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Troubleshooting Yeast and Bread Dough

Why didn’t my yeast bloom? Why didn’t my dough rise? I followed the instructions to a “T”! Sound familiar? These are some common problems with yeast and, in most situations, there’s an easy fix. Read on and see if you’re in any of these bread baking situations. You can click on any item to jump to the explanation and solutions. Or pin this guide for later.

Many of these common yeast dough problems are usually due to the yeast being dead to begin with, the yeast being killed or impeded somehow during the bread-making process, or being in a non-ideal environment that is too hot or too cold. 

cooking thermometer reads 105 degrees farenheit

The ideal water or other liquid temperature for yeast is between 105 – 115°F (40°C – 46°C). I like to stick to 110°F (43°C) using a food thermometer.

Some yeast brands have their own recommendations so be sure to check the package that your yeast came in.

When you are proofing your dough, the ideal room temperature is between 80 – 90°F (26°C – 32°C). Keep the dough somewhere draft-free (so not near an open window or drafty door/hallway).  When my home is cooler than ideal, I like to proof my dough in my (electric) oven with the light turned on and the oven door slightly ajar so it doesn’t get too warm. If you use a gas oven, the pilot light may give off enough warmth.

Instant Yeast VS “Traditional” or Regular Dry Active Yeast 

You might be wondering if your issue is that you used instant yeast instead of regular dry active yeast or vice versa. In most cases, that will NOT be the case. It usually does not matter whether you use regular dry active yeast or instant yeast in a recipe.

The difference between Instant Yeast and Regular Dry Active Yeast (sometimes labelled “traditional”) is the size of the particles. Instant Yeast is milled finer than Regular Dry Active Yeast so that it can dissolve more easily. 

Regular Dry Active Yeast must be dissolved in liquid before mixing with flour and other dry ingredients in order to activate. Recipes might say to add some sweetener to it as well. The additional sugar will kick-start the yeast’s activity but is not necessary for Regular Dry Active Yeast to work.

Since Instant Yeast is milled more finely, it doesn’t not have to be dissolved in liquid first. Instead, it can be added directly to the flour and other dry ingredients before liquids are added to form dough.

However, in my recipes, I usually recommend dissolving your yeast in water and letting it bloom whether you use Instant or Regular Dry Active Yeast. This is for two reasons. First, you can check that your yeast is indeed alive. Especially if it’s been stored for a while, yeast of any kind can go bad in the pantry. Some of it can die and your envelope of jar of dry yeast can become less effective for baking. 

Secondly, for instant yeast, I personally find blooming the yeast first helps the dough rise faster.

Let the yeast bloom first so that you can see that the yeast is active. Otherwise, you can end up with flat, hard buns instead of puffy, soft ones.

Yeast didn’t bloom when I added it to water or milk

Possible causes:

  • Liquid was too hot
  • Liquid was too cold
  • You didn’t give it enough time

The ideal water or other liquid temperature for yeast is between 105 – 115°F (40°C – 46°C). For my recipes, I recommend 110°F (43°C) to be on the safe side. I highly recommend using a food thermometer to check.

Furthermore, make sure you’re using that thermometer correctly. Ensure that the probe is well into your cup of liquid and not just measuring the surface temperature.

It’s tricky to do this without a thermometer but not impossible. Ideal water temperature for yeast feels warm when applied to the inside of your wrist but not hot. It should not sting. I would say, a little warmer than baby’s bath water. Of course, trying to determine temperature by feel is subjective and the best way is to use a thermometer if you’re not very experienced.

Lastly, some yeast brands have their own recommendations for temperature so be sure to check the package that your yeast came in.

Solutions for yeast that didn’t bloom

If your liquid was too hot, your yeast was killed and it cannot be saved. Try again with new yeast and make sure your liquid is the right temperature.

If your liquid was too cold, use a water bath to slowly bring your yeast and liquid mixture up to the right temperature, but no hotter. Give it some time to see if it will bloom.

If the liquid temperature was ideal but your yeast still didn’t bloom, check if you’ve given it enough time. Instant Yeast will bloom in about 5 minutes or less. Regular or Traditional Dry Active Yeast can take 10 to 15 minutes to bloom.

If your liquid was the ideal temperature and you’ve given the yeast plenty of time to bloom, the fault may lie in the yeast itself. It may be expired and the yeast may have been dead to begin with. Even if it was not expired yet, storage conditions may have caused the yeast to die prematurely. In this case, you will have to buy new yeast.

Homemade French Bread

Dough didn’t rise, only rose a little, or is rising very slowly

Possible causes:

  • Yeast was dead or mostly dead to begin (you never stood a chance!)
  • Yeast was too old (expired) or gone bad (the same as above)
  • The yeast was killed along the way – your liquid was too hot
  • Your liquid was too cold – the yeast is still dormant
  • You used a cold stainless steel bowl (common with stand mixers), and this lowered the liquid temperature making it too cold
  • Not enough yeast used – make sure to follow the recipe amounts
  • The environment is too cold
  • Too much flour in the dough – if it’s too dry and heavy, the yeast can’t lift it!
  • Not enough kneading – the gluten didn’t develop enough to let the yeast lift it
  • Salt was added to yeast directly or too much salt was added — this can kill the yeast! Try to add salt last, mixed in with the flour. On the other hand, some recipes do call for yeast earlier and it may be just fine, especially with small amounts.

Tender vegan milk bread

Solutions for dough that didn’t rise or only rose a little

If you’re still not sure what went wrong after reading the list above, you can still save your dough. The following process will work if your yeast is still alive but dormant due to cold temperature.

Save dough that is too cold

  1. Place the dough in a warmer location. try to put the dough in a warm location.  The ideal room temperature is between 80 – 90°F (26°C – 32°C). Keep the dough somewhere draft-free (so not near an open window or drafty door/hallway).  When my home is cooler than ideal, I like to proof my dough in my (electric) oven with the light turned on and the oven door slightly ajar so it doesn’t get too warm. If you use a gas oven, the pilot light may give off enough warmth.
  2. Give that dough some time to come up to temperature. Depending on how cold the dough or your original environment was, this can take an hour or two.
  3. If your dough does seem to rise, then you can continue with your original recipe! Congratulations!

Save dough that has too much flour

If the dough has too much flour, it will be quite stiff and hard to knead. You can try to save it with the following steps.

  1. Slowly introduce more moisture by spraying or sprinkling on warm water and continue to knead until it is softer.
  2. Place it back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a warm, damp lint-free kitchen towel. 
  3. Place the dough in a warm location for 1 hour. The ideal room temperature is between 80 – 90°F (26°C – 32°C). Keep the dough somewhere draft-free (so not near an open window or drafty door/hallway).
  4. Check to see if it rose after 1 hour. If it doubled in size, continue with your recipe! Congratulations. If it has risen significantly but not yet doubled, give it some extra time. You’re still well on your way!

Save dough that wasn’t kneaded enough

If the dough wasn’t kneaded enough, knead it some more! If you are kneading manually, most recipes will require 15 to 20 minutes of kneading to develop the gluten. However, if you’re using a no-knead recipe or one that is supposed to require very little kneading, check that the dough is quite soft and/or sticky. If it is not, then your dough might actually be too dry. In that case, follow the steps to save dough that has too much flour.”

This Chinese Steamed Bun (Mantou) is filled with smoked tofu, red onion, romaine lettuce, and spicy peanut aioili.

Dough rose but it collapsed before or during baking

This has happened to me when I forget about my rising dough! You might have let the dough rise for too long and it had gotten too big and the gluten structure was not strong enough to hold it. But there are other reasons this could’ve happen.

  • Dough rising time was too long
  • Not enough gluten in the flour
  • Oven was too cold (Impossible? You might be wrong if you think this couldn’t be you)

Solutions for dough that rose for too long

Did you forget to set a timer? Maybe the kitchen was way warmer than usual! If the dough has risen more than double or triple during the last phase of rising, your bread is in danger of collapsing. 

Instead of baking it anyway, just punch it down, knead it a little and re-form your bread loaf or buns. Let it rise again and keep a tighter watch on it before baking.

Solutions for dough that doesn’t have enough gluten

Did you accidentally use cake flour or another low-gluten flour? Next time, choose the flour recommended in the recipe. All-purpose flour usually contains enough gluten. You can also add gluten flour (also known as pure gluten flour or vital wheat gluten) to all-purpose flour to strengthen it. Bread flour is a high gluten flour that is ideal for bread making. 

Dough collapse because oven was not hot enough

Did you preheat your oven before placing the dough in? If your oven has not fully pre-heated, the recipe may not work out. To preheat your oven, set the temperature and wait. Some ovens have an indicator light that turns OFF when the oven is fully preheated. Some ovens have an indicator that turns ON when the oven reaches the set temperature. Some will beep, chime or otherwise tell you when it’s fully preheated.

All ovens vary and can give you inaccurate temperatures. If you fully preheated your oven, did not over-proof your dough, and are sure the flour had enough gluten in it, then your oven may not be giving you correct temperatures. 

Does most of your baking come out underdone? Do you usually have to tack on more time for your baking to come out right? Check by using an oven thermometer.

Chinese desserts aren’t usually very sweet. Just a little condensed milk turns the plain Mantou into dessert.

Bread turned out hard or too dense

If your bread turned out too hard or dense, it might have been caused by any of the following:

  • Dough didn’t rise but you baked it anyways
  • Too much flour

If your dough didn’t rise, please don’t bake it anyways. It’s probably not going to rise in the oven, leaving you with a dense bread that doesn’t taste that great. 

Personally, I had this problem a lot when I was a beginner baker. I was in grade 8, just learned how to bake bread and would try to make it last-minute late at night so I’d have fresh baguettes to show off the next day at lunch. Yes, I was that kid. I’d run out of time before my parents started nagging me to go to bed, causing me not to give the dough enough time to rise and I’d end up with small loaves that were very dense. At least, these loaves filled me up!

If your dough is not rising or taking a very long time to rise, click on this link for some possible solutions.

If your bread dough included too much flour, it may also be difficult to rise and come out too hard or dense. If that’s your problem, check out this section on how to save dough that has too much flour.


Yeast flavour is too strong, sour or just weird

If the flavour of your bread is very yeasty it could be due to the following.

  • The dough was allowed to rise too long – please follow the recipe guidelines
  • The environment was too warm – this makes the yeast grow too fast
  • Too much sugar in the dough – this also makes the yeast grow too fast
  • Too much yeast – please follow the recipe and use proper measuring spoons if not measuring by whole envelopes. One envelope is 1 ¼ teaspoon.
  • You forgot to add salt – if the recipe includes salt, please don’t leave it out.

If the flavour of your bread is too sour or tastes like alcohol, it’s probably due to the following.

  • The dough was allowed to rise too long – please follow the recipe guidelines
  • The environment was too warm – this makes the yeast become overactive and produce too much waste in the form of alcohol compounds
  • Too much sugar in the dough – this also makes the yeast grow too fast resulting in the same problem as above

If the bread just tastes weird, stale, or has a rancid oil smell, the flour or other ingredients may have been bad to begin with. Flour, especially whole wheat flour, can go bad eventually and have a stale or foul smell. Test old flour by smelling it directly. You can also mix some flour with a little warm water which will increase the odor’s potency. If it smells bad, it is bad. You can’t save this – you need new ingredients!

Thank you for reading!

I hope you’ve found your solution for yeast that doesn’t bloom, dough that doesn’t rise, or bread that turns out hard, flat or strange tasting here. Remember, yeast is a living organism and your particular environment and ingredients will affect how it behaves. Take notes as you go and you’ll learn what does best in your kitchen.  As the story goes: if at first you don’t succeed; try, try, try again!

 If you have more questions, please leave them in the comments below and I will try my best to help. Good luck , stay well and safe!

Ready to try again making your own homemade fresh bread? Try one of these recipes (from easiest to most challenging):

Or check out the bread archives!

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