Making Bread: {Troubleshooting Guide & More}

Baking your own bread is very rewarding but sometimes a loaf will flop and we’re not quite sure why…even when using a tried-and-true recipe! Here’s a troubleshooting tip sheet to help figure out the problem along with information on how to freeze the dough. You’ll also find a vintage article shared at the bottom. Lots of helpful info here!

Reasons Why Dough Fails: Info Sheet

You’re Careful To Measure Out All Ingredients But Still Something Goes Wrong…

Loaf Is Too Small

  • Reason Why: The oven was too hot or the dough was too cold
  • What To Do: Check the temperature of the oven and place the pans in the oven so they are not touching to assure a good circulation of warm air. The dough should rise at room temperature (between 75° and 85° F.).

Becomes Dry

  • Reason Why: The dough has risen at too high a temperature or there is not enough shortening in the dough.
  • What To Do: Let the dough rise in a warm place but not on a radiator or too near a hot register or stove. At least 4 tablespoons shortening should be used for four loaves made from 10 cups of flour.

Has A Coarse Texture And Is Crumbly

  • Reason Why: a) Was allowed to rise too long; or b) Too much kneading
  • What To Do: a) Let dough rise just until it is double in volume, at each rising; b) Knead until dough is smooth and elastic only.

Does Not Rise In The Oven

  • Reason Why: a) The rising period was too long; or b) The oven was too hot and a crust formed before it had finished rising.
  • What To Do: a) Do not let it rise any more than double in volume; and b) Make sure the oven temperature is correct.

Dough Does Not Rise Or Rises Too Slowly

  • Reason Why: a) The yeast is not active; or b) The dough is cold; or C) The ingredients used are too cold.
  • What To Do: Use fresh yeast and test the water in which it is dissolved to make sure it is lukewarm. Water which is too hot will kill the yeast and that which is too cold will retard its action. Make sure that the dough rises in a warm place–between 75° and 85°F, away from drafts but not overheated. Make sure all ingredients used are at room temperature.

Final Product Too Big & Poorly Shaped

  • Reason Why: a) Was allowed to rise too long in pan or too much dough was used for the size of the pan; or b) Oven temperature too low.
  • What To Do: a) The bread should not be allowed to rise more than double in volume; and b) Check oven temperature.

Texture Is Close & Heavy

  • Reason Why: Did not rise enough before it was baked or rose too much and the cells collapsed.
  • What To Do: Should rise until double in volume.

Top Has Wrinkles & Cracks

  • Reason Why: It has been cooled in a draft.
  • What To Do: When done baking, turn out of the pans and cool on a wire rack, away from drafts.

There Are Heavy Brown Particles Inside

  • Reason Why: A crust formed on the dough while it was rising and was mixed in when the dough was formed into loaves.
  • What To Do: Grease the top of the dough and cover during the rising period.

There Are Yellow Streaks

  • Reason Why: Too much grease was put on top of the dough while it was rising which was later mixed in.
  • What To Do: Grease the dough very lightly. The bowl may be greased lightly and then the dough may be put in and turned over so the dough picks up just a little grease from the bowl. Cover the dough with waxed paper and a damp cloth to prevent a crust forming or the cloth sticking.

Loses Its Shape While Cooling

  • Reason Why: a) Not baked long enough; or b) Oven temperature too low.
  • What To Do: Test bread by turning out of pan and wrapping bottom of loaf with knuckles. It should sound hollow and bottom and sides of loaf should be nicely browned.

Source: From the booklet Robin Hood Breads & Rolls

Vintage Advice

*First published May 22, 2007 and moved here for better organization

Do your loaves turn out too brown or too coarse and dry? Did you know the temperature of the kitchen can affect the results of freshly baked bread? A few of these tips and more are shared below with this tip sheet from the 1960s.

Two Main Types Of Yeast

Standard Practice Just A Few Short Decades Ago

Active Dry Yeast:

  • Can be kept without refrigeration; note expiration date on package to ensure best results. This yeast is usually added to the part of the liquid in the recipe and allowed to stand before adding to the other liquid mixture. The liquid must be at 110° – 115° F. as this is the temperature at which yeast works best. Liquid at 110° – 115° F. will feel warm when placed on the wrist.

Compressed Yeast:

  • Not used as much as the dry yeast. It is a perishable yeast but can be stored in the refrigerator 1 to 2 weeks. This yeast is crumbled into part of the liquid called for in the recipe. The liquid should be lukewarm, that is feel neither warm nor cool when tested on the wrist.

More Help:

  • Rinse out mixing bowl in hot water before mixing doughs in an effort to keep the active dry yeast mixture at the temperature at which it works best.
  • During rising, dough should be kept at approximately 85° F. If kitchen is cold, place dough in a closed cupboard with a pan of hot water beside it. If dough is too cold it will not rise well and the bread will be heavy and solid with less volume than it should have. If dough is too warm it will have a “yeasty” flavor, and have a coarse, dry texture.
  • Do not let yeast doughs rise more than double after shaping. They will fall, become coarse and very dry when baked.
  • Use pans of the specified size to ensure best results. Changes in texture occur when pan sizes are not correct.
  • Bake at specified temperature. In too hot an oven the loaf will be small with a hard crust often cracked along the side and the inside will be soggy. If the oven is too slow, the loaf will be too high with coarse dry texture and tough colorless crust.
  • To prevent over browning, cover loaf or coffee cake with brown wrapping paper the last 25 minutes of baking.

*Tip sheet from an old cookbook page, dated 1960

How To Freeze Dough

*First published January 29, 2009 and moved to this page for better organization

You love homemade bread but you don’t have the amount of time it takes to make. You can buy a bread maker, but if you prefer it fresh from the oven, here’s a way you can enjoy fresh batch each and every day.

It’s cheap to do and much healthier since your family isn’t consuming all those preservatives found in many commercial products.


  • Make batches one day a month and freeze the dough to take out as you need.

Here’s what you do…

  • Use your favorite recipe, but double the amount of yeast required.
  • Follow recipe directions for mixing and kneading, allow the dough to rise once (double in size).
  • Punch down the dough.
  • Shape loaves so they are no more than 2 inches deep (they need to thaw quickly once out of the freezer).
  • Place shaped loaves in a ziploc freezer bag (remove the air) and freeze.

Unbaked dough can be frozen up to four weeks.

How To Thaw & Prepare Frozen Dough

  • Remove dough loaf from freezer bag and place in a greased loaf pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap. It will rise while it thaws.
  • When the dough has fully thawed, bake it as the recipe dictates.
  • The dough likely will not rise until it’s double in bulk, but it will continue rising when you bake it.
  • Some doughs perform best with an additional rise and punch down before baking, test to see which gives you best results.

8 High Spots

Measuring Flour: Measure flour without sifting. Level off top of cup with straight knife or fill to degree indicated in the recipe.

Scalding Milk: Pour required amount of milk into top part of double boiler. Set over boiling water. If double boiler is not available, use saucepan set in larger saucepan partly filled with boiling water. Cover and place on stove. Heat until bubbles form around edge of milk. Remove from heat.

Testing For Lukewarm: Put a drop of liquid on inside of wrist over heavy veins. If liquid feels neutral–neither warm nor cold–it is lukewarm. Make this test several times to be sure.

Softening Yeast: Place lukewarm water in bowl and dissolve the required amount of sugar (recipe will state how much water and sugar). Sprinkle the fast-rising dry yeast over the top. Allow to stand 10 to 15 minutes and then stir. If compressed yeast is used, crumble cakes into the lukewarm water and blend.

Mixing Dough In Bowl: After adding the first half of flour to lukewarm milk-mixture, beat until smooth and elastic. Work in additional flour to make a soft dough. As the dough thickens mix it in the bowl with one hand, using a swinging rotary motion. If dough remains sticky after 5 minutes mixing, add a little more flour.

Kneading: To knead dough, fold the outside edge over on itself toward you, and push dough away from you, using the heels of your hands. Turn dough quarter way around, fold over, push, using heels of hands. Repeat and continue using steady rhythm. If dough should stick a little, grease board again. Knead until smooth and elastic.

Rising Of Dough Until Doubled In Volume: Sufficient rise in dough is important. To test whether dough is light, dent it gently with finger. If the dent remains, the dough is light and ready to punch down.

Punching Down Dough: Punch down dough in bowl using fist. Plunge hand into dough several times in center to let gas escape. Fold dough from the outside to the center punching down until dough is its original size.

Source: Vintage booklet, Robin Hood Breads & Rolls

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    • Mestiza

    I didnt let the dough rest. I shaped them and put them in the freezer right away. What will it turn out like?

    • Annette

    Very good advice. Will the tips for freezing bread apply when using quick rise yeast and could I make cinnamon buns using the same technique

    • Lyn Dellar.

    Thank you for all the tips. I am new to this and have been trying so hard to get it right. Will be having another go taking all the tips into account….Thankyou.

    • Rhian

    Hi can you tell me why my dough on second rise did not double its size and when i cut slice on the top before cooking it collapsed ?I did leave it for the second rise too long about 3 hrs as I had to go out .thanks

    • sheila

    I make my dough in the bread maker using the normal bread recipe and not the dough recipe. When I form the loaf and put it in the pan it looks great but when I bake it the loaf comes out with a ridge on the top side. What would cause this.

    • naomi

    why did my yeast bread not brown over top when i baked it

    • virginia maricle

    when I make homemade bread why is my crust so hard and what can I do to prevent this

    • brenda yuhas

    Bread is ugly all bumpy on top,I’ve just changed yeast, from Red Star to Fleischmann’s… never had this problem in 20 + years with Red Star… WHY????

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