Anyone who has even dipped a single toe into baking knows that baking bread is one of the hardest things to do. Making bread at all is one of the hardest things to achieve in any part of cooking, never mind being able to make bread well.
Breadmaking is a science with very little leniency and a lot that can go wrong. One of the most common issues people run into with baking is the bread being too dense. Why could this be?
Your bread could be dense for a whole range of reasons, but the most probable is that you did not knead the bread dough properly for long enough. Kneading is an essential part of making bread. Not kneading bread dough properly will always result in dense bread.
Why Do You Need To Knead Bread Dough?
Every step in the bread-making process has its own purpose, developed over the course of humanity to make a delicious loaf of bread. Arguably, kneading bread dough is the single most crucial step in making bread, from baguettes to sourdough.
A well-kneaded dough could be the difference between a flat, dense bread and a fluffy, risen loaf.
To Form Gluten Strands
Kneading bread dough is so important because it combines the protein elements found in wheat-based flour to form gluten.
When the gluten is formed and the proteins organised through kneading, gases released by the yeast when the dough bakes become trapped, which is what makes the bread dough loosen and rise.
To Distribute the Yeast
Another reason for kneading bread dough is to help better distribute the yeast in the dough. When the yeast gets to work and releases gases, you don’t want the yeast to only be in a tiny part of the loaf.
Otherwise, you will end up with very unevenly baked bread, with some parts beings super dense and others light and airy. Kneading the bread dough moves the yeast around the dough, spreading it out through the bread more evenly.
How To Properly Knead Bread
There are very few bread recipes that will not require you to knead bread because of how vital kneading is to building the gluten in the dough.
However, kneading bread is just as much of an art as making bread which is why you need to know (pun intended) how to knead bread successfully.
The first thing to note about kneading bread is that it is quite the workout. Kneading bread dough by hand can take up to 10 minutes.
Many people prefer to use a stand mixer with a dough hook to make the job easier. But to learn how to knead bread properly, you must do it by hand to feel the dough itself.
Before you start kneading your dough, sprinkle a light covering of whatever flour you used in the dough over your work surface. This will prevent the dough from sticking to your counter and creating a massive mess.
Gather your dough in a ball on the work surface. Then push down on top of the dough with your palm and push outwards with the heel of your hand, stretching the dough out.
Grab the section of dough that you have just pushed out and fold it back on itself to rejoin the rest of the dough ball. Repeat 2 more times and then turn the dough around, repeating the process again and again so that the dough is evenly kneaded.
When To Tell If Dough Has Been Kneaded Enough
You are just as likely to have dense bread if you over-knead your bread dough as you would if you under-kneaded it. That is why you need to know when to stop kneading to avoid tough dough.
The stiffer your dough, the less space there will be for yeast gas bubbles to form, preventing the dough from expanding.
Use the Windowpane Test
A foolproof way of preventing over-kneaded dough is the windowpane test. Tear off a little bit of your kneaded dough and carefully stretch it out as thin as possible.
If the dough breaks before you can stretch it thin enough to see through it then you should carry on kneading. But if you can pull it thin enough to see the light shine through the dough, you need to stop kneading.
Use the Finger Test
Another quick way to test if your dough has been kneaded enough is the finger test.
Shape your dough into a rough ball and press a clean finger into the top of the dough. You can tell if the gluten has built up enough if the dough springs back into shape. But if the fingerprint doesn’t go away, your dough should be kneaded for a little longer.
Can Under Proofing Make Bread Dense?
What many people find challenging about making bread is how much patience the breadmaking process requires. There is a lot of waiting around and allowing the science within dough to work its magic.
A hurdle that impatient breadmakers fail at is the proofing stage.
Proofing is the step just before baking your bread. Once you have wrangled the dough into your desired shape, you need to leave it to rise. It is during this time that the yeast gets to work, starting to release its gases and inflating the bread – hence making it rise.
But this is not a quick process. Most bread recipes require the bread to be proofed for up to 2 hours before it is baked.
Baking the bread before it has been given time to proof will stop the yeast from properly releasing all of its gases. Fewer air bubbles in the dough means it will not rise in the oven, resulting in dense bread.
So be patient and let the magic of science work it’s wonders if you want to avoid very dense bread.
Dense Bread FAQs
If you still have questions about your homemade bread that has turned out dense, perhaps you need to look over these FAQs:
If your ratio of flour to water is off then the bread will come out crumbly. If your dough is wet and hard to work with, a mistake many make is to add more flour but this can negatively impact the flour to water ratio, resulting in a crumbly loaf.
To make bread airier, ensure you use strong flour that will form plenty of gluten strands. You should also ensure your yeast is good quality, active and provided with sugar during the baking process.
Whether bread has been made by hand, in a mixer or in a breadmaker, the major cause of dense bread is not kneading well or for long enough.
Acacia may be a freelance writer by day, but they are a food fanatic by night. They are always trying out new recipes or finding different ways to elevate classical dishes. But their biggest culinary aim is to educate others on the basics of the kitchen so that they too can enjoy delicious food.