Have you ever tried making bread dough? It’s pretty simple, right? Just mix flour, water, yeast, and salt together and let it rise.
But sometimes, even after following the instructions, your dough doesn’t rise. It stays flat and unappealing.
What causes this problem? And how can you fix it?
Because of a lack of gluten development or incorrect shape, dough spreads out instead of rising. The dough cannot maintain itself without a strong gluten network. The dough will not retain its shape if it is improperly shaped because it lacks sufficient surface tension. The most common cause for spreading dough is overmixing. If you have too much air incorporated into the dough during mixing, then there won’t be enough gluten to hold everything in place. This results in an overly wet dough that does not develop properly.
Another reason why your dough may spread is due to improper temperature control. When working with yeast, keep the room at around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold temperatures will slow down the fermentation process, which means less gas production.
In this article, I’ll explain why your dough spreads instead of rising and how to prevent it.
The first step when trying to make good bread is to add plenty of gluten-forming ingredients like wheat flour, eggs, milk, butter, etc. These are called "glutens". They help create the structure needed to support the risen loaf.
Gluten develops as the dough rises. As more gluten forms, the dough becomes stronger and stiffer. You want to avoid adding so many glutens that they overwhelm each other. Adding too little gluten could result in a soft, spongy crumb.
If you’re unsure about whether you’ve added enough gluten, try kneading some extra flour into the mixture before letting it rest. Then see what happens. If the dough still feels sticky, add another tablespoon of flour until it no longer sticks to your hands.
You should also consider using all-purpose flour rather than cake flour. Cake flour has very low protein content compared to regular all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour contains higher amounts of proteins, allowing the dough to form better gluten strands.
Before starting to work on any recipe, do one thing: Autolyze! Autolyzing allows time for the starches within the flour to break down and release their sugars. This helps give the dough strength by increasing the amount of available starch.
To autolyze, simply combine 1 cup of warm tap water with 2 cups of flour in a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, stir well and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to sit overnight. In the morning, remove from fridge and allow to come back to room temp before proceeding.
When making pizza crusts, stretch and folds are used to strengthen the dough’s structure. Stretch and fold involve stretching the dough outwards while folding it inward. Repeat these steps several times. Each time you repeat them, the dough gets tighter and stronger.
This technique works best when applied to thin pizzas such as focaccia. For thicker pizzas, use only two stretches and folds.
After resting, knead the dough again. Knead slowly and gently. Don’t worry if the dough seems dry; just continue to incorporate the additional liquid. It takes practice to get comfortable with kneading dough. Once you feel confident, start incorporating more flour into the mix.
Once you reach the desired consistency, let the dough rise once more.
As mentioned above, there are different types of flours. Some have high levels of gluten whereas others don’t contain much. To determine which type of flour would be most suitable for your needs, check the label or ask an expert.
A lot of people think that shaping a loaf means cutting off its top half and then forming the bottom half into a ball shape. While this may seem logical at first glance, it isn’t necessarily true. There are actually multiple ways to shape loaves.
For example, you can cut off the top third of the loaf, leaving the middle section intact. Or you can divide the loaf into three equal parts. Whichever method you choose, make sure to keep the center portion thick.
The surface tension is created by the air molecules between each other. When we apply pressure to the dough, the air molecules move closer together creating a strong bond. As long as the dough doesn’t become too wet, the surface tension remains stable.
However, if the dough becomes too moist, the surface tension weakens causing bubbles to appear. These bubbles eventually burst to result in holes throughout the bread. The solution here is simple: build enough surface tension so that no bubbles form. If you’re unsure how to achieve this, try using less yeast than usual. Alternatively, add some extra flour.
If you’ve ever made French Bread, you know what I’m talking about. You take a piece of dough and roll it up like a jellyroll. Then you slice it open lengthwise and bake it. But why not go further? Why not double-shape the dough?
By doing so, you’ll create layers of flavor and texture. First, you’d roll the dough into a log shape. Next, you’d flatten the log into a rectangle. Finally, you’d roll the flattened dough back into a cylinder. This process creates even layers of flavors and textures within the finished product.
Bannetons are wooden boards designed specifically for baking bread. They come in various sizes but they all work well. Use one large banneton for small batches of bread. Otherwise, use two smaller ones.
To prevent sticking, spray the board lightly with cooking oil before adding the dough. Also, cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap until ready to use.
When making bread, water plays a crucial role. Too little water will cause the dough to stick while too much will lead to the overworked dough. In either case, the end results won’t be good. So, when determining whether or not to increase the amount of water, consider these factors:
How warm was the room where you mixed the dough? Warm temperatures encourage faster fermentation.
Did you leave the dough out overnight? Overnight rest allows the yeast time to multiply.
This tip comes from my friend Chris who has been experimenting with different recipes lately. He found that he could reduce the amount of liquid needed to produce great-tasting bread without compromising on quality. For instance, instead of 1 cup of water per 2 cups of flour, he used only ¾ cup of water per 2½ cups of flour.
He also reduced the amount of salt added to his recipe. By reducing both the amount of water and salt, he achieved better consistency across the entire batch. So, next time you make your own pizza crusts, give this method a shot!
I mentioned earlier that there’s more to bread than just wheat flour. There are many types of flours available today including rye, buckwheat, spelled, oatmeal, millet, etc. Each type offers its own unique characteristics which can help improve the taste and texture of your baked goods.
Try substituting half of the regular white flour with another kind of flour. Or, mix them all together. Either way, experiment with new ingredients to see what works best for you.
So, now you have an arsenal of tips and tricks at your disposal. Hopefully, by reading through this article, you learned something useful. And hopefully, you were able to apply those lessons to your own kitchen. Good luck!