There are several possibilities as to why your loaf is anything but light but the most likely cause is the lack of air in the gluten structure. You can increase this amount of air by simply letting the dough proof for longer, however, there could be other causes to your dense bread too.
Read this article to find out about all the possibilities that might cause a dense loaf of bread and how you can avoid them next time you want to step near the oven.
How Does Gas Play a Part in Lighter Bread?
If you were to pump some air into a balloon, the air goes in between the sides of the balloon and makes it light. You can apply the same theory to bread. The more gas you have in the bread, separating the gluten that is in the dough, the lighter the loaf will turn out to be.
A lack of gas means that the gluten isn’t separated enough and there are no filled air pockets in the strands of gluten which leads to the bread not rising and as some say, forming the texture of a brick.
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How Does the Gas Process Work?
During the first and second rise, the live yeast begins to create gas and that gas makes its way into small air pockets in between the strands of gluten in the dough.
As these tiny air pockets get bigger and bigger, the bread rises and therefore, becomes much lighter. All in all, the more gas you have in your bread, the lighter and fluffier it will be.
How Important is Kneading?
Kneading is one of the most important steps in making bread.
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In this process, you need to encourage the flour to create just enough gluten to ensure that at a later stage, during the first and second rise, it can hold the gas from the yeast.
Here are the most common mistakes when it comes to kneading:
The most common way that people ruin the gas content in their dough is by under-kneading. When you knead your dough, you are kneading the flour intending to encourage the gluten to develop. If you don’t knead it enough then the dough won’t get the chance to develop the necessary gluten formation which is fundamental to a light loaf.
Unfortunately, what can happen is that you might not know when the bread has been kneaded enough and over-knead it. This means that you will have developed enough gluten, at some point, but by continuing to knead you just damage the gluten formation and sign yourself to a dense loaf.
What Can I do to Avoid Dense Bread?
Use a basic recipe first
If you are a beginner bread maker, there is no harm in trying out a basic recipe before going all fancy with flavors and shapes. Keep it simple!
A basic recipe is much easier to follow and you are less likely to make mistakes due to your inexperience this way. Once you become confident at a basic recipe, then move on to something more complicated to test out your skills.
Precisely measure the ingredients
It might seem obvious, but in bread making each and every ingredient needs to be carefully measured out, sticking to a strict recipe. These recipes have been tried and tested and if you follow them, and the instructions it’s quite difficult to go wrong.
Sometimes, if you add too much or too little of an ingredient they can cancel each other out and you will end up with a dense loaf. Most important of all, watch your water to flour ratio, this is the most common mistake and too much water pushes out the air pockets and always makes the bread very dense.
I would suggest counting out loud the number of cups you add to your bowel. It’s so easy to lose count and mess up the recipe.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever lost count when adding your ingredients? I know I have.
Use Quality Flour
Bread flour is extremely different compared to other flours. There is much more protein in bread flour and during bread-making, those proteins change into gluten. More gluten means more gas can be held from the yeast and therefore, a lighter loaf will form.
Flours such as rye and other whole grains tend to be quite difficult to make bread with, so if you are a first-time baker, then avoid these flours and get yourself a simple wheat flour.
Add Fats at a Later Time
Most recipes have fats like butter or eggs present, however, these can cause you some issues. These fats lubricate the gluten which means during kneading they are less likely to oxygenate.
You can add these products, but if possible, try to add them at a later stage to eliminate their negative impact on the dough rising.
Use Active Yeast
Yeast can very quickly go out of date or become unfresh, particularly if it isn’t stored correctly. Active yeast is essential to a fluffy loaf as this is where the gas is created which causes the bread to rise.
Try to keep your yeast stored in an airtight bag or container and if you don’t bake bread very often then only buy a small packet of yeast so you can buy it fresh every time you fancy baking.
Add Bread Improvers
If you are a quick baker or need to make a loaf on short notice, bread improvers are a lifesaver. Bread improvers help oxygenate the bread and therefore eliminate the need for a lot of kneading, or a first rise.
Ascorbic acid or malt flour are examples of the most common bread improvers used in fast bread making. Some famous bakers and bread brands use these to speed up their baking process.
Don’t Mix Salt and Yeast Together
What some recipes sometimes lack is the knowledge of salt and yeast. Salt actually kills yeast and therefore during the creation of the dough, these ingredients should never be directly added together.
Most recipes will tell you to add the salt after mixing all of the other ingredients and then the yeast and salt don’t touch. In addition to this, yeast also craves sugar which helps accelerate its growth, so the yeast must get to engage with the sugars in the mixture before the salt is added.
Allow More Time for Proofing
This is certainly an important step. As we have mentioned gas is essential for creating a light loaf and that is produced during the proofing stages. If you don’t leave the dough long enough to proof then you aren’t giving it enough time to create those important little gas bubbles.
If you are always making bread in a hurry and don’t have much time to proof the dough before baking it in the oven, consider the bread improvers we have mentioned above, this can speed up your bread-making process without causing any damage to the dough.
Create a Good Shape
The shape is everything when it comes to bread. We have already learned that gas is essential in the process of making a lighter loaf, but how do you retain the gas?
During shaping, you need to knock the gas out of the external part of the dough which, when baked, will create the crust. Knocking the gas out of external parts of the bread helps retain the gas inside the bread and creates a bubbly and airy loaf.
Score the Dough
It might seem basic to score the dough before putting it in to bake, but the scoring process can have a huge effect on the success of your loaf.
If you don’t score the dough then the gas that has been formed by the yeast can force its way out of the dough and cause cracks or rips in the loaf.
Adjust the Time of Your First Rise
If you don’t allow the bread enough time to do its first rise then you will be damaging the structure and therefore preventing it from allowing the all-important build-up of gas inside.
If you are not sure if your first rise is long enough, add a little extra time. Overdoing it is better than underdoing it in this step.
Control the Temperature
During bread making, you need to be aware of the temperature of your kitchen as different processes require different heat.
First, you need to have a cool environment, this causes the gluten to strengthen and break down starch. Then, allow your kitchen to become warmer during proofing (33-35 degrees celsius) which gives the yeast a chance to work its magic and use all of the gluten’s structure to create a light and airy dough.
Cool the Bread Properly
Cooling is very important and often is the deciding point when it comes to the texture and the crumb of a loaf. You should always cool your bread with space around it, certainly not in a baking tray. It needs to be out in the open to allow the moisture to escape.
You might see some bread markers allowing their bread to cool under a tea towel. This is a trick used to keep the bread moist, however, sometimes it can lead to bread becoming dense because not as much moisture can get out.
I hope this article has helped you create that perfect loaf of bread.
If you have any questions or would like to add your experience and tricks, you can use the comment section below.
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