! That's really helpful. I wonder if i let it rise a big longer if that will help. I did 30 minutes each time but i'll try 45.

          What does misting the bread with water do? I've bake bread with a pan of water beneath it before but i'm not sure what the purpose of that is. Sorry... i'm a complete novice but i love to know the "why" so that i can learn!

          1. re: rchlst

            Misting the top is just to make the dough sticky so the rolled oats with stick better.

            I'm not misting the bread for the crust, which you do for artisan bread to make a crispy crust.

      2. Gluten in bread bread dough forms a strong interconnection that traps the gas formed by the yeast. When you bake the bread, the gas expands and the dough cooks so as to form a permanent set of bubbles in the bread.

        So starting with more gluten can help, either in the form of bread flour or gluten. Also, you need to knead the dough sufficiently to develop the gluten. Other factors include rise times, how the bread is formed before going into the oven, and the basic recipe (how much other stuff like eggs, milk, or oil... These tend to make more tender breads).

        My rec.. If you have a recipe you like, play around with it. Knead it more or substitute in some bread flour, play with rise times/temps, add a bit of oil. I make pizza almost every week, and know that I really need to knead for 6 minutes, 1/3 of the flour should be bread flour (and 1/2 is maybe a little better), the dough should be pretty soft, and it's best to make a day ahead and let cool rise in the fridge.


        1 Reply
        1. re: firecooked

          And.. IMO, most supermarket bread is too fluffy, and a bit more density is a good thing!

        2. You may be letting it rise too long on the first rise - try cutting that time and giving it a longer second rise. I've found that helps a lot.

          Another factor might be too much/too little flour. Do you weigh your ingredients? I was a skeptic until I got a scale, and it made a huge difference. You could also try substituting a 1/2 cup of potato starch for your AP flour.

          3 Replies
          1. re: gildeddawn

            2nd the advice on weighing. I always use a scale ... Mostly because it's so much faster and fewer things to clean!

            1. re: gildeddawn

              My advice was a combination of too much flour (above) and wetter dough (below). Too much flour, which is really easy to do if you're new to bread making, will bake for a dense dough but adding more flour makes kneading the dough "easier/less messy".

              I'm guessing this is a primary problem, though not enough/too much rise time could be the issue too. You can sometimes trouble shoot the rise time issue by looking at the hole sizes from the top to bottom of the loaf once you cut it in half. If the holes are even from top to bottom - perfect - if they are really small on the bottom - possibly not enough rise time - if the loaf spreads out - possibly too much rise time . . . .

              If you're really getting into bread baking I'd check out "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" from the library. It is a great resource to help you along the way.

              Nothing better than fresh baked bread!

              1. re: thimes

                "Nothing better than fresh baked bread!"

                even the mistakes are good.

            2. My recollection is that wetter dough has an airier crumb - like Ciabatta. Try more water. Also, is your yeast old? May be on its last legs.

              1. There is something really interesting about making bread. The more you make it the better it becomes. I know why why, but that's the way it is.

                We are using regular pure flower and adding some wheat flour too, I mean whole wheat. Not making the dough too dense, but rather lose. And that will make your bread lose too with some elasticity.

                1. There could be quite a few reasons for the dense ness but I find whole wheat bread to be dense. The best I've been able to do is half white whole wheat and half ap or bread flour.

                  1. Citric acid is a great improver! Try adding a bit (like half a cup) of fresh squeezed orange juice or a bit of zest to your dough. I worked for a bakery famous for it's light natural bread, they used citric acid powder but, I found the juice or east worked really well at home. Especially for whole wheat breads. Good luck!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: LexiFirefly

                      Great idea--citric acid works great w/ whole wheat baked goods.

                    2. How long of a rise time are you allowing in the bread pan before baking? For example, some recipes call for doubling before baking.

                      Are you comparing to store bought sandwich bread, like Wonder?

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: dave_c

                        OMG i love this site! Thank you all for the replies!

                        So... here's some more details:

                        I use a mixer with a bread hook to do the initial kneeding and i do that on medium for about 20 min.

                        Then i oil the bowl and put a towel over it and let it rise for an hour.

                        Then i kneed it for a minute or two by hand and shape.

                        Then let it rise for 30 minutes (again covered).

                        I don't usually use a scale but I'll definitely try that next time.

                        The recipe is all whole wheat which i like... maybe I can just add the gluten which was included in the recipe but marked as "optional".

                        How long do you guys kneed each time and how long to rise?

                        I'll try adding more water... that sounds like a good idea!

                        Thanks everyone! I LOVE making my own bread and how the house smells but i think my husband likes the typical spring and fluffiness of store bought bread.

                        If it helps any, here's the recipe i'm using (I stupidly converted it to cups but won't do that again! haha)

                        To make it more of a "regular" bread, i didn't put an egg wash on it, put it in a pan, and then sprinkled it with rolled oats. Soooo good! Just need to get it fluffier ;)

                        1. re: rchlst

                          20 minutes is a long time to knead in a mixer. Usually 10 will do it. 2 min slow to combine, 6 min fast (I usually go level 6-8 on my kitchen aid.) 2 min slow again. You could be over working it from the get go.

                          1. re: LexiFirefly

                            oh... oops! Hmm... stupid question: What does overmixing do? Thanks!!

                            1. re: rchlst

                              I don't time rises but instead check volume but I have never has a whe grain bread rise that long.
                              I always use vital wheat gluten with ww
                              If you are measuring you are probably using too much flour, especially if you are dipping the measuring cup into the flour.

                              1. re: rchlst

                                Over mixing can destroy your gluten development, think of gluten as an elastic band, you want it to bounce back. If you over work it you can snap that band or warp it. :) that's what they taught us in school anyway. :)

                            2. re: rchlst

                              Yeah, that kneading time in a stand mixer is WAY too long. Try 7 minutes - that's usually what I do.

                              And your second rise is too short - try swapping them - 30 minutes for the first, an hour for the second. Should help lots.

                          2. Thanks everyone! I think i might try to make a new batch tonight!

                            i"'ll weight it, use gluten, swap the rise time, and kneed it less in the mixer. Wish me luck ! :)

                            1. This thread piqued my interest enough that I pulled a loaf of commercial whole wheat sandwich bread out of the pantry to read the ingredient list.

                              I didn't see anything too outside of the normally expected ingredients.
                              I'd be interested to hear from any commercial bakers on this.

                              I see you have experience (rchlst), but for bread newbies, I would suggest starting with "white" (unbleached) flour and with hand mixing/kneading. I have found I learn a LOT about dough simply by handling it.

                              Once I "perfected" (for my needs) basic white bread/pizza dough, I started playing with other flours and various mixtures.

                              Happy baking!

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: pedalfaster

                                Thanks pedalfaster!

                                based on the tips i got on here, and some more web research, I think i was able to make a loaf I was really happy with!!

                                I used the same recipe and included the gluten.
                                I took a fresh batch of yeast (I have tons of it in the freazer and just took out a fresh batch). My previous one had probably been in my fridge too long.

                                I also used weighted measurements instead of a cup.

                                Then I used the stand mixer for about 9 minutes. I tried to get the gluten window but couldn't. I chalked it up to being a wheat dough and took my chances.

                                Then i let it rise for only about 30 minutes. It was much smaller than the previous times but i tested it. poked a whole with two fingers up to my second knuckle. The hole remained when i remoed my fingers so I punched it down.

                                Then i let it rise about 45 minutes. Tested it by pushing on it with my finger a bit and the imprint remained. So...

                                I poped it in the oven and out came my best loaf yet!

                                Its squishy, has a nice spring to it and the crumbs are nice. Overall, I'm thrilled! So thank you everyone for the advice!

                                Now my only question is how can i get a nice crust? :)

                                1. re: rchlst

                                  a crunchy crust is where brushing it with water a few times during the first 15 or so minutes comes into play. this last time I over did it and you could cut your lip on it.

                                  maybe I'll try an olive oily water next time (and there will be a next time)

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    I mist the dough with spray bottle when placing it in the oven.

                                    I also place a rimmed baking sheet on the shelf below the bread and add a cup or two of water to it.

                                    This steams the bread for 10 or 15 minutes until the water evaporates. The crust comes out nice.

                                    1. re: Antilope

                                      Awesome!! I will have to try that! Thanks!