Why is my bread heavy and crust too hard?

Joined Dec 22, 2008
I've been trying different bread recipes and it seems no matter what type of white bread I'm making....it comes out "heavy" and the crust is really hard.

Now I don't want it as light and fluffy as say wonder bread, but I have the opposite of wonder bread.

I've tried 2 different kinds of yeast. fleishmans and red star.

I've tried letting the bread sit for 3 hours before baking. I've tried 90 minutes. I've tried french bread. pita bread.

always the same.

What am I doing wrong?
Joined Sep 20, 2007

There are a couple of things that I know of that seem to cause these problems when I'm making bread. For me, these things seem to happen either when I'm having trouble with the dough and end up adding too much flour or when I don't let the dough rise long enough.

Do either of these seem like possibilities?
Joined Feb 1, 2007
We really need more information, because there are several things that could be causing this. But heavy dough (bread) usually is a result of poor gluten development. That's why it's usually more of a problem with whole-grain breads than white breads.

My first thought is the flour. You're probably using all-purpose? If so, try switching to bread flour and see how that helps. Because of its higher protein level, bread flour develops a better gluten matrix.

Your kneading, proofing, and shaping methods can all affect the final outcome. If you walk us through them, step by step, we might better be able to focus on your problem.

Let me also recommend you read Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I never really understood bread until reading that book.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Yep two things. Not enough gluten development and too much moisture in the dough. You will never get Wonderbread without using dough improvers, but you should be able to get either good crust or light even crumb texture.

The King Arthur book is a good book to get. In fact, go to the King Arthur website and poke around for a bit.
Joined Dec 22, 2008
Hi all. Thanks for the input already!

Here's a recap of my recipe from memory while at work.

4 cups of all purpose white flour
1.5 cups of warm water.
2 packs of yeast (2tsps)
1 tsp of salt

add all ingredients in kitchen-aid mixer with hook. (variation was let yeast sit in water for 30 minutes first)
mix on low for 2 minutes.
let sit for 5 minutes.
mix for additional 7 minutes.

Let sit for 90 minutes - 3 hours in a plastic wrap covered bowl with light coating of pam in it.. tried different length of times here.

yesterdays bread I took out ball. Cut in half. pushed out to a square. folded over into 3rds. Made nice angle cuts in it.

My dough looks great. smells great. looks like it's going to come out perfect.

then I cook it. pitas 500 degrees for 5-10 minutes. french bread 450 degrees for 20 minutes.

I always use one of those 2 layer cookie sheets, preheated with oven.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Actually, three things in combination for sure.

You're kneading wrong -- either too little or too much. If you're using a machine you're probably over-kneading. If by hand, probably under-kneading. The two keys to getting this right are finishing the knead by hand so you get a feel for the dough, and using the window pane test.

You're degassing improperly -- when you punch down and when you form your loaves you're destroying the little cells which hold the air in the dough.

You're cooking too hot and/or too long -- probably a function of your oven, but that's what "tough crust" means.

You're probably also allowing too much rise time. By the time the bread goes into the oven, the yeast is exhausted, the dough is flabby, and the bread doesn't spring. Rise time is tricky to diagnose by long distance, but for one thing, given the usual ratio of yeast to flour, 90 minutes is a long rise unless the kitchen is chilly; and 3 hours is probably way too long outside of a fridge.

At any rate, you must judge the proofing time by the amount of rise the dough takes, and not by the clock. "90 minutes," and "3 hours" tells me a lot about you, but very little about the dough. "75%," and "doubled," is the form of information we need. Not your fault, though. How were you to know? You almost always see baking instructions expressed as a strict formula and you expect the process to behave accordingly. Alas. The clock is your friend for rise and cooking time, but only a friend. You've got to use your senses for everything else.

Better flour and yeast make for better bread, yes. But your level of distress is usually more about technique than the quality of ingredients. You can make very passable white bread with AP flour and grocery store yeast. In fact, most European breads are made with flour that's even softer than the AP we get in the US. You can get a good texture with a dough you made too dry (hard to knead, crumby texture, and lousy taste, though). And a tight, cake-like crumb more often results from too wet a dough, than too dry. So, I doubt those are at the heart of your problems.

Finally, the really spongy "balloon bread" you get at the grocery store uses yeast as a flavor component but not as a leavening. Instead, air is whipped into the dough at the time of mixing by special machines. You can't do it. You don't want your bread to be like that. Don't worry about it. And for God's sake, don't apply their level of fluffiness as your standard. Apples and oranges. That said, misguided expectation isn't the problem either is it?

Why don't you tell us more about your bread making? Some detail with the four areas I mentioned (kneading, degassing and loaf formation technique, baking time and temperature, and amount of rise not expressed in units of time) would be very helpful, as would the ingredient list (including quantities) for your the loaves which are giving you so much trouble. I know you don't have any jargon to describe what you do -- just do your best; and fwiw "I don't know" can be a very good answer.

Ultimately your answers will come from learning to handle the dough, and learning to understand the visual and tactile information it gives you. Fortunately white bread is both a good teacher and an easy grader. You'll be successful very quickly.

Joined Dec 22, 2008
I'm glad I found this site and asked.

I'm a computer programmer and just decided to start making bread 3 weeks ago. I'm by NO means a chef or a cook. I just think it's fun! I will try to work on those things you just said and thank you!

You have to start some where!


Joined Jul 2, 2008
Hi kireol -

Welcome to the good smelling world of fresh bread!

looking at your recipe,

definitely want to use bread flour; it's called bread flour because of the higher gluten - gluten is what holds the co2 bubbles produced by the yeast.

the flour to water ratio is not seriously out of whack - in a (sifted) bread flour you should get something on the order of 125-130 grams of flour per cup.

so four cups or 490 grams with 1.5 cups water (365 grams) is around 75% water to flour.

note: many serious bread bakers use weight (ounces or grams), not volume (cups) because the results are more consistent

one teaspoon of yeast would work. not sure if an "overactive" yeast amount would cause the problems you describe, but it is possible - yeast "eats" the sugars in the dough and produces carbon dioxide. too much yeast may eat itself out of house and home too fast.

if you are using "instant" yeast it can be mixed in directly - the "standard" yeast is often 'bloomed' in water until it foams (the 'bloom')

the mix & rest period is good - that gives the dough time to absorb all the moisture.

I would suggest checking the final kneading part - could be a bit on the short side. by minutes is a little tricky - the dough should be elastic - if you pull it out of the mixer and work with it a bit by hand you'll very notice the elastic bit - it stretches an stretches. too short a kneading and the gluten does not fully develop. I use a stand mixer with dough hook, but I always do the last bit by hand just to ensure the dough has developed.

for the rise, you've probably seen directions like "until doubled in bulk" - yeast activity is temperature sensitive - my kitchen is colder now (it's in the teens outside) than in the summer, so it takes longer to rise.

also, the double layered baking sheets are intended to keep cookies from burning. bread actually benefits from a "hot bottom" - makes the trapped gases expand quickly and also sets the bread proteins / structure so the bubbles do not so readily collapse. the cool bake sheet is probably detrimental to that effort. a pizza stone works nicely - terra cotta tiles are often used in the home oven to help with the hot bottom issue (all preheated, as you currently practice)

I like to preheat to 500'F, then when the bread goes in, turn the temp to the bake point. that "extra" preheat also provides a hot bottom (I have a pizza stone, and tiles, I use whichever is appropriate to the loaf form)

with regard to temps, for example, 450'F for a baguette is not out of line, but as ovens do vary in accuracy, try 425'F - a too high temp could be finishing the outside before the heat has time to fully penetrate through the loaf (ie outside done, inside not so done....)

on the tough crust thing - your friend here is steam in the oven. difficult to achieve in a home situation. I use a cast iron (must be cast iron - holds the heat...) pan in the bottom of the oven, preheated, toss in 3-5 ice cubes to sizzle, dance and steam as the bread goes in and again about 5 minutes later. the steam sets the crust before it has a chance to dry out and get thick.
Joined Dec 22, 2008
you people are amazing!

I should have came here before I started making bread! hahahha

thank you Dilbert.

bread is fun to make so far for me. bread is weird in how few ingredients you actually need.


and as I'm finding out, it's simple, yet many ways to screw it up! hahahha
Joined Feb 1, 2007

I know exactly what you're saying. I used to slavishly follow bread recipes, precisely because I had no understanding of what was going on. The past two years I've gotten seriously into bread making, and there's a world of difference.

That's why I recommend the BBA so strongly.

Now then. Your "recipe" is why we don't depend on memory. :D

A couple of problems with it. First off, the recipe no doubt calls for 2 teaspoons of yeast, not two packages. A package is 2.25 teaspoons, roughly. So you'd be doubling the yeast. For those ingredients, a package is ok. Two packages is way too much.

There is never any reason to let yeast bloom for 30 minutes, and, in fact, you could actually lose it that way. Yeast is bloomed, in general, for 3-5 minutes in plain water. Sometimes a sugar is added to provide additional food. As soon as the yeast is frothy and bubbly it's ready to go.

With active dry yeast you bloom it. With instant yeast (aka Bread Machine, Saf, and a couple of others) you can add it directly to the mixture.

As I mentioned originally, switch to bread flour instead of all purpose.

Next, as others have indicated, forget about the clock. Let the dough tell you what it needs. When you first mix the ingredients, two minutes is an ok guide. The dough should form a ball, and leave the sides of the bowl (but not necessarily the bottom.)

After the rest, feel the dough. It should be slightly tacky, but not sticky. If it is, add a little more flour as you knead it. The kneading, with the KA, should be at a faster speed, the #2 setting. Periodically feel the dough, adding more flour if needed, in small amounts. (conversely, if it's too dry, add a little water--no more than a teaspoon at a time).

Seven minutes kneading sounds a bit high for that dough, too, and you may be overkneading. Try cutting it back to four minutes.

After kneading, form the dough into a ball, put it in an oiled bowl, and cover with film or a towel. Let rise until doubled in size (which might take 1 to 2 hours. 3 hours sounds a little excessive).

Next, form your loaves or shapes, degassing the dough as little as possible. This is counter to many recipes that tell you to punch down the dough, but don't.

Put your shaped dough aside to proof until it's again doubled in size. If using loaf pans it should extend about an inch higher than the edge of the pan.

Then bake.

If you decide to use a steaming process, start at 500 degrees, then lower the oven to 450. Otherwise you'll cool things down too quickly.

Hope this helps.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
KY and I bake a little differently, so our advice and formulae part company here and there -- but he's pretty much right as far as he goes. We both agree that a book called "The Bread Bakers Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart is one of the best possible ways to learn about baking.

KY jumped all over the flour/yeast ratio, while I hesitate to diagnose without knowing the exact kind of yeast you're using. That said, his diagnosis sounds right to me.

Also, KY's diagnosis regarding the probability of over kneading seem right as well.

KY told you to LOOK at the dough in the bowl to see if it was coming together correctly in the bowl. I can't overstress how important looking is. Measuring, by itslef, is no substitute for paying attention.

KY didn't mention "the window pane test" for determining when the yeast is fully kneaded. It's something almost all bakers do reflexively. That is, tearing off a little piece from the ball of dough and stretching it as thin as possible. If it stretches so you can easily see light through it, the dough has been kneaded enough, and it's time to stop. If it doesn't, the bread kneads more kneading. This is absolutely fundamental. You didn't do it, so none of us -- not KY, not Dillbert, not you and not me -- know for sure what the heck was going on with your kneading.

BTW, You never mentioned how long (or how much) you allowed the loaves to proof before putting them in the oven.

Which leads us to ...

The biggest problem is that a free form baguette is way too advanced for you. When I read your first post, I assumed you were using a loaf pan.

Free form french breads hold their shape, which is also a way of getting a nice open texture in the crumb, as a result of a taut outer surface created during formation. Lacking it, they spread out instead of up while baking and bake very dense. It takes a fair amount of experience to create that tension without losing all the gas when forming either of the the traditional long loaf shapes, batard and baguette, so that they'll work consistently. This is true even if you use a banneton (a basket which shapes the bread as it proofs). A banneton makes it easier, as does forming miche or boule (roand loaves). Part of the process is "pulling down" the dough to either form the round loaves or as a way of developing the necessary tension for the long loaves. If this all sounds like Greek to you -- that's because you're not ready. From an IT perspective: Let's learn how to save a document before hacking the Chinese military's missle codes.

The recipe you used is more or less basic for bland white bread. French bakers use a poolish, and Italians a biga which are sort of mild sour-dough starters to give ordinary white bread some taste. Still it's a good idea to bake white bread, at least a few times, with flour, water, yeast and salt only so you know what you're working with. But as a great bread to impress friends and family ... no.

The mix, rest and knead method is fairly modern and fairly advanced. I'm really unhappy with the short rest following the mix given by your recipe.

The technique of forming, three-fold and cut to shape, comes with a "never work" guarantee. Where the heck did you get the recipe?

We can work all the way through the process of making a proper, white French loaf if you like. But I think it's best if you learn to bake using a loaf pan first. There's a Peter Reinhart recipe for Struan bread floating around on the net. Not only does it make the world's best toast, it's fun and farily foolproof. Or, if you want to learn to make a regular ol' American white bread -- I can write you a recipe with my eyes closed.


PS. (for KY and Dillbert) Almost all European style breads including and maybe especially French white are made with flours having protein levels in the AP region, i.e., below 12% which is well below a typical "hard" or "bread flour" level. The choice is extremely brand dependent as well. For instance, King Arthur AP has about the same protein content as Gold Medal Better for Bread.
Joined Aug 4, 2000
Get yourself a copy of the DVD called Artisan Breadmaking from King Arthur website. Actually watching Mr. Jubinsky making bread and listening to his comments really helped me to eliminate my dreadful production of doorstops! And no amount of bookreading ever helped me so much as actually watching the successful making of a loaf of bread on that DVD! :bounce::beer::D

You'll probably find that you'll no longer need, as far as technique goes, most breadmaking books and you also be delighted to learn the easy way to knead bread as Mr. Jubinsky demonstrates. Trust me on this one.

Using Mr. Jubinsky's recipe and technique, I knead my dough for only 1 minute instead of his demonstrated 3 to 5 minute range. And I allow my dough to triple in size instead of doubling.
Joined Aug 4, 2000
Get the DVD mentioned in the previous post and:

1. Watch bread actually being made as no amount of verbage could describe the technique used. You'll visually note factors concerning stretch, expansion and wetness that words cannot describe by any means.

2. Forget using mixers and bread machines. First, learn breadmaking by hand in order to get the feel of things.
Joined Dec 30, 2004
"kireol" - By all means, I am no expert bread baker. Just a homemaker. I can make a pretty decent loaf of homemade white bread......but, In looking at your recipe, I don't see any type of shortening. I use a tablespoon or two of Right Blend or some other vegetable oil in my recipes. And what about a touch of sugar? Also, instead of plain water I use water that I had cooked potatoes in. (When boiling potatoes for dinner, I always save that potato water for bread baking.)
Joined Aug 4, 2000
I've heard good things about using potato water for moisture retention in bread. Yet, a great loaf can be made without using shortening, sugar or oil. Get the DVD from KA that I mentioned and learn from it. And I am in no way affiliated with KA or any other culinary enterprise. It's just that that DVD was a godsend for me and cured all of my breadmaking ills.
Joined Feb 1, 2007
Lisbet, there's nothing wrong with enriching the dough with oils, sugars, milk, and other ingredients. Many of the most famous breads (i.e., brioche, challa, fougasse, Sally Lund, etc.), indeed, all of what we think of as festive breads, are made that way. And even James Beard once published a recipe using sugar and milk to create what he called "American" white bread---which is fluffier and spongier than European types.

However, in terms of total bulk, most of the world's bread is baked with just the four basic ingredients: flour, leavening, salt, and water. That's the real magic of bread, that those same four ingredients, and how they are handled, results in so many forms of great tasting bread.

Potato water is a good addition primarily because it gives the yeast more starch to work on, thus producing more CO2, and thus (assuming the gluten matrix is right) a lighter, fluffier bread.

BDL: I don't think you and I are all that far apart; at least not when it comes to bread baking. I didn't mention the windowpane test because you already had.

Where we do differ in advising Kireol, I think, is that I'm still a lot closer to where he is, and remember how intimidating much of this sounds. So I don't think sophisticated techniques like using preferments and delayed fermentation, etc. is the way for a beginner to go.

Where I most emphatically do agree is in at least finishing the kneading by hand. Hands on is the only way one can really tell what the dough is like. As you know, dough loves to be fondled, and the more you touch it the more it talks to you.

And I also agree that beginners should start with loaf pans, rather than attempting free-standing loaves. Creating the necessary surface tension is something beginners seem to have trouble with (although, for some reason, I never did), and they need a few successes before going that route.

I don't think Kireol meant cut to shape. He probably was talking about scoring the loaf, as we'd do with a baguette. He doesn't know the jargon, yet, as you pointed out. And I have no doubt the recipe said something like "make three shallow diagonal cuts in the dough....."
Joined Jul 27, 2011
Hi all, I hope you are still around to answer my question!

I just baked some bread and it was beautiful, light, and airy light french bread on the inside but the crust was really, really thick and hard- not that hardness that gives way a little after some pressure- rock hard. My recipe told me to "liberally sprinkle with water" before putting it in the oven... is that what did this? I don't understand how the inside could be so could and the outside not so much. Let me me know what info you need... any direction would be great.

Joined Feb 13, 2008
Liberally sprinkling isn't really the best way to do it.  What you really want to do is mist the oven and the bread with a spritz bottle, to generate steam, which in turn develops "crackle."  In an ordinary home oven, it's usually a good idea to do it when you put the bread in, after 90 seconds, and again after another 90 seconds.  It works best if you spray everything -- oven door, walls, floor, bread, and get the door closed as quickly as possible.

Worth repeating, open the door as little as possible and get it shut as quickly as possible -- you want to keep the temp high and steady when you start a bake.

Heavy thick crust sounds more like temperature issues, than water.  It usually means the crust developed too slowly.  But if you used way too much water, that might have kept the temp down on the surface.  More likely you lost too much heat just getting the bread in.  It's hard to diagnose bread problems without a lot of information, as there are loads of possibilities. 

A baking stone, or any sort of temperature ballast (including a few fireplace bricks on your oven floor, might help.  So might a really long pre-heat. 

If it's a choice between misting and losing a lot of heat, forget the misting for now.  Try doing everything possible to keep your oven temperatures high and steady, and see if that doesn't resolve the problem.

Another possibility, one more likely than not to at least be a contributor, is not getting enough "surface tension" on the loaf during formation.  Another indication besides tough crust, is if your loaves lost some shape and flattened as they baked.  It's very common.

Joined Aug 13, 2011
Hello, first post! I can bake a good artisan bread but always want to learn more. The recommended DVD King Arthur artisan bread baking is not available on their website. Any ideas where I can get a copy?


Joined Feb 1, 2007
 It works best if you spray everything -- oven door, walls, floor, bread, and get the door closed as quickly as possible.

One exception. If you've got a light inside your oven, do not spray it. Otherwise, BDL is right on.
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