Bread and dough troubleshooting guide and table

Here's a bread and dough (works for pizza dough too) troubleshooting guide, culled from a variety of sources.  I hope to continually update this as I learn more in my quest to make great artisan bread.

Category Amount Effects More information
kneading under-kneading Dough is floppy and loose, tears easily, looks shaggy. Lack of oven-rise, dense texture.  Gluten has not become elastic enough.  Windowpane test fails because the dough doesn't have the strength to stay together.
kneading adequate kneading Dough is elastic but not too tight.  Windowpane test success - you can stretch a small portion of the dough thin enough so that you can almost see through it, like a translucent window.
kneading over-kneading Dough is dense and tough and tears easily.  The gluten is so tight that it has little give.  Windowpane test fails because you have to pull so hard you tear the dough.
hydration ratio (aka water to flour ratio, or baker's percentage) low hydration (<60% or so)not enough water! Dough is crumby, craggy, and really hard to work with.  It doesn't stick together when you work with it.  When baked, small, tightly-formed cells in crumb.  This may be desirable in some cases, such as for bagels.  Add more water to fix this.  My own hydration experiment for bagels
hydration ratio (aka water to flour ratio, or baker's percentage) medium hydration Dough is easy to work with but not too sticky.  Note: Some flours, like rye flour, are just sticky by nature.  
hydration ratio (aka water to flour ratio, or baker's percentage) high hydration (>70% or so)too much water! Dough is floppy and sticky and hard to shape.  Large holes will appear in bread when baked (if they don't collapse).  The bread won't rise as much because it will be weaker.  Some breads are supposed to be high hydration - like ciabatta.
rise too little Fails poke test - poke the bread with two fingers.  If the bread rebounds to its original shape then the dough is still too firm.  The bread will be dense and "doughy" - it will smell and tastes like dough.  The loaf will have a light or greyish crust - no Malliard reaction (browning of sugars) occurs because the flour hasn't been broken down.  To fix, make sure the yeast you've used is active and/or let the bread rise for longer or increase the rise temperature (optimal temperature is about 100-110F.  Too much heat will kill your yeast!)
rise just right Passes poke test.  If the hole from the poke rebounds part of the way then proofing is just right.  
rise too much Fails poke test - (the hole does not rebound at all.)  Dough collapses on itself.  There's so much air in the loaf that it cannot hold its weight.  
baking temperature low Lower baking temperatures generally make softer and thinner crusts.  
baking temperature medium Somewhere in between.  
baking temperature hot Higher temperatures generally make crustier loaves.  This means darker and thicker crusts.  Note: to really promote a thick, chewy crust, bake in a dutch oven.  This traps steam near the loaf, which delays crust formation and allows it to get thicker.
salt none or not enough The loaf may look good but it'll taste like cardboard.  It's surprising how much salt enhances the flavor of the bread.  If you realize you've forgotten before you bake, you may be able to make a salty paste and spread it onto the dough while you stretch and fold.  
salt just right The general rule of thumb is to use 2% (baker's percent) salt.  That's 20 grams for each 1000 grams of flour.  Encyclopizza, chapter 4
salt too much Too much salt can inhibit yeast fermentation and may be too salty to taste.  
bake time too short Light crust, doughy and gummy interior.  
bake time just right Bread sounds hollow if you knock it on the bottom.  Nicely browned crust.  The internal temperature will be about 190-210F.  
bake time too long Longer baking times mean a darker crust and a firmer and dryer crumb.  Too much bake time = burny.  
gluten too little Low-gluten breads will not rise well.  The bread won't have the strength to expand when the yeast creates carbon dioxide.  The dough won't stretch well.  
gluten just right Stretchy enough to hold CO2 bubbles without being too taut  
gluten too much If there is too much gluten, the bread won’t be able to expand because the dough will be too tight. The bread will be really chewy and rubbery.  
yeast too little Dough rises really really slowly or not at all.  Your loaf will be dense.  In extreme cases, it'll feel like a brick or a stone.  And the inside will be gross and barely edible. With artisan sourdough breads, this can happen if your starter has died or if you haven't adequately refreshed it.  
yeast just right (1-2% by weight)
yeast too much The dough can rise too quickly and collapse back upon itself  

Have questions?  Share them in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “Bread and dough troubleshooting guide and table

  1. does anyone know if old flour loses it’s gluten content so it won’t rise as well? my flour smelled fine, but it was over 2 years old! Organic unbleached white flour! It could be this reason when I let it rise, and then I went to touch it, shrink back to original size, and wouldn’t rise again.

  2. used new flour today. tried window pane test and it was correct. left dough in covered bowl to rise, first hour it rose a little and i poke tested it was fine, second hour was too high and poke tested and it shrunk back! and the dough is really slimy and slippery too!

    1. So you’re having the same problem with new flour that you did with old flour? How much volume is it gaining when it rises? Does it double in size? How much water and flour are you using? Slippery and slimy might be okay depending on the type of bread you are trying to make. You may find that a lower hydration ratio will be easier to work with though.

      1. yes I had the same problem last time with new flour. It rose 50% and held volume and then after the second hour it was double original size, but when I touched it, shrunk back to original size. I used 1 cup water and 3 eggs to make the dough with 4.5 cups flour. I think the yeast content overfermented, today I am going to just let it rise for 1 hour and not 2 because the second hour ruined it last time. It still rose 50% again in the oven when baking last time. But it was impossible to braid and make challah like the directions said after the first rise.

        1. Yeah, I think the first loaf you were referring to overfermented since it shrank back down when you touched it.

          How did your 2nd one turn out?

          I haven’t tried baking breads with eggs, such as challah, but perhaps you could try using more flour next time. According to a few recipes I found online (such as you could probably have an extra 1 to 1.5 cups of flour to get your hydration down a bit. This should also slow the yeast’s activity.

          Are you using all-purpose flour? It’s probably okay to do so, but just curious.

          1. Last weeks loaf rose double in the oven, after shrinking beforehand like the week before. I don’t know how I would get 2 more cups of flour in there. I thought adding too much flour, it wouldn’t consolidate into a ball of dough. I always add just enough water to make sure I can make that ball. Maybe the recipe since it called for 1/4 cup sugar, that sugar was used to feed the yeast so it didn’t eat too much gluten? Not sure if yeast picks and chooses what to eat while it’s rising.

  3. I often bake chiabatta , the taste, shape and crust is very nice, but the bigger holes tends to be more to the top of the bread. That does not bother me so much, but sometimes a biiiigggg hole form just below the crust. All the way through the bread. Resulting in a sorry slice!

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