Getting a rise out of dough

A. Whenever I try to make bread, my dough doesn’t rise properly. Do you know why this happens and how I can prevent it?  —Ezra, Menasha

Q. Ezra, I like this question because many people have a fear of using yeast. Yeasts are basically plant cells that rest in dormancy until awakened. We activate yeast by adding moisture and feeding it in a warm, moist environment. In this environment, the yeast produces two byproducts — carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide is a gas that provides the leavening to our baked goods like bread. Yeasts need sugar to live, and sugar can be an added ingredient in recipes, or a naturally occurring sugar from the flour and other ingredients.

In troubleshooting your bread products, evaluate the following questions:

  • Is there enough yeast to provide proportionate leavening to the bread?
  • Is there enough sugar to feed the yeast?
  • Is the dough too stiff and unyielding so that the carbon dioxide can’t push it up (common in heavy dough like whole wheat)?
  • Is the dough not warm enough to activate the yeast?
  • Is the dough too warm and has killed many or all of the yeast?
  • Has the top of the bread crusted over, making it impossible for the dough to keep rising?
  • Is the environment where the dough is rising both moist and warm (a common challenge at home)?

Determining the answer and addressing the solution to these questions can help get your bread moving the right direction, Ezra!

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