For many people across many different cultures, bread, or some form of it, is a major staple at any meal. Even though these days you can easily run to the store to buy bread, there’s nothing like making it from scratch with your own ingredients in your own kitchen. Making your own bread isn’t too difficult, whether you’re making Indian naan, sourdough bread, cinnamon rolls, Jewish braided challah or even a pizza pie. But, what happens if you notice that your dough isn’t rising as it should? Instead of starting over, there are ways to fix it.
What Makes Dough Rise?
Bread rises when carbon dioxide is produced and released into the dough, pushing and expanding the dough to form the bread that we love to eat. The carbon dioxide can come from one of three agents: baking soda, baking powder or yeast. If you use one of these ingredients, your bread should rise. To contain the yeast so that the dough does not over-bubble, flour is usually added to the recipe. When combined with water, flour makes gluten, which makes bread what it is. All these agents working together allow the dough to rise.
Determine if Your Dough Has Risen
While there are some bread and dough recipes that don’t require a long settling time before baking, most recipes require the baker to let the dough sit for at least an hour before putting it in the oven. There are some recipes that require you to let it sit even longer, perhaps even over a few days, before baking.
Knowing whether or not the dough for your recipe is ready depends largely on the recipe itself. And, even if you see that the dough has risen, it may not yet be exactly where it needs to be to qualify as ready to bake. Therefore, the best way to determine if your dough has risen is to put a finger into the dough to make a small indentation. If the dent remains there and doesn’t seal back up, then the dough is ready to be put in the oven.
Understand Why the Bread Isn’t Rising
The first step in fixing dough that won’t rise is to understand the reason why it’s not rising in the first place. After all, it’s hard to fix a problem (especially in the kitchen) if you don’t know what caused it. Though bread will rise even more in the oven, it should have already risen somewhat before you get to that step. If you see that the dough is not rising, it’s likely due to at least one of these reasons:
- The yeast, baking soda or baking powder that you’ve bought from the store is old.
- You’re not using the right combination of ingredients.
- The water is not the right temperature. If it’s too cold, it won’t activate the yeast, and if it’s too hot, it can kill the yeast. It should be between 105 F and 115 F.
- The room is not the right temperature. It should be in a room that’s around 75 F. If the room is too cold, the yeast will die.
- You’ve added too much or not enough of another ingredient, like flour, salt or sugar.
- The dough was not kneaded long enough.
- The pan you’re using is not the right shape or size, which can give the dough the appearance that it hasn’t risen, even if it has.
- You didn’t give the dough enough time to rise. Wait a little longer before assuming that something is wrong.
It’s a good idea to check the ingredients and your environment before even starting to make your dough. Even though baking bread is relatively easy, anyone can make little mistakes.
How to Fix Dough That’s Not Rising
Unfortunately, just looking at the dough does not necessarily help you understand why it’s not rising. One by one, you need to eliminate all the possibilities to see what the issue may be and whether it can be repaired. The first thing to check is the time. If your recipe said to wait an hour and it’s only been just an hour, then wait 30 minutes more. Depending on the climate you live in, it could take the dough longer to rise, so don’t rush this. But, if a significant amount of time has already gone by and you don’t see any change, then it’s time to try something else.
Check the temperature in the room: One reason the dough may not be rising is because of the room temperature. Put the dough in a warmer place to see if that makes it rise. If the temperature in your home is not ideal, then set the oven to low and put the dough inside or on top of the stove to see if it rises.
Check the yeast: If room temperature is not the issue, check the date on your yeast. Here, you should be able to tell right away whether or not the yeast was okay to use in the first place. If the date has not expired, then think about the environment the yeast has been stored in – if it was stored in extreme temperatures, it may have been killed.
If you’ve determined that the yeast is the problem, then buy new yeast. Activate a teaspoon of this new yeast according to the instructions, separately from the dough in a cup of warm water. Add a tablespoon of sugar. Once it’s activated – you should see it getting bubbly or frothy – you can add the yeast to your dough. Hopefully, this will help the dough to rise.
Check the flour: Another reason your dough may not be rising could be because you do not have enough flour. The way you can tell if your dough is short on flour is by feeling the consistency of the dough. If the dough is too wet or too sticky, so much so that you can’t really form it into anything without it getting all over your hands (a little dough on your hands is okay), then you’ll need more flour. Add a little bit at a time, no more than 1/4 of a cup, to see if that helps the situation.
Knead it more: Once you’ve exhausted these repair strategies, the next thing you can do is take the dough out from the bowl or pan you’re working in and knead it again. Remember to sprinkle a little flour on the counter, but make sure you’re not using too much flour overall. Knead it well and take your time.
Other Alternatives to Using Dough That Doesn’t Rise
At some point, trying to manipulate the dough too much to fix it can actually end up making the problem worse. If you’ve tried to repair the dough, but you haven’t noticed any change or you’ve determined that the cause is something that can’t be fixed (perhaps due to old yeast) it might be best to just prepare a new batch of dough from scratch.
The good news is, you may not have to throw away the dough that won’t rise. Instead, you can do something else with it:
Dough needs to rise sufficiently in order to make bread that’s light and airy rather than heavy and tough. A leavening agent is responsible for making dough rise by creating air pockets inside. For quick rising, you need the optimal environment for air pockets to form.
Using a leavening agent helps dough rise faster. While baking soda and baking powder are most often used in cakes and quick breads, yeast is the main leavening agent used in bread and pizza dough. All three cause chemical reactions to create gas that forms air pockets. Some yeast, commonly known as “rapid rise,” has been engineered to activate the chemical reaction faster. Some types of flour, like self-rising, already contain a leavening agent.
Most leavening agents cause dough to rise gradually at room temperature. In moister dough, warmer ambient temperature speeds up the process. For faster rising, place dough over a pan of warm water in a warm oven; or microwave once or twice on low power for up to 25 seconds. However, keep dough below 250 degrees Fahrenheit, or else it will begin to cook.
Active dry yeast is a living organism that goes dormant during storage. To “proof” or activate it, add it to warm water, about 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Water above about 125 degrees Fahrenheit can kill the yeast, so test it first; it should feel hot but comfortable enough to put your finger in.
To speed up the proofing, add a pinch of sugar to the warm water. The yeast feeds on the sugar and produces carbon dioxide gas more quickly. Vinegar creates a similar reaction. Add 3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar for every 3 cups flour when mixing the dough.
Let the dough rise to double size in a warm location, or cover and put the dough next to a cup of hot water in the microwave and heat on low for up to 3 minutes. Let the dough rest for 3 minutes, then heat again.
Cover It Up
As carbon dioxide forms, the dough expands. If the surface of the dough dries out, the crust that forms will keep it from rising as quickly. To let the dough rise freely, lightly coat the top with vegetable oil and cover with plastic wrap or a moist towel.
You’re all excited to make a loaf of bread or maybe even pizza but when you go to look at your dough it’s as flat as your meal plans now! If that’s happened to you you might be wondering what to do with bread dough that didn’t rise – is it a lost cause?
Here are the two things I do with unrisen dough so don’t lose hope.
- Add some different yeast, a bit more flour and give it a knead again to try and rescue it
- Make flatbreads or pitta breads
But also make sure that it’s had enough time and has been in a warm place before you make any decisions – perhaps all is not lost!
If the dough has definitely not risen think through the the time available and what you might be wanting to do with the dough afterwards.
Why did my bread dough not rise?
First things first, did the bread dough completely fail or does it just need some more time in a warm place? Try punching it down – did it have any air in there at all?
In winter, when kitchens are a lot colder, it can make the job of proving your dough tough. (Proving means proving that the yeast works – if it rises then the yeast is good!) If you’re not sure then I recommend placing the dough in a warm place, maybe near a radiator for a little longer to see if it makes a difference. Dough will rise in cold temperatures but can be a lot slower!
Here are my tips for getting dough to rise faster.
If you’re sure the dough has failed then it’s good to think about why that is.
The main reasons why bread dough doesn’t rise are:
- forgetting to put the yeast in completely (I know it sounds daft but I’ve done it a good few times!)
- using yeast that is out of date and dead
- adding water that is too hot
- adding salt too near the yeast
You can test to see if your yeast is dead by adding some to some warm water and a bit of sugar and leaving for ten minutes – if the mixture is bubbling then you know the yeast is still good. If not then it’s past its best and needs to be discarded.
Another way that the yeast can fail is if you add water to the mixture that is too hot – it should be just warm and ok for your hand to be in it. Any hotter and it can kill the yeast even if it was good to start with.
Finally salt can really upset the yeast if it gets too close in the mixture. When adding the yeast and salt try and add them in different areas so they aren’t too close when they start mixing together.
How to rescue bread dough that didn’t rise
If you have lots of time you can try and rescue the dough that didn’t rise. How I’ve done it in the past is by introducing the yeast back in to the dough.
Check the yeast is good by doing the test I detailed above. Don’t use too much water – a couple of tablespoons should be enough.
When you know that the yeast is ok you’ll need to add the yeast mixture to your dough and then add some more flour so that it keeps the consistency that you need. Cover. Put in a warm place and check on it in an hour or so.
This can have varying results but I always think it’s worth a go rather than wasting it.
How to make flatbreads with unrisen dough
Another option to contemplate is making flatbreads. Flatbreads don’t use yeast anyway and so the fact that the dough hasn’t risen won’t matter at all.
There are a few ways to make them. My favourite way is as follows:
- get a flat, non stick frying pan hot. You don’t need any oil.
- roll the dough out in a really thin circle (or as close to a circle as you can!) I use about a golf ball sized bit of dough for each flatbread.
- place the flattened dough in the pan and cook for a few minutes
- flip over and allow to cook on the other side
- place the flatbreads in a folded, clean tea towel to keep them soft.
Alternatively you could try rolling them to a small pitta bread size and bake in a really hot oven.
When dough doesn’t work it’s time to get creative and see what else we can do with it. So long as the dough gets cooked in some way you’ll be able to make something that might be edible. I’d love to hear what you’ve done if you’ve had any other ideas – do share in the comments!
Rising is when the dough is placed in a warm place and allowed to double in volume. Usually a dough goes through two rising periods, the first after mixing and the second after shaping,
The first rising (proofing) improves the flavour and texture of bread. From the yeast’s fermentation, it takes time to accumulate a volume of carbon dioxide gas during the risings, strong enough to stretch a bread dough and to hold it high. On the outside, the dough expands like a balloon, called rising but inside the dough a number of things are happening too.
During rising, the gluten, begins to repair and pull together, which also makes the bread dough easier to work with. Yeast, feeds on the starches in the flour and doubles in number. All of these by-products are important when making bread: the carbon dioxide causes the air bubbles created in the dough to expand or rise, the alcohol contributes to the bread’s flavour, and an organic acid glutamathione, relaxes the dough and gives it more elasticity. This allows it to absorb surface water, making the dough less sticky.
Shaping takes place after the dough has doubled in size from its first rising and is punched down (kneaded). Afterwards, a second rise takes place for the dough to produce more carbon dioxide and alcohol for better texture and taste. Shaping also forms the dough for an optimal oven-spring or rise when placed in an oven to bake.
The success of bread depends on many factors, most of them centering around the behavior of yeast, the living organism that makes it rise. This means that, on any given day, the recipe you’ve used for years may prove maddeningly balky and leave you with an inert lump of uncooperative dough. The obvious thing to do is throw it out and start over, but there are alternatives.
Make a Sponge
If you are not faced with a time constraint, use your batch of failed dough for the next day’s bread. Buy some fresh yeast and mix up a “sponge,” a small portion of dough, using about one-third of the flour and all the yeast called for in your original recipe. Let the sponge rise once on its own, then cut it into dozens of small pieces. Do the same with your original dough and knead them together for 10 minutes by hand or in your mixer. Let the dough rise overnight in your fridge and bake it the next day.
Use Quick-Rise Yeast
Quick-rise yeast also can be used to resuscitate a failed dough. Roll the dough into the thinnest rectangle you can manage on a lightly floured counter. Open an envelope of quick-rise yeast, also called fast-acting or bread machine yeast, and sprinkle it over the dough. Mist the dough lightly but evenly with a spray bottle and roll up the dough like a jelly roll. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes by hand or in your mixer and leave it to rise. The quick-acting yeast should raise the dough adequately.
Cut your dough into walnut-sized balls and roll them into 6-inch circles. Flour them well. To make pita-style breads, put a pizza stone or cast-iron pan in your oven and preheat it at its highest temperature. Once the oven is thoroughly heated, bake the breads one at a time for four to five minutes on each side. They will puff as the moisture in the dough turns to steam. Alternatively, brush the dough rounds with a beaten egg and sprinkle them with coarse salt and sesame seeds. Make crispbreads by baking them at 400 F until golden, approximately 10 minutes.
Roll out your bread dough into the thinnest rectangle you can manage. Brush it well with melted butter and sprinkle it with sugar. Fold the dough in thirds, buttering and sugaring each side as you fold it in. Roll the dough out to its original size and butter and sugar it once again in the same way. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes to let the dough relax. Use the dough to line a sheet pan, and cover it from edge to edge with fresh-sliced fruit, such as plums or cherries. Sprinkle with sugar and bake at 375 F until the fruit is juicy and bubbly.
I’ve been grinding my own wheat and making my own bread for over 30 years now. And I absolutely LOVE this domestic chore. In fact, I don’t see it as a chore-it’s therapy. I know there are lots of Cook’n readers that understand what I’m saying and feel the same way.
Avid bread-makers tend to gravitate to one another. We talk bread, trade secrets, and share recipes. Lately I’ve been hearing about struggles with rising. You know how frustrating that is. After all, making a loaf of bread is a commitment-a time-, energy-, and resource-commitment. Shoot, who wants to waste time, energy, and resources in the possibility of failure?
So it’s with this question in mind that I thought we’d discuss a couple things:
· the 5 typical reasons bread fails to rise (and what to do about them)
· clever ways to use any dough that does fail to rise (it has a future!)
REASON 1: Old Dead Yeast . It’s true that dry, inactive yeast can live for years if kept at the right temperature. But every now and then you’ll buy some that’s been stored in a hot warehouse or submitted to fluctuating temperatures. So don’t get discouraged and automatically assume you did something wrong; it could be as simple as dead yeast. And going forward, always store freshly purchased yeast in an airtight container in the freezer.
REASON 2: Recipe Liquid Is Too Hot . Recipes calling for active dry yeast say to dissolve that yeast in warm water. Sometimes the recipe calls for the liquid to be heated with fat and then added to the yeast. Either way, if the liquid is too hot it will kill off yeast cells. Yeast is pretty picky. It doesn’t like it too cold and it doesn’t like it too hot. A kitchen thermometer is an accurate way to test water temperature and is worth the expense.
REASON 3: The Kitchen Is Too Cold . As mentioned above, yeast prefers a narrow temperature band, usually between 75°F and 90°F. There is a little wiggle room on either side, but not a lot. If dough sits too long in a cold room, yeast will eventually die. Some of you likely know what I mean-it’s been tough this winter to keep the kitchen at 75°F. I’ve been turning my oven on for a few minutes, then shutting it off and placing my bowl of dough in it to rise. The trick here, though, is to not forget to turn the oven off before adding the dough! (Ask me how I know this.) Another effective technique for dough-rising that some of my neighbors use is to place it on top of the refrigerator.
REASON 4: Not Enough Time To Rise . We live in an instant-results world-we want what we want NOW. This doesn’t work with rising dough, though. It simply takes time. Maybe even longer than you or the recipe-writer expect. A longer rise time could be due to what we just talked about-a room that’s not warm enough or that most of your yeast was dead. It could even be the kind of flour you’re using. Even sweet bread dough takes a long time to rise. If the dough hasn’t risen as much as you expect, just give it more time. Besides, a slower rise results in a more flavorful bread.
REASON 5: The Wrong Size Pan . Sometimes it isn’t that the dough didn’t rise, but that it doesn’t look like it rose. Usually this is because the pan is too large for the amount of dough. Here’s the rule of thumb for best pan sizes:
ü A recipe with approx. 3 cups of flour is perfect for an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch pan.
ü A recipe with approx. 4 cups of flour is perfect for a 9 x 5 inch pan.
ü A recipe with approx. 4-1/2 cups of flour is perfect for a 10 x 5 inch pan.
Now the best part: Uses for that lump of dough that didn’t rise. Never throw it out! Instead:
Roll some of it very thin, sprinkle with herbs and/or coarse salt and bake homemade crackers.
Wrap strips around washed and buttered sticks and cook it over an open fire (still one of my favorite memories from childhood camping trips).
Stretch it thin and bake into flatbreads.
Stretch it thin, fry in a skillet, and spread with butter and honey, and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake it into loaves anyway, and when cooled, cube the bread, sprinkle the cubes with melted butter and herbs, and toast them. Voila, homemade salad croutons!
Bake it into loaves anyway, and when cooled, process the loaves into crumbs, toast the crumbs, bag them, and freeze them. You now have your own Panko bread crumbs for casseroles, etc.
OR, if you’re feeling generous, bake it into loaves anyway, and when cooled, crumble the loaves, bag the crumbs and freeze them. Then use those crumbs to feed the birds through the rest of the winter.
Finally, take heart. Your dough may not have risen, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make bread. It just means you made a bread alternative and plan to try again. And keep trying-it’s worth the commitment!
Hi, there. So I’ve just spent the past few weeks making my first successful (I think) sourdough starter. When I feed it it gets bubbly and smells like sourdough, and I’ve even made a couple loaves and they taste awesome.
My problem is, my dough never rises very much, and certainly doesn’t double in size. I’ve made yeast bread before so I know what to look for in terms of rising, and my sourdough seems to stay in a dense little lump, even in the hot weather or when I leave it in a closed/warmed oven to rise. The result is tasty but very dense and not fluffy or porous at all.
Any suggestions on what might be going wrong? My process has been to take my starter out of the fridge, feed it again and let it proof overnight, and then make the dough in the morning. Am I letting it sit too long before making my dough? Am I missing a crucial window when I should be forming the dough and/or baking it?
^ Yup, what LD said PLUS,
How do you develop your dough? What’s your kneading technique?
p.s. Your site is so fascinating! One day, I must pick up knitting again.
Usually I spend about five minutes playing wth the dough until all the flour is incorporated smoothly, including squeezing/pressing against the counter/kneading with my fist. Then for about five minutes I try to emulate a technique I saw in a class once where I press the dough flat, fold it over onto itself, press it down again. Could it be the kneading that’s preventing the rising?
i wouldn’t be surprised actually, because i notice with my yeast breads too that although they rise, they don’t rise as much as I would expect, especially if I punch it down after the first 2 hours–sometimes I skip this step altogether because it makes my loaves small and wimpy!)
Is there a better technique, or a rule of thumb to know if I’ve kneaded it enough or correctly?
(And thanks for the comment about the store! If you’re ever in Portland and find yourself hankering for some yarn you should definitely come check it out :))
10 mins will work only if it’s intensive mixing using a machine. I’d like to point you to Dom’s remarks about the intial stages of dough-handling. Some of us not only knead (a forceful action of digging the heel of our hand and folding over), we also do stretch and folds (something like what you described. a gentler action). Check out this tutorial and I’m sure your breads will improve considerably!
p.s. Mail order is more likely if I do find my needles.
After reading your first post I think that you need to make sure your starter is working right also. When you make up your preferment does it double in volume? Try making your preferment in a clear container so you can see if the bubbles are forming. Here is what mine looks like.
Hmm, now I’m beginning to think that it might be my starter. I just tried a loaf this morning and kneaded it as per the demo video, and that certainly made the dough taste better and a little fluffier after it was baked, but still not much rising happening. The final loaf is barely any bigger than when I finished kneading it.
I didn’t get a chance to put the starter in a glass container like you suggested, but I do notice that even though there are bubbles in the surface, they don’t seem as big as the ones in your picture, and the starter itself doesn’t seem to double in volume like it’s supposed to. How can I revitalize my starter aside from feeding it?
I was really bad at handling the dough! Try as I might, it always seemed to be sticky.
It stuck to my surface, to my hands, to my fingers! It just stuck and there didn’t seem to be a solution in sight. If you are just beginning to work with dough, I can assure you that it can be quite challenging whether it be bread dough, pizza dough, or even cookie dough.
A common sticky dough fix is to just add more flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Ah, if it were that easy! In the meantime, you may have ruined your dough with all that added flour.
As I acquired more experience, it got easier. So, if you are in the beginning “sticky” stage, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Table of Contents
My Dough is too Sticky
Well, it should be a bit tacky to the touch. If your dough isn’t at all tacky, you’ve probably already added too much flour. Sticky dough is not necessarily a negative.
Much will depend on the type of bread you hope to make. A stickier dough with higher water content can create a great loaf of bread, whereas a less sticky bread dough may end up having lots of bubbles in it.
Why is my Dough Sticky?
All dough is a bit sticky or tacky. Some dough may be tacky when you touch it while other doughs will literally seem glued to your fingers.
If the dough contains a high amount of water and is what is called a “high hydration” dough, and perhaps has not developed much gluten, it will most likely be incredibly sticky. However, with a good amount of kneading the gluten will develop and your dough will become easier to handle.
How Can I Make Dough Less Sticky?
Here are some great tips for helping you to make less sticky dough or for handling sticky dough.
- “Low hydration ” Dough. If you’re at the beginning f your dough baking adventure, start with low hydration. This will automatically make the dough less sticky and easier for you to knead. A beginning low hydration dough shouldn’t have more than approximately 60% of water in its content. This will allow you to acquire more experience kneading and shaping before moving onto the stickier dough. As you feel more comfortable, you can increase the water content.
- A little bit of flour. You can add a little bit of flour to help you shape the dough or to move it, but flour should not be added when kneading just because a dough feels sticky. This will most probably dry out your dough, and the end result won’t be what you hoped for. While you knead gluten will develop, helping the dough to leave the surface.
- Dough Scrapers. Bakers swear by dough scrapers in both metal, or flexible plastic. Depending on what you want to do you may choose to use one or the other. Both are great for cutting dough or shaping it. A plastic dough scraper will be more appropriate for scraping the bowl you mix your dough in or to help you remove the dough from the bowl. A metal scraper that will be flat is better for cutting the dough or scraping down the surface where you are kneading.
- Practice makes perfect. The more you bake, the better you’ll be at handling different types of dough, and the more you can watch others that have worked with dough for years, you’ll be able to pick up some tips. One often-cited kneading technique is the method that requires you to slap and then fold your dough. This is an often-used method for sticky wet doughs.
- A little bit of oil. When kneading your dough on a surface or in a bowl, a very light layer of oil will help you to knead it and it will stick less to the surface. Eventually, that little bit will be kneaded into your dough, but it will help you begin the kneading process. Oil is also rubbed onto a bowl surface when the dough is left to rise. This will help you remove the dough from the bowl when you are ready to work it.
- A little bit of water. You can try dipping your hands in water before picking up the dough. This will also help if the dough is sticking to your hands.
Sticky Pizza Dough
While pizza dough may seem that it should be easier, it isn’t. When the pizza dough is sticky, again it’s due to high water content and little gluten development. Keep on needing it for approximately ten minutes, and the gluten will develop making it easier to deal with.
If it continues to be sticky, you can knead in tiny amounts of flour but should do so only after you have kneaded. If the gluten does not develop, your pizza dough may not stretch sufficiently or rise.
If you add in a tablespoon or two of flour you will need to knead for at least another five minutes because the gluten must be developed with the newly added flour.
Another way to assist in the development of gluten is to allow your pizza dough to sit inside your refrigerator overnight. It will also be easier to handle. Before stretching your pizza dough, coat it with flour so your hands don’t stick to it and tear the dough.
Sticky Cookie Dough
Usually, sticky cookie dough is the result of the temperature of the dough. Remember that when you knead the dough, your body temperature will transfer heat to the dough.
To avoid this, especially when butter and eggs are in the dough recipe, keep your cookie dough in your refrigerator for a while to make sure that the dough cools down. You can also place the dough in parchment paper before placing it in the fridge. In this way, it will be easier for you to remove it when you prepare to bake your cookies.
Kneading your own dough can be utterly comforting, and while making your own bread, pizza or cookie dough is not quick, it is a labor of love.