Bread is supposed to have crumbs. When you're new to baking your own yeast bread, you may find that it produces more crumbs than you're used to with store-bought bread. It's a common problem, and there are several things you can do to try and fix it.
Baking bread is a science. Bakeries make it look easy because they have it all figured out. When making bread in your own kitchen, you need to think about all the variables involved. From the flour and yeast to measuring, kneading, proofing, and temperatures, little things can make the difference between great bread and a crumbly mess.
To help solve the problem of bread that is just too crumbly, let's look at a few things you can change in your favorite recipes. Try any or all of these and see if you notice an improvement.
01 of 10
Your Bread Doesn't Have Enough Gluten
In conventional bread, gluten—a combination of two proteins found in grains like wheat and rye— is essential. Once these proteins become moist, they create stretchy molecules that give bread dough its elasticity. Gluten helps bread maintain its shape and produces the "crumb" (or texture). If your bread does not have enough gluten, the crumb will not come out as expected.
Different flours have varying amounts of gluten: white wheat flour contains the most, and whole-grain flours contain considerably less. All-purpose white flour has less gluten than white bread flour, which is designed to have the right amount of gluten that bread needs.
Bread bakers prefer high-gluten bread flour. In a basic white loaf, you can get good bread with all-purpose flour, but you may also notice excess crumbs. When using whole-grain flour, bread recipes typically include white flour to increase the gluten and make the bread less dense.
If you prefer to buy all-purpose flour because of its versatility in the kitchen, use a recipe specifically designed for it. Otherwise, try adding gluten: add one tablespoon of wheat gluten for every cup of all-purpose flour in your recipe.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
02 of 10
Your Bread Has Too Much Flour
Adding too much flour is one common mistake for beginning bakers. This produces dry bread with more crumbs.
The key is to find a balance between the flour and liquid ingredients in your recipe. It can be tricky because bread recipes don't always give you an exact amount of flour. Instead, the recipe may tell you approximately how much flour is needed and leave it up to the baker to know when to stop.
When baking your first loaves, it's very easy to add a lot of flour while kneading, especially if you do it by hand. After a bit of kneading, the dough becomes sticky to touch, so you add more flour. While this is the correct method, it's the amount of flour you add each time that's the issue.
To keep the flour in check:
- Weigh out your initial flour measurement. Weighing ingredients—including the main liquids—with a kitchen scale is more accurate than eyeing them in a measuring cup.
- Measure out the rest of the recipe's recommended flour. While you may not need all of it, this helps you know the desired maximum amount of flour you'll need.
- As you knead and the dough gets sticky, generously sprinkle just enough flour onto the dough so it no longer adheres to your hands and board. Knead that in, and when you feel it getting sticky again, add a little more. Continue this pattern until you're done kneading.
- Remember that you'll add more flour when you start kneading and less toward the end of the session.
The goal of kneading in the right amount of flour is to produce a bread dough that still has some elasticity but is neither wet nor dry. It's a fine balance, but the more loaves you make, the better you'll be able to recognize it.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
03 of 10
Your Bread Has Too Much Yeast
More yeast is better, right? In theory, this seems logical if you want a high rise on your bread, but it's actually the opposite. Remember that yeast is a living organism, and if you add too much to your bread, it can grow too fast and get out of control. This, in turn, can throw off the balance of gluten, carbon dioxide, and steam needed to produce a great bread crumb.
For most bread recipes, one single-use (0.25-ounce) packet of active dry yeast has the perfect amount needed for one loaf of bread. If you're using bulk yeast, the equivalent of one packet is 2 1/4 teaspoons.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
04 of 10
Your Bread Doesn't Have Enough Salt or Fat
Certain ingredients are added to bread to help control the yeast. While yeast feeds off the sugar found in many recipes, the salt and fats help "retard" it, or slow it down.
As much as you may like to cut the salt in other food recipes, doing so in bread is not a good idea. Not only does salt add flavor, but you'll often add just a teaspoon per loaf, so the effect on your diet is minimal. The recipe's recommended amount of salt is crucial to keeping the yeast in check, so be sure to measure it properly.
Similarly, many bread recipes include a fat such as butter, lard, oil, or shortening. These also retard the yeast's growth and keep the bread moist, resulting in less crumb. Try adding an extra tablespoon or two of fat to your recipe and see if it improves the crumb. Keep in mind, though, that too much fat will prevent a full rise.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Your Bread Was Not Kneaded Enough
Kneading mixes the dough's ingredients and creates a good gluten structure for the bread. It is one of the trickiest parts of learning to bake bread because it's hard to tell if you've kneaded too much or not enough. Bread that is under-kneaded will have more crumbs.
If you're kneading by hand, study up on the proper technique. Visit a bread-baking friend to see how they do it, take a class, or watch videos online.
Also, kneading can seem like a tedious task. Most recipes ask you to do the first round of kneading for a full 10 minutes (six minutes with a stand mixer or bread machine), and this is crucial. Setting a kitchen timer and learning to enjoy the "quiet time" spent kneading can help you reach the target.
After the first proofing, many breads need to be kneaded again to rework the gluten before shaping. Typically, this is best when done for a much shorter time (two to five minutes). If you've been doing the second round for longer than that, cut it back, and you should notice a difference in the crumb.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
06 of 10
Your Bread Was Overproofed
Avoiding overactive yeast is important in producing a great loaf of bread with a nice crumb. If you used the right amount of yeast and added sufficient ingredients to slow it down, double-check how you proof it.
Proofing (or proving) bread means letting the dough rise undisturbed. After the first round of kneading, you'll allow the bread to rise for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it's double in size.
Beginners often let the dough grow too large because it's easy to think that you'll get better, fluffier bread the more it rises. Again, this is a theory that doesn't hold up in the science of bread baking. The longer dough rises, the more active the yeast becomes. If it goes too far, the gluten relaxes too much, and the bread will collapse or go flat while it bakes. By restricting it, you produce better bread with a more reliable crumb.
Poke your finger into the dough to check if it has sufficiently risen. If the hole does not close up, then you're ready to punch it down. If you notice the dough moving a little or that the hole closes completely, allow it to rise a little longer.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
07 of 10
Your Bread Dough Is Sensitive to Temperature
Bread dough is sensitive to temperatures, even before it hits the oven. There are two times when the temperature is key to a successful loaf of bread.
It's important to follow the recipe's instructions on the liquid temperature, which depends on the yeast variety. Many bread recipes use active dry yeast, and one of the first steps is to dissolve the yeast in warm water:
- The target temperature for active dry yeast is between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit unless the recipe says otherwise.
- If the water is over 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the yeast will begin to die, and the bread won't rise. (All types of yeast will die completely at 138 degrees Fahrenheit.)
- When the water is too cool (even room temperature), the yeast may not be activated, and the bread may not rise or it will rise too slowly.
Likewise, if your kitchen is too hot while the dough is rising, the yeast will grow more rapidly. This can have the same effect as over-proofing.
In general, it's best to make bread at room temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If your kitchen is hot, shorten the rising time or place it in a cooler location. When the house is cool (e.g., air-conditioned in summer), you may need to extend the proofing time.
Continue to 8 of 10 below.
- Gently heat the amount of water needed on the stovetop or in the microwave and use a thermometer to test its temperature. If it gets too hot, you'll have to wait for it to cool down.
- One reliable place for your proofing dough is in the oven; turn the oven light on for gentle warmth. Don't forget to remove the dough before heating up the oven!
08 of 10
Your Bread Was Baked at the Wrong Temperature
Bread can become too dry if it's baked too long, and this can add to a crumb issue. While your recipe may work wonderfully at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 40 minutes in someone else's oven, you may need to make adjustments.
Your oven's thermostat may be slightly off, so you may be inadvertently overbaking your bread. The best way to know for sure is to use an inexpensive oven thermometer. This will tell you the oven's internal temperature, and you can adjust the temperature setting to hit the target needed for the recipe. Some ovens have a setting that lets you manually calibrate the temperature, which will ensure consistency in everything you bake.
Whenever you're baking, preheating the oven is imperative. Baking times are based on an oven that is already to temperature. If you place the bread inside before it hits that target, bread may not rise properly, and that also affects the crumb.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Your Bread Did Not Cool Before Slicing
The smell of fresh-baked bread makes it tempting to slice it open and start eating as soon as it leaves the oven. However, the first bite will be better if you wait until it cools down.
The primary reason for this is that the bread is still baking inside. The crust has trapped enough steam inside the loaf to continue working its magic and create a great crumb. If you let that steam out too soon, the entire loaf will be drier.
Allow your white bread to rest for at least one hour (two hours is best). Whole wheat bread needs a little longer, so hold off for two to three hours if you can.
Also, use a serrated bread knife to slice the bread. These are designed to cut through bread in a way that reduces tearing and crumbs.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
10 of 10
Your Bread Is Not Stored Properly
If your bread was not crumbly the first day then creates a lot of crumbs the second or third day, you might have a storage issue.
Homemade bread doesn't have the preservatives included in commercial bread. Most will begin to mold within a couple of days if not stored properly. Sourdough bread includes a natural preservative, which is why many home bakers quickly move on to that style.
Keep only the amount of bread you'll eat within a day or two in a bread box or air-tight container. Freeze the rest of the loaf by wrapping it in paper or plastic and sealing it inside a plastic freezer bag. When you need more bread, it will thaw out in about an hour and be almost as moist as it was the first day.
The worst things you can do is store bread in the refrigerator or thaw it in the microwave. Both of these will dry out the bread and produce a lot of crumbs.