A poor rise isn’t the only thing that can cause home-made bread to be heavy and dense. In my experience, bread recipes often call for somewhat more flour than necessary. Overdoing the amount of flour results in an undesirable taste and texture in your bread.
Because so many factors affect bread baking — temperature, humidity, kneading effectively, etc. — there’s some variability in each loaf. One way to consistently bake soft, delicious bread is to skimp on measuring the amount of flour called for in your recipe. Try using between 1/4 and 1/3 less flour when preparing all your ingredients.
In the bread machine, about 5 minutes into the first mix/knead cycle, check the dough consistency. If it’s too sticky, adhering to the side of the bread machine canister and the paddles, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour at a time to thicken it. Give the machine a few minutes to blend the added flour into the dough. Once you see the dough forming a ball and pulling away from the sides of the canister, you know you’ve used enough flour.
It may be that your recipe calls for exactly the right amount of flour, or you may find you can use slightly less. Keep in mind that even 2 tablespoons of flour can make a difference in having too much or too little flour in your dough.
If you don’t use enough flour, your bread dough may very well rise, but is likely to flatten out and not produce the desired dome shape on top of your loaf. If you need a spatula to remove it from the bread machine canister, it’s too sticky. That consistency may produce a nice soft loaf, but it isn’t likely to give you the domed raise that’s characteristic of a traditional loaf of bread. Again, add flour at the rate of 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time to reach the desired consistency.
When using whole grain flours, the flour will absorb more moisture than a highly processed white flour. This is especially true if you’re grinding your own grains and using that fresh flour. If this is the case, skimping on the initial flour amount can be important to the quality of your bread.
It’s also fine to add water, milk or whatever liquids your recipe calls for if you start mixing/kneading the dough and you find it’s already too dry. Again, just 1 to 2 tablespoons of liquid can have significant impact on the dough, so add the liquid slowly and monitor the dough consistency as it mixes.
In order to avoid reducing the dough temperature too much, make sure you use “warm” liquid. Precisely measuring the temperature of your liquid with a digital thermometer (or any type of thermometer) will ensure that the liquid is neither too hot or too cold.
Addition of either flour or liquid could also be done in the second mix/knead cycle when using the bread machine, if necessary. Ideally, it’s advisable to monitor the state of your dough early in the first cycle.
Although I grew up hearing that bread dough should be “smooth and elastic” by the time you reach the point of the final rise, I’ve learned that allowing my bread dough to remain slightly sticky — so that it momentarily clings to my fingers when I pinch it — means the loaf will be moist and soft once its baked.
Although it may sound complicated to mix your bread dough this way, once you’ve worked through this exercise of monitoring your flour amounts, you’ll find it’s really easy and the results are definitely worth the final product!
Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterestand Facebook.