Your questions answered: Yeast bread that doesn't rise

Italian Bread

Reader Mary T. wrote to me regarding some yeast bread:

I wanted to make a yeast dough today using a recipe I have used in the past...BUT... the dough never rose. I used Red Star Active Dry Yeast, which is what the recipe called for. The yeast expires in December of 2007... so the yeast is good. I used the warm water it called for.

It's been 3 hours and still no action. I even put my oven on 200 degrees F, closed it and put the (oiled) bowl in and waited. Nothing happened.

The dough has a little milk, one stick of butter, two eggs, sugar and lemon zest.

HELP! I don't think the bread will ever rise, but my question is: Is the dough good for... ANYTHING?

Hi, Mary!

I'm not a bread expert, but here are the two possibilities I can think of: Either the yeast wasn't good, or the dough got too warm and killed the yeast. I know you said you used warm water, so that's probably fine -- but if the yeast came into contact with water that was too hot, it could kill the yeast. Also, it sounds like you probably didn't put the dough in the oven at 200 degrees until it had already been a long time (longer than it should have needed to start rising!), but that could kill the yeast, too.

I usually set my oven at 200 degrees for 2-3 minutes, and then I turn off the oven and put the covered dough inside to rise. (On one occasion, I put the dough in while I was heating the oven, and forgot to turn it off -- resulting in dough that got too hot and wouldn't rise due to yeast that had been killed!) And the water temperature should be 110-115 degrees... it should feel about the same temperature as the underside of your wrist, if you're using tap water.

From the recipe you described to me, it sounds like it has ingredients that shouldn't pose any rising problem.

Now, what to do with your dough. One thing to consider is that dough with perishable ingredients (like eggs) can't sit at room temperature too long... two hours is the longest recommended safe time for eggs (cracked) at room temperature. So you may have to toss the dough. For future reference, though, you could consider rolling the unrisen dough into a rectangle, about 1/4-inch to 1/8-inch thick, and cutting into squares, using a pizza cutter or butter knife. Bake pieces on a lightly greased baking sheet at 375 degrees until lightly browned, probably about 15-20 minutes. The end result will taste something like our homemade unleavened bread, which we make at Passover. It's very different from "regular" yeast bread, but makes a good snack, and would be a way to salvage the dough that just won't rise!

I'm sorry to hear of your difficulties, and I hope this was helpful. :)

Egg and Onion Matza


You might be able to find out what happened or at least rule out your yeast as a factor by proofing it. As a rule, I always proof my yeast - the recipe that I use calls for a sponge start, which allows the yeast a good start and proofing before you add all your ingredients and kneading. It also gives the gluten and cells wall additional support for a softer better texture and rise.

Oh, yes! Thank you for mentioning this.

A few weeks back, I made some pizza and my ingredients were too cold and the crust didn't rise. I had just opened a new bag of yeast, so at first I suspected that the yeast was bad. I put some warm water, a little sugar, and some yeast in a bowl. After a few minutes, it foamed, and then I knew that it was something else besides my yeast. ;)

I am too lazy to do the foam start when I make bread, normally, and I just throw everything into my bread machine to knead it! :D

This always happens to me when I try to use yeast, so I rarely do anymore. I just got so frustrated and wound up wasting too many ingredients. I got a sourdough starter from a friend about a year ago and that's how I make our bread now. I wish I knew someone who did a lot of yeast baking though so I could go over and observe/learn how to use it better!

until I figured out what I was doing wrong. My mom always put her flour in the freezer because she had problems with those little weevel like bugs. I automatically put my flour in the freezer to. Eventually I realized that cold flour caused the bread (or whatever) not to rise. I haven't had any problems for a while.

Thanks for the info on what to do when bread does not rise Tammy. It sounds like it would make great snack pizza.
Being new to bread baking this has happed to me also. A friend suggested that I purchase a cooking thermometer. It was around $5. When I had heated my milk, I was getting it too hot. Now with my new kitchen tool, my bread will rise. No more killing yeast. Keep trying!

Another thing is your water was too cold and was not warm enough to get the yeast to start rising. One good way to test your liquid is to put your fingers in it. It should not be too cool to hold your fingers in comfortably and not too hot so you cannot put your fingers in. I have good results as long as I do this.

Tammy, about the comment you posted on my blog, no, I never lived in Russia, although it felt like I did! I found out that many of the Russians just can live here and still live like they did in Russia, so even though they are all in the US, I feel like I go to a foreign country when I go to visit!

I lived for 4.5 years without modern conveniences. It was a great adventure! We were not well set up so it was much harder than some people have it as we were on the poor side of things. But, I am glad because I know I could do it without much!

Thanks for all of the helpful comments, everyone!!

Martha, thanks for sharing. I could probably learn SO much from you!! Have you ever blogged on the topic in the past? Or would you ever want to? :)

i have blogged some about it, but maybe I should some more!

I have had this problem also. I am wondering now if maybe the water I have been using is too warm. Maybe the oven is too warm also. I will try using a little cooler water and put the dough out on the counter to rise next time.

Hi, I am just wondering if anyone has a recipe for sourdough starter? I made one I found on the net using grapes, but it didn't seem to bubble at all and then I think I left it too long and it got the beery stuff on top and started smelling bad :\ All I used was flour and water (equal parts) and a few crushed grapes... what did I do wrong?

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