The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dense Loaves Help??

raqk8's picture

Dense Loaves Help??

I have just begun baking bread and I keep having the same problem - dense loaves! I use the amounts called for, knead for the correct amount of time, let them rise longer than the recipe says, and I still can't get them to rise as much as they should! My loaves always turn out great tasting, but small and dense. I am thinking my problem may be that I am either kneading incorrectly or not long enough (I am doing it by hand because I don't have a mixer), or my dough is too dry. Do most recipes call for more flour than is generally needed? And how sticky should the dough generally be to get a good amount of rise? Thanks for all the help!

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Almost every question you asked depends on the recipe... can you post that so we know where to begin? Did you by chance take any pictures during the process or the final product?

- Keith

raqk8's picture

I don't have pictures, but I will take some next time. It was a whole wheat sourdough bread, and I know whole wheat is more difficult but the recipe "promised" a good rise in the loaf.. Here is the recipe:

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup active sourdough starter

2 1/3 tbsp olive oil

1.5 tbsp honey

1 tbsp vital wheat gluten

2 2/3 cup whole wheat flour

1 1/4 tsp salt

The dough came together nicely and felt really good when I began kneading it, but after a few minutes it got very tough. Do I possibly need to start with a very sticky and loose dough and knead it until I get the consistency that I felt when I began kneading it?

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Sure, you could do that... I'd hold back maybe 1/3 to maybe the full 2/3rds cup of the WW flour and use that to knead with. It's easier to knead in extra flour than to add water. The thing with recipes that have honey is, they're sticky, so the feel is something you have to learn. You can easily inadvertently add too much flour to overcome the feel of the honey.

It's a sourdough recipe, and you're having trouble getting it to rise. The obvious question would be the health/state of your starter, how you maintain it, and when in the maintenance cycle you use it in the recipe. All of these things will affect your rise time(s), as well as room temperature where it's proofed.

You might try the recipe again as described above, but realistically, if you've just started baking, it would serve you well to start with an easier recipe. It's sound to master some simple techniques and get to know your starter before working with a WW recipe. If you try the above changes to the recipe technique, I'd also question the need for the VWG. You might want to cut that in half or omit it entirely, just for fun...

Other easier recipes are:

Susan's Ultimate Sourdough

Susan's Simple Sourdough 9/09

Both are similar and have a portion of WW to them, which adds a nice nutty taste to the SD. You would need a scale, though, as she posts recipes in weights.

- Keith

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, raqk8.

Welcome to TFL!

Your recipe gives ingredient volumes. This is generally unreliable, particularly for flour. If you are serious about bread baking, investing in a good digital scale would be wise.

Please realize that whole wheat breads are going to be denser than those made with mostly white flour. You can get a lighter crumb by intensive mixing, but it's at the expense of flavor to some degree. 

Your description of the dough as "very tough" suggests you added too much flour. Also, proofing the loaves too long can result in poor oven spring and a denser loaf.

In summary:

1. Weigh ingredients to get the most consistent results.

2. Avoid the temptation to add too much flour.

3. Develop the gluten fully.

4. Fully ferment the dough. It should feel "gassy." If you tear off a little hunk, it should float when put in a bowl of water.

5. Don't over-proof your loaves.

I hope this helps.


Dragonbones's picture

HI  raqk8, I had the same problem when I started baking. I was scooping a measuring cup into the flour to measure it, not realizing that this would pack too much flour into the cup. At a minimum, spoon the flour into the cup then level it with a knife. Better yet, switch to weighing it as David says. Also, don't aim for dry, firm doughs (unless the recipe specifies this, as for bagels). Aim for slighly sticky or tacky doughs (again, a good recipe will often tell you this) or even wetter (as for ciabatta). You can use wet or oiled hands to knead, instead of floured ones. If the dough sticks a bit to the counter, lift it with a scraper instead of adding so much flour (a little is okay). Knead for a good 8-10 minutes by hand; time it, and don't be lazy and stop early. During the first rise, let it double in size -- go by the volume, not the clock. During the proofing (after shaping), let it increase only 60%-70% or so in size while you preheat the oven to its maximum temp (to make up for the heat loast when you load the loaf); don't proof until it's double or more in size (that's overproofing), and don't go by the clock. When you pop it in the oven, consider adding steam, or covering the loaf with a cloche, or putting it in a preheated Dutch oven.  Then turn the oven down to the target temp. And generally, everything David says is right (as usual).


Chuck's picture

...I know whole wheat is more difficult but the recipe "promised" a good rise in the loaf...

It's all relative. A cynical translation of a promise that a 100% whole wheat loaf will rise well is "if an experienced baker follows this recipe just right, the result won't be a brick".

If you have a high frustration tolerance and can afford several more failed bakes, using some of the techniques recommended above to "fix" the loaf may be the right course. But if you have a lower frustration tolerance or want an immediate unqualified success, my suggestion is to use a white flour recipe to start learning on, then experiment with using a mixture of white and whole wheat flours (from 10% or so up to 60% or even more whole wheat), and tackle the 100% whole wheat only after you're very comfortable with the precursors.

raqk8's picture

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back, but I really appreciate all your help. I went out and bought a scale, did a lot of research on how to use weights instead of volumes, baker's percentages, etc etc and my bread is turning out so good now! I started with a simpler recipe and have slowly been making modifications (adding some WW flour) and the results have been awesome. I'm getting used to dealing with a slacker dough and kneading more than I think necessary, and it seems to have done the trick. Again, thanks so much!!


Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Glad to hear it, Raquel!

Anyone who takes a little advice and runs on it like you did is bound to eventually be a very successful baker! As well, you'll also be able to help others down the road, and that's kind of the spirit here.. spreading the word that this isn't all that difficult if you get a few reasonably priced tools and do a little research. The result is worth a hundred times the effort and investment. I raise a toast your general direction! Congrats!

- Keith