Why Yeast Bread Might "Fail" Inexplicably

When you have been making bread for a while with reasonable success, it is easy to get a little careless, imagining that past successes will predict future results. No so. In bread making, small things can have large effects. Water, for instance. Also, cleanliness can seem so easy, so natural, that one can start to have problems and not be able to figure out why. Here are a few points to watch.

WATER: Filtered, if possible, or bottled, if necessary.

  • Chlorinated water may add an objectionable flavor; let the water sit overnight so the chlorine dissipates. Very heavily chlorinated water may actually inhibit yeast.
  • If you have a water softener, the excess salt can retard yeast action.
  • Soft water may make a bread dough slightly sticky.
  • Hard water may toughen the dough; the rising period will be longer.

MIXING/RISING BOWL: Non-porous (metal, Pyrex, glazed ceramic) and quite clean.
REASON: Plastic is porous, and over time can absorb minute amounts of yeast (even though you scrubbed that  thing!) which can go bad and make future batches have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail. (Voice of experience)

KNEADING SURFACE: No leftover dough bits from prior dough balls.
REASON: Contamination risk, which can make bread have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail.

UTENSILS: Spatulas, mixing cups, spoons, etc. should be completely clean, with no residue at edges or in crevices.
REASON: Contamination risk, which can make bread have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail.

HANDS: If touching dough, should be washed first (and especially around and under nails).
REASON: Contamination risk, which can make bread have an “off” or yeasty taste and/or fail.

Beyond these, a really excellent resource about yeast dough is http://www.four-h.purdue.edu/foods/Yeast%20dough.htm. The Cooperative Extension system is a fantastic source of accurate research-based information in one place (no searching for hours, no guessing, no opinions masquerading as facts). The land grant university system is one of the most efficient and effective uses of government $ that I know of, in fact, one of the few places where the money IS well-spent! Check to find one in your county and make use of their excellent help.

Under or over-proofing dough

I re-discovered the “no-knead bread” video and then found the Cooks Illustrated modification (making it now nearly no-knead, but still very easy) but in the process have been learning about “proofing” the final rise, and this is the best description I have found so far (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/24941/help-pain-au-levain-crust), so I shall share it here. When I finish refining my version of the recipe for how I make it I will post the whole thing later.


  • poor oven spring
  • greyish crumb
  • greyish dull crust
  • dense gummy texture
  • sometimes unpleasant yeasty smell and/or flavor
  • when slashed before baking, loaf significantly collapses
  • dough feels sticky and flabby after bulk rise or final proof*
  • dough collapses when poked with finger (more than just a little indentation)


  • dough explosions (out of the side, bottom, etc), extreme oven spring
  • poor crust color (light-brown or grey)
  • Some bubbles in crumb with dense dough around them
  • Unevenly distributed dense areas of crumb
  • Dough immediately springs back when you poke it with your finger
  • Dough feels very firm and dough-like, no sense of lightness.
* some wet doughs, like focaccia, are naturally sticky, but when you learn how they’re supposed to feel, they still don’t feel “flabby”
Here’s another way to think about it: imagine you’re chewing a piece of bubble gum, and you blow a bubble.
  • If you blow a really big bubble, it’s flabby and collapses: that’s overproofing.
  • If you blow a really tiny bubble, it’s really firm and unpopable: that’s underproofing.
  • Somewhere in the middle is the perfect bubble, with good surface tension, that won’t immediately pop if you were to poke it, and can hold its shape: that’s correctly proofed.

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