For many people across many different cultures, bread, or some form of it, is a major staple at any meal. Even though these days you can easily run to the store to buy bread, there's nothing like making it from scratch with your own ingredients in your own kitchen. Making your own bread isn't too difficult, whether you're making Indian naan, sourdough bread, cinnamon rolls, Jewish braided challah or even a pizza pie. But, what happens if you notice that your dough isn't rising as it should? Instead of starting over, there are ways to fix it.

What Makes Dough Rise?

Bread rises when carbon dioxide is produced and released into the dough, pushing and expanding the dough to form the bread that we love to eat. The carbon dioxide can come from one of three agents: baking soda, baking powder or yeast. If you use one of these ingredients, your bread should rise. To contain the yeast so that the dough does not over-bubble, flour is usually added to the recipe. When combined with water, flour makes gluten, which makes bread what it is. All these agents working together allow the dough to rise.

Determine if Your Dough Has Risen

While there are some bread and dough recipes that don't require a long settling time before baking, most recipes require the baker to let the dough sit for at least an hour before putting it in the oven. There are some recipes that require you to let it sit even longer, perhaps even over a few days, before baking.

Knowing whether or not the dough for your recipe is ready depends largely on the recipe itself. And, even if you see that the dough has risen, it may not yet be exactly where it needs to be to qualify as ready to bake. Therefore, the best way to determine if your dough has risen is to put a finger into the dough to make a small indentation. If the dent remains there and doesn't seal back up, then the dough is ready to be put in the oven.

Understand Why the Bread Isn't Rising

The first step in fixing dough that won't rise is to understand the reason why it's not rising in the first place. After all, it's hard to fix a problem (especially in the kitchen) if you don't know what caused it. Though bread will rise even more in the oven, it should have already risen somewhat before you get to that step. If you see that the dough is not rising, it's likely due to at least one of these reasons:

  • The yeast, baking soda or baking powder that you've bought from the store is old.
  • You're not using the right combination of ingredients. 
  • The water is not the right temperature. If it's too cold, it won't activate the yeast, and if it's too hot, it can kill the yeast. It should be between 105 F and 115 F.
  • The room is not the right temperature. It should be in a room that's around 75 F. If the room is too cold, the yeast will die.
  • You've added too much or not enough of another ingredient, like flour, salt or sugar. 
  • The dough was not kneaded long enough.
  • The pan you're using is not the right shape or size, which can give the dough the appearance that it hasn't risen, even if it has.
  • You didn't give the dough enough time to rise. Wait a little longer before assuming that something is wrong. 

Tip

It's a good idea to check the ingredients and your environment before even starting to make your dough. Even though baking bread is relatively easy, anyone can make little mistakes.

How to Fix Dough That's Not Rising

Unfortunately, just looking at the dough does not necessarily help you understand why it's not rising. One by one, you need to eliminate all the possibilities to see what the issue may be and whether it can be repaired. The first thing to check is the time. If your recipe said to wait an hour and it's only been just an hour, then wait 30 minutes more. Depending on the climate you live in, it could take the dough longer to rise, so don't rush this. But, if a significant amount of time has already gone by and you don't see any change, then it's time to try something else.

Check the temperature in the room: One reason the dough may not be rising is because of the room temperature. Put the dough in a warmer place to see if that makes it rise. If the temperature in your home is not ideal, then set the oven to low and put the dough inside or on top of the stove to see if it rises.

Check the yeast: If room temperature is not the issue, check the date on your yeast. Here, you should be able to tell right away whether or not the yeast was okay to use in the first place. If the date has not expired, then think about the environment the yeast has been stored in – if it was stored in extreme temperatures, it may have been killed.

If you've determined that the yeast is the problem, then buy new yeast. Activate a teaspoon of this new yeast according to the instructions, separately from the dough in a cup of warm water. Add a tablespoon of sugar. Once it's activated – you should see it getting bubbly or frothy – you can add the yeast to your dough. Hopefully, this will help the dough to rise.

Check the flour: Another reason your dough may not be rising could be because you do not have enough flour. The way you can tell if your dough is short on flour is by feeling the consistency of the dough. If the dough is too wet or too sticky, so much so that you can't really form it into anything without it getting all over your hands (a little dough on your hands is okay), then you'll need more flour. Add a little bit at a time, no more than 1/4 of a cup, to see if that helps the situation.

Knead it more: Once you've exhausted these repair strategies, the next thing you can do is take the dough out from the bowl or pan you're working in and knead it again. Remember to sprinkle a little flour on the counter, but make sure you're not using too much flour overall. Knead it well and take your time.

Other Alternatives to Using Dough That Doesn't Rise

At some point, trying to manipulate the dough too much to fix it can actually end up making the problem worse. If you've tried to repair the dough, but you haven't noticed any change or you've determined that the cause is something that can't be fixed (perhaps due to old yeast) it might be best to just prepare a new batch of dough from scratch.

The good news is, you may not have to throw away the dough that won't rise. Instead, you can do something else with it:

  • Roll it very thin, bake it, and you'll get crackers.
  • Wrap it around a skewer and cook it over an open fire.
  • Stretch it very thin and cook it on the stove to make a flatbread.
  • Bake it anyway and make crostini.

About the Author

Hana LaRock

Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer from New York, currently living in Mexico. When she's not writing, she enjoys traveling, reading, scrapbooking, and cooking new recipes as well as recipes from places that she has traveled. Visit her website at www.hanalarockwriting.com.