If you've ever spent time rolling and kneading dough, then waiting for it to rise only to find out hours later that your bread didn't rise at all, this post is for you!
Before investing in a bread machine, I had been making bread by hand for years. My favorite is this incredible Sun-Dried Tomato and Basil Bread.
I was so proud the first few times I made it completely from scratch. The bread had risen perfectly. The ingredients were perfectly portioned. With a few minor tweaks, the third time I made it it was completely perfect. And it has turned into the bread that is requested every holiday. It's sought after at the start of every holiday dinner. I am so proud of it that I've started gifting it.
So what a bummer this past Thanksgiving when my bread didn't rise. And not just once, my sun-dried tomato bread didn't rise twice! Hours of watching and waiting and nothing. My incredible bread didn't rise even one tiny hair.
I always taste my dough so I knew that it tasted exactly like it should. So why didn't my bread rise? I attempted the recipe twice but still had bread that didn't rise. After troubleshooting the below reasons to find out why it may have happened, I suspect I did not hand knead it long enough. Whoops.
But don't worry! Bread that doesn't rise does not have to be a wasted effort! I made a delicious flatbread with my two dead loaves, and it was just as tasty as it could be as a crusty and moist loaf.
Possible Reasons Why Your Bread Didn't Rise
These are the most common reasons why your bread didn't rise. You should consider these possibilities in the order listed.
Dead Yeast: Your yeast might be old and inactive. You should always proof yeast before adding it to your recipe. The package will have instructions on how to do this, but essentially you mix a certain amount of yeast with a certain amount of warm water.
Water Is Too Hot: Water between 105 and 115 degrees is needed to activate dry yeast without killing it. Water at about 95 degrees should be used for live yeast. You can use a thermometer to accurately measure your water temp if you're not sure. If your water is too hot, it will kill the yeast and your bread will not rise properly.
Water Is Too Cold: The same goes for water that is too cold, except that instead of killing the yeast, cold water keeps the yeast dormant. In other words, useless. If you think water temperature is what caused your bread not to rise, read more about the perfect temperature to proof yeast here.
Room Is Not Warm Enough: The dough needs a warm place to rise. If the room is too cold, which is more common in the winter, your bread will either not rise at all or it will take longer.
Too Short Resting Time: Dough needs time to rise in that warm place. Some breads take 1 hour, some take 3. Make sure to follow your recipe and don't rush it.
Not Enough Kneading: You should hand knead dough for 10-12 minutes in order to tighten the gluten strands that give rise to the bread. This can get tiresome, I know, but it is so important! If you're using a mixer, the time shortens to 8-10 minutes.
Once I invested in this amazing Cuisinart bread machine, I rarely hand knead dough. It's such a relief. However, I traveled for Thanksgiving and did not bring my bread machine with me.
What To Do With Bread That Didn't Rise
Test Proof Yeast: You can proof test yeast to make sure the package is still good by adding 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of warm water. Wait 3 minutes, and if it becomes bubbly, then the yeast is still active. If nothing happens, you likely have dead yeast (which means you'll need to buy more).
You should make testing yeast prior to adding it to your dough a habit. I did not do this when I made my first bread dough this Thanksgiving.
Once you get new yeast that you've tested, you can add the correct amount of yeast and few tablespoons of warm water to the dough that didn't rise. To do this, mix the yeast and water, let it sit for about 5 minutes and then fold it into the dough.
I did this to my failed Thanksgiving bread, but unfortunately it still did not rise. So I moved on to the next possibility:
Move To A Warmer Place: If you think your room is too cold, turn the oven light on and put the dough inside the oven. Alternatively, turn on the microwave for 1 minute and then place the dough inside. Either one of these places should then be a warm enough spot. You can even put your bread outside if it's warm. The dough should be in a room between 80 and 90 degrees. Any cooler may keep the yeast dormant and any hotter may kill the yeast, causing your bread not to rise. Don't forget to cover the dough with a heavy cloth or towel.
Once I knew I had live yeast and my dough still didn't rise, I moved it to inside of the warm oven.
Let It Rise Longer: If none of the above steps worked to get the dough to rise, you may be checking on it too soon. Lengthening the rise time by 30 minutes and check again. You can do this a few times if it seems like it's starting to rise. If not, lengthening the rise time more than 1 hour probably won't do anything.
Once inside the oven, I added 1 more hour to the resting time, for a total of 2 hours.
Your other options when these don't work?
Invest in a Bread Machine: I've never had this problem when using the bread machine. They range in price from $150 to over $400, but are well worth the cost. My bread machine is the best kitchen appliance I have spent a lot of money on, and it will be for years to come.
If you've tried all these options and your bread still didn't rise
You don't have to trash the dough! You have a few options to salvaging your bread-making efforts. I hate to throw away dough after all the time and effort I put into trying to make it perfect.
I tried all the above steps to get my dough to rise, but it would not budge! It was Thanksgiving Eve, and I was out of time to start over. Instead of trashing my non-rising doughs and trying a third time, I made delicious pull-apart flatbread!
For Stubborn Dough That Wont Rise Despite Your Best Efforts, You Can:
Make Flatbread: this is my favorite thing to do with dough that refuses to rise. Simply roll or spread out the dough (you may need to break it into a few smaller balls) and cook it on a griddle or grill for about 5 minutes on each side. The sides will begin to brown in spots when it's done.
You can use the flatbread to make sandwiches and pizzas. I love classic cheese flatbread pizza or pepperoni flatbread pizza. These margherita pizza and spinach feta pizza flatbreads are amazingly simple and delicious, too!
You can also break it apart to make flatbread chips that are perfect for dipping!
Make Breadcrumbs: I love to turn the ends of sandwich bread or stale bread into homemade breadcrumbs. To make breadcrumbs, bake dough in the oven as normal, cut into small pieces, and put in a food processor or blender to create fine crumbs. Use the breadcrumbs to coat chicken, in meatballs, macaroni and cheese, etc.
Make Croutons: another one of my favorites! Bake the bread in the oven as normal, slice it, and cut the slices into small cubes. You can season the crumbs with oil and Italian seasoning or Parmesan. Toast them for a few minutes right before using them. Use homemade croutons in soups and salads.