Making homemade bread is an artform, one that takes practice and a meticulous attention to detail to perfect. It is so disappointing and frustrating when bread doesn’t come out right.
Usually, dense bread (especially at the bottom) is the result of too little gas getting in the dough and not making its way through the whole loaf. But knowing this fact alone does not help you improve your bread-making skills.
We will look at various factors that impact bread density, and how to adjust your recipe or techniques to get a better outcome with your next loaf.
Use the Right Ingredients
The contents of most breads are pretty simple: flour, water, salt, and yeast. However, the types of all of these ingredients matter.
We cannot stress this enough: you absolutely cannot substitute ingredients when it comes to making bread. You must use bread flour or 00 flour if it calls for it; you must use the right type of yeast; you must use water that is at the correct temperature…you get the picture.
Using the right type of flour is especially crucial. If your bread has too low of a protein content, it will be too dense, particularly on the bottom. The purpose of the proteins in bread is to help determine the size of the loaf by setting the gluten.
The difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour is the protein content; bread flour has more. 00 flour also contains more gluten and protein than all-purpose flour, though less protein than bread flour.
The yeast is also a very important ingredient; we’ll discuss that in more detail below.
Measure Ingredients by Weight
When you make homemade bread, you’ll probably have a better outcome if you don’t use measuring cups, but measure your ingredients by weight instead.
Using a simple kitchen scale will give you a more accurate reading. Look for a recipe that gives the ingredients by weight or convert measurements of volume to ounces yourself.
If you don’t have a kitchen scale or have to use measuring cups and spoons, do so very carefully; too much salt especially can cause your bread to be dense on the bottom.
Use Active Yeast
The yeast has a great deal to do with how dense the bread is, since the fermentation process is how air and lightness are added into the dough.
You want to make sure that you pick a recipe that calls for active yeast. But beyond that, you need to make sure that the yeast you have actually is active.
If it’s brand-new, you’re probably good to go. If your yeast has been opened for a while, it may no longer be active. You can test it beforehand to see if it’s still alive.
Store opened containers of yeast in the freezer to prolong their life.
Need to Knead
It’s tiring, it’s tedious, but it is also necessary. Properly kneading the bread dough is one of the most crucial steps in bread making.
Kneading helps the bread form gluten. Gluten is important for many reasons, not the least of which because it holds the gasses released by the yeast, which allows the bread to rise and gives it a light, fluffy, springy texture all the way through—the opposite of dense.
We recommend watching some YouTube videos on proper kneading technique to master it. Better yet, find a recipe that has a video attached that includes instructions on kneading.
Make sure you follow your kneading instructions in your recipe closely. Knead for the right amount of time and especially to the right consistency.
All this being said, there is definitely too much of a good thing when it comes to bread making: do not over-knead your bread! That, too, can result in a loaf that is too dense on the bottom.
The Proof Is in the Resting
Proofing is the period of time for which you allow the dough to rest before baking it.
The purpose of proofing, at least for bread dough, is to give the yeast time to ferment, which causes the bread to rise (mainly because of the gases that are released). While you may have had other rising periods in your preparation, this last one is important to the density of bread, especially even density.
There are a couple of important elements for proofing, the first being time. You must let your bread proof before you bake it, and it must proof for the right amount of time: not too short and not too long.
The amount of time that is appropriate will vary widely depending on the recipe. Some quicker breads require just a couple of hours, and some need to proof overnight.
A good bread recipe will give you an amount of time you need to proof, but it should also give you some descriptive signs to look for. This is in case the temperature, humidity, or other conditions in your kitchen (or wherever you’re making bread) cause the proofing process to take less or more time.
In general, the warmer your kitchen, the less time that your dough will take to proof, and in a colder kitchen the process will take longer. Ideally, the temperature where the bread is baked should be between 68- and 75-degrees Fahrenheit, and average humidity.
There is a good trick to utilize to see if your bread is done proofing. You simply poke it with your fingertip.
Gently press your fingertip into the dough and make a small indentation. If pressing gently yields little indentation in the dough, and it feels very firm, then the dough is still going through the proofing process and isn’t done.
If it springs right back into shape slowly but perceptibly, recovering all the way, then it is ready to be baked. If the indentation made by your finger stays and does not spring back, then unfortunately your dough is over-proofed.
Over-proofed dough can still be baked, but it is very likely to be dense. Still, baking it is preferable to throwing it away, since the dense bread can be used for other purposes (keep reading).
Uses for Dense Bread
There are a few good uses for dense bread. The first, and probably most common, is to make breadcrumbs.
You can make croutons, crackers, crostini, toasts, and other small snacks. Season with oils and spices and serve with cheese.
Dense bread can also be good for recipes that involve soaking the bread, like a bread pudding or French toast (though French toast is best with light, fluffy bread).
Use it in Panzanella (an Italian bread salad), Roblitta (Italian bread soup), to thicken gazpacho, or make Thanksgiving-style stuffing (which is delicious all year round!).
Don’t Be Discouraged by Inconsistent Outcomes
Making bread is not easy, and just when you think you’ve mastered a particular type of bread or recipe, the next loaf comes out wrong. Take comfort in knowing that this is a common problem.
With so much that goes into bread making, it is no wonder that there is the potential for so much to go awry. The cause of your less-than-perfect loaf might be something as simple as higher or lower humidity in your region or slight differences in your water temperature.
It is aggravating, but remember how well worth all the work is when the bread turns out perfectly. With practice and skill, it is bound to do so most of the time.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.