Bread Not Rising? Here’s Why (and How to Fix It)

Yeast can be a fickle ingredient, but it's essential for homemade bread recipes. Learn why your bread isn't rising (and fix it!).

When it comes to baking, there’s nothing more satisfying than baking bread from scratch. Hearty, crusty and so delicious, homemade bread is a real treat.

But sometimes baking with yeast isn’t such a treat. The little organisms that help your bread rise require a little extra care—warm temperatures, food and just-right conditions. If any of these variables are off, you can end up with bread that just doesn’t rise the way it should. After all that work of kneading and proofing, this can be such a letdown. To avoid future flops, check out these reasons your bread might not be rising.

The Yeast Is Too Old

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If the yeast you’re using is expired, chances are you will not get a good rise (if any at all) from it. Yeast is a microorganism and does have a definite life span. For best results, always make sure to use yeast before the “best by” date.

To make sure it is ready to go, always proof yeast before adding it to your bread dough.

The Water Is Too Hot

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When you proof your yeast, be sure that the water you use is at the right temperature. Our Test Kitchen recommends water between 105 and 115ºF. Anything hotter than that could kill the yeast and all its rising powers.

It’s Too Cold

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Making bread in the summertime is a real joy. The warm, humid temperatures help dough rise beautifully. But in winter, it can be a real bear to get the lift you need in a cooler home. That’s because doughs proof best in warmer temps—around 80ºF is just right for yeast.

If your kitchen is too cold, the yeast just doesn’t have the right atmosphere to help the dough rise. If you don’t feel like cranking up the thermostat while proofing your bread, there are lots of ways to encourage your dough to rise if it’s cold. The easiest way to proof bread when it’s cold is to pop your bread dough in the oven (make sure it is off!) and place a pan of boiling water in the oven along with it. The warmth and steam from the water turn your oven into a proofing chamber.

Overall, though, just be patient with your bread dough. If you’re new to bread baking, it can be surprising how long bread takes to proof.

Too Much Salt

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Another yeast killer: salt. While most bread recipes call for a bit of salt, too much of the ingredient can keep the yeast from doing its job. To prevent salt from foiling your bread bakes, measure carefully and never pour yeast and salt on top of one another in your mixing bowl.

Too Much Sugar

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In general, sweet doughs take longer to rise. That’s because sugar absorbs the liquid in the dough—the same liquid that the yeast feeds on. If you have too much sugar in your dough, chances are that it will gobble up almost all of the food the yeast needs, leaving you with dry, ineffective yeast.

To counteract this, be sure you allow sweet doughs, like the kind used to make cinnamon rolls or babka, plenty of time to rise. You can also use a special type of yeast designed just for sugar-heavy doughs. Look for osmotolerant yeast (that’s a yeast that doesn’t require as much liquid) at your grocer if you plan on stirring up something sweet.

Too Much Flour

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The big lesson here: too much of any ingredient can mess with your bread’s rise—even flour. Too much flour can make your dough stiff and dry. And we all know what happens if there’s not enough liquid present for the yeast to use: It doesn’t work the way it should. So be mindful of your measurements and how much flour your dough picks up in the kneading process. You want the dough to be slightly sticky and elastic.

Our Test Kitchen’s best tip for ensuring your measurements are spot-on: Use a kitchen scale.

Using Whole Grains

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Adding more grains to your diet is great for your health, but adding more grains to your bread can be a bit of a headache. White flour, the base for most bread, creates all those wonderful gluten strands that help your bread get its airy texture. Whole wheat and other alternative flours, on the other hand, don’t develop gluten as easily or at all. Without the stretch of gluten, bread doesn’t achieve the same lift.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should skip baking with different types of flours (who doesn’t love a slice of rye bread or multi-grain toast?). To get the right lift, be sure to use a recipe specially formulated for alternative flours.

The Exterior Is Too Dry

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When it comes to proofing bread, you need to keep the dough nice and moist. If a crust develops on top of the dough after it’s been sitting out proofing, it can be difficult for the bread to rise up in the oven later.

To keep your dough moist and elastic, be sure to cover it with plastic wrap, a reusable wax wrap or a damp tea towel. If you’re worried about the dough sticking, give it a quick spritz with cooking spray.

Using the Wrong Pan

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Sometimes you get everything right—the measuring, the proofing, the kneading—and your bread still doesn’t have the height you envisioned. In this case, double-check that you’re using the correct pan size.

Most yeast bread recipes require an 8½” x 4½” pan. This helps them achieve that great height and square size that’s so good for sandwiches. Be sure that you’re not using a 9″ x 5″ pan, commonly used for quick breads. If you bake your yeasted bread in this larger pan, the bread will still rise, but it will be wider and shorter—not a good look for your BLT!

Straight from our Test Kitchen, these bread recipes get it right
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Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.