The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough/bread question from a frustrated amateur

WoofMeowOink's picture

Dough/bread question from a frustrated amateur

(My apologies in advance for my poor command of baking terminology).

I'm having some trouble understanding why sometimes my some of breads puff up nicely, and at other times they do not, after I follow the exact same recipe for them each time I make them. For example, twice I've made a sesame seed bread that included some whole wheat flour. The first time it came out well (though perhaps a little too puffy), but the second time it barely rose at all. I followed the recipe as directed both times, and as the first time that bread was a success I did not include a dish with water in the over to help it rise and be less dense while baking. The same has been the case for another bread I've baked.

I know this is a very general question, but does anyone know why something like this would happen?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

When I was running a bakery my mantra was, "it takes a consistent process to create a consistent product." So, I worked hard to be consistent.


Most hobbyists measure flour by cups. The problem is there isn't a lot of agreement on how to fill a cup, and it turns out this is very critical. In a usenet newsgroup there was a discussion of measuring flour by flour and people with scales measured a few cups of flour and posted the weights. The range was from less than 100 to more than 200 grams, depending on how the people filled their cups. The people with the 100 gram cups tended to sift their flour twice, spoon the flour into a cup, and then level the cup with a straight edge. The 200+ gram people tended to scoop flour from the flour sack with a measuring cup. This compressed the flour further, and then they didn't level the cup, so the cups had a mountain of varying size of flour on the top of it. The scooper's cups also varied by as much as 25% from cup to cup. This sort of thing makes it very hard to make consistent bread.


I usually suggest that people get a set of scales. I'll do so again now.


If you don't want to get scales, it's worth noting that the flour companies and most cookbooks think a cup of flour should weigh 120 grams. You can get there by sifting the flour once, spooning the flour into a measuring cup, and then leveling the cup with a straight edge. This is tedious, which is why I like scales better.


The next thing is it helps to know what the dough should feel like. The professional bakers I know measure carefully, then they taste the dough to make sure it tastes right (did we forget the salt?), and make sure it feels right. They add water or flour as needed to make the dough feel right. Communicating how dough should feel is one of the hardest things to communicate in print or even in a video. Measuring by weight helps get your doughs close to where they should be, and that is a great learning tool.


Also, the temperature of the dough has a HUGE impact on the rise of the dough. The dough should be about 78F after it is mixed. I hve a long explanation of how to get there at

Better yet is taking a hands on baking class or baking with an experience baker.


Hope this helps,



WoofMeowOink's picture

Thanks for the tip!! I think I will start measuring the flour as you suggest: by weight rather than volume. I actually have a kitchen scale for that very purpose, but until now I had not used it.

About the temperature in my kitchen, that's a little more outside my control, unfortunately. During the summer it gets hot hot; during the winter cold cold. And despite AC and heat, there is little I can do to control the temperature 100%, especially in the kitchen.

MaryinHammondsport's picture

Hi, Meow:

I think what Mike is referring to in his answer to your post is temperature of the dough after you have kneaded it. While this is influenced by the temperature in the kitchen, it's not completely dependent on it -- one can compensate for an overly warm or cold environment by adjusting liquids temp. as the dough is mixed.

A few months ago I learned a great deal about this from going to Mike's Website at

where there is a very  clear and understandable discussion about all this. I really recocmmend visiting the site; this adjustment is do-able even if you are not a math person, and it can make a difference in your results. Dough temperature just one of many factors that might be causing your problem, but its one to tackle, along with the measuring.

By the way, congratulations for switching to the scales. Doing this has also made a terrific difference for me.

Keep in touch. The folks here are very helpful.



Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Hi Mary,


You hit the nail on the head!  I was refering to the temperature of the dough, and the link you provided to my page talks about how to get the dough to the right temperature.


Usually, we don't have effective control over our home/bakery temperature.  Sure we can heat or cool our houses, but it takes a while to take effect and there are real energy costs involved - I'm not going to heat or cool the house to make my bread happy.  We don't really have effective control over the temperature of the flour.  The flour is usually at the temperature of the house, and it takes longer to change than the house does.

However, all we have to do is fiddle with our faucets to change the temperature of the water we use.  And that in turn makes the dough come out the way we want.


Thanks for the kind words,


WoofMeowOink's picture

Mike and Mary,

Thanks once again for the info. I'll take a look at the link. Hopefully I can implement the temperature technique as well. Anything to try to get a better understanding of bread making! :)

(I know realize bread making is an under-appreciated and demanding art!!)

sannimiti's picture

is to stick around here in this forum with all the helpful people. i learned making bread some years ago form peter reinhardts books and made very good bread - and very modest bread. no consistent results. but participating in the discussion and watching the videos on mikes site and has helped me a lot to improve my baking.I still do a lot of trial-and-error baking but experience is important, too.

what has really helped me is kneading my doughs by hand. I was always scared of that because i thought i'd never get it right but one day i was so frustrated with work and had lots of extra energy and just did it. Since then i only knead by hand and the results are much better than with a mixer. talking about getting a feel for the dough. it also makes great-looking upper arms, too :-)

hope this helps and good look. don't loose the fun in baking as most breads are better than bakery breads anyway!


karol's picture

Would a fan help cool off your kitchen? My landlord installed a regular adjustable fan on the ceiling in the kitchen before I moved here, it looks weird but it really helps when I have the oven on.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

A fan makes us feel better becasue the air is moving which helps evaporate the perspiration on our skin,  The room really doesn't get cooler, unless it is blowing cooler air in - like from the air conditioned living room into the hot and unairconditioned kitchen.


If you do want to use a fan for your comfort, remember the moving air will greatly increase the dough drying out.  We could go about 15 minutes in the mountains of Colorado before unprotected dough started forming a skin.  With  a fan, it was less than 5 minutes.  So, if you use a fan, keep an eagle eye on the dough.