More and more people have begun baking their own loaves of bread, and this is a great activity – but there’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re just learning. Big holes appearing in your bread is a common issue.
One of the biggest issues causing holes in bread is trapped CO2 in the dough. You do want some CO2 in the dough, but not large bubbles of it. That means you’ve got to knock or roll the bubbles out when you shape your dough to go in the oven. Other things, like fast rising, too much yeast, and underproofing can also cause holey bread.
We’re going to look at the top issues you may be encountering that will cause holes in your loaves, and how you can avoid this.
Why Is My Bread Holey?
If there are lots of large, uneven holes in your bread, it’s likely because you have got too much CO2 trapped in the dough before baking it. The CO2 is formed by yeast, and this is very much needed to create airy bread, but too much will result in a loaf full of big, uneven holes.
Fortunately, you can fix this fairly easily by thoroughly knocking the air out and rolling your dough before you put it in the oven. You don’t want to do this too much, or you’ll end up with dense bread, but getting rid of any big pockets will ensure you get an even crumb throughout the loaf.
You may also be able to stop the pockets from forming in the first place. There are quite a few things that can cause big bubbles in a loaf – so let’s look at each potential issue and how you can fix it and prevent further problems.
1. Dough Rising Too Quickly
A lot of home bakers look out for bread recipes that have a short proving time. This is ideal if you’re on a deadline, because you want to be able to bake your bread relatively soon after making it. However, you should be aware that a slower rising time improves both the taste and the texture of the finished loaf.
Many recipes will tell you to put your bread somewhere warm to prove, and this is often a good idea – up to a point. However, if you put it somewhere too warm, it will prove far too quickly, and large bubbles will form inside.
If you habitually put your dough in a warm oven, you need to make sure that it isn’t too hot. Ideally, you should prove your dough at room temperature instead. It will take longer, but you’ll get a better texture and fewer big air pockets.
2. The Rise Is Uneven
If you put your dough near something hot, so one side of the bowl gets significantly warmer than the other side, you’ll get an uneven rise. This will inevitably cause large gas pockets in the side that has got too warm, and your whole loaf will be uneven and poorly developed.
It’s really important to pay attention to the proving temperature. Don’t put your bowl against something hot, as one side will inevitably prove more quickly.
This is another issue with proving your dough in the oven. Often, the oven will be hotter in one part than the other, and the dough will rise unevenly. Again, it’s better to prove your dough at room temperature, or at least make sure your oven is off and the heat has had time to spread evenly through the space before you put the dough in.
3. It Wasn’t Proofed Enough
A ball of dough that hasn’t risen sufficiently will often result in really holey bread. This is because the yeast hasn’t finished activating, so when you put it into a hot oven, it essentially goes into overdrive.
It will rise massively, causing an excessive amount of gas as it feeds on the sugars in the loaf, and this can even result in the bread tearing inside.
You’ll see big pockets, and the overall appearance is likely to be poor. It also won’t have a good taste, because the yeast won’t have finished developing and its flavor is likely to be more noticeable as a result.
You should make sure your bread is properly proofed before you put it in your oven. To do this, wash your hands and then poke your finger firmly an inch into the dough. It should spring back very slowly, because the gluten chains have developed. If it springs back fast, it needs more time to prove.
4. You Put Too Much Yeast In
The yeast is responsible for the production of the gas pockets, so it stands to reason that if you add too much yeast, you’ll get bigger pockets in your bread. A lot of people think that adding extra yeast will help to speed up the proofing time, but this can cause a lot of problems, including big pockets of gas.
You may be able to knock these pockets out before cooking, but they can still make the structure worse, because they will damage the chains of gluten. This results in crumbly, holey bread. You may also find that you can taste the yeast in the finished loaf, which nobody wants.
It’s much better to add just as much yeast as the recipe says, or even reduce this amount. Many recipes call for more yeast than they need to reduce the proofing time, but if you’re prepared to wait longer, you can often get away with half or even a quarter as much yeast.
You will have to be patient if you want to do this, though. Your dough will take significantly longer to reach double its normal size. However, as long as you know this in advance, you can usually work around it, and you’ll get much better bread as a result.
5. The Bread Type Is Naturally Holey
If you’re making an unusual kind of loaf, such as a sourdough, it’s possible that the holes are meant to be there. If this is the first time you’ve made it, check whether the recipe suggests it should be holey, or look at pictures online to compare them.
Some kinds of bread simply are more holey than others, and they aren’t meant to have a tight crumb. You can often tighten it by using the methods suggested above (reduced yeast, more careful proofing conditions, etc.), but you probably don’t want to do this.
Any bread that contains a lot of liquid is likely to have more holes in it. The chains holding the bread together will be weaker, and will therefore tear more easily. You should expect high-hydration breads to have some large, uneven holes in them.
If you’d rather not experience this because you want the bread for sandwiches or you prefer a tight crust, try other kinds of bread until you find one that suits you.
6. The Gluten Structure Is Weak
Gluten is what holds your bread together. If you don’t have good gluten development, your bread is bound to form holes, because the molecules aren’t bound together.
Bread that doesn’t have enough gluten will end up with lots of holes in it because the gas pockets will tear the bread as they burst. Gluten is needed because it forms long chains, and these prevent the bubbles from splitting the bread apart.
You can develop the gluten in your bread by kneading it thoroughly and using a flour with lots of protein in it. The protein is developed into gluten when you knead it.
The more kneading you do, the more the gluten will develop, and the better your bread’s structure will be. If you don’t knead it enough or if you use a kind of flour that doesn’t have enough protein in it, you simply won’t get a good structure, and it’s more likely to tear in the oven.
This is why most people use high-protein flours like strong white bread flour, especially when they first start baking. You can work with more difficult, low-protein flours when you’ve gained experience and improved your kneading technique.
However, flours like all-purpose will never make as good a loaf as strong flour, because there isn’t enough protein in them.
7. You Added Oil Or Flour To The Dough While Shaping It
When you’re proofing bread, you are often working on a floured surface, and you may have oil on the dough because you’ve oiled the bowl (or the dough itself) while proofing it. It’s very easy to do this, but it massively increases the bubble risk.
If you get oil in your dough, it will cause breaks in the gluten chain, preventing the molecules from sticking together and making weak points where gas pockets can form.
Flour behaves in a similar way, preventing the molecules from bonding and making areas where gas pockets can form.
You must therefore be careful not to accidentally roll a layer of flour or oil into your dough when you’re shaping it for the last time. Work slowly to avoid this.
8. Your Oven Is Unsuitable
It’s disheartening to try all of the above tricks and find that you’re still encountering problems. If that happens, it’s likely a fault with the oven. The best way to determine whether this is the case is to ask whether you can try a loaf in the oven of a friend or family member.
If you find that its texture is better and there are fewer holes, your oven probably isn’t heating properly or is heating unevenly. You may need to replace it in order to get a good loaf.
All kinds of ovens, including electric, conventional, convection, and gas can have issues that make them unsuitable for baking dough. Bear this in mind if nothing else seems to be fixing your loaf texture problem.
See Also: Why Is My Bread Yeasty?
How Do You Stop Big Holes From Forming In Your Loaves?
Now we’ve looked at all the potential causes, let’s look briefly at the action you can take to resolve these problems and get a great loaf.
First, take some time to identify which of the issues you think you’re dealing with. Remember, there could be multiple problems, or it may just be one thing that you need to tweak.
Even once you’ve identified the problem, it’s best to use all of the tips below, because they’ll give you a tighter, more even crumb than if you just try one suggestion.
Reduce The Yeast
You don’t have to be adding extra yeast for this tip to apply to you. A lot of bread recipes use as much yeast as they can get away with to speed up the proving time and make the recipe look more attractive.
You might want to try halving your yeast and seeing what result it has. If you’re feeling more cautious, just take a quarter out. Remember that you will need to extend the proving time considerably to make sure your dough has doubled in size.
This is a very simple way to create a tighter crumb, and it means you’ll be using less yeast overall! If it messes with the timing of your dough, consider putting it in the fridge to proof for up to 24 hours.
Only Proof Bread At Room Temperature
Ignore it if your recipe tells you to warm your oven and put the bread in it to proof. This isn’t the way to get a great loaf. Even if your kitchen is cold, the bread will proof just fine as long as it is given enough time.
It is important to make sure it’s in a draft-free space, of course, because drafts can cause an uneven rise. Place it in a cupboard or a sheltered spot, and let it double in size at a natural pace. This should significantly improve the bread’s texture.
Punch Your Dough Down Thoroughly
It might sound odd to punch dough, but you need to do this to get an even crumb. You should handle the dough gently but firmly, and your goal after the first rise is to knock most of the air out of it.
Doing this significantly reduces the number of holes in your bread, and should mean that there are no large ones.
To do this efficiently, place the dough on a clean work surface and use your fingers to push it down. Be firm, but do not tear it, as this will rip the gluten chains and cause other structural issues.
Another option is to knead it, or to use a rolling pin on it. Note that you should only use a rolling pin if you are going to bake the bread in a loaf tin.
To do this, place the dough on a clean surface and gently roll it flat. Next, stretch it out as thin as you can, and then roll it back up and put it in the tin. The tin will help it to retain its shape as it bakes.
If you’re going to be baking your bread on a flat surface, simply work the dough gently until it’s almost back to its original size and most of the air has been redistributed or pressed out.
Develop The Gluten
As mentioned above, you need plenty of gluten for the bread to have a good structure, and you achieve this through kneading and through using the right flour.
If you’re new to baking bread, choose strong white bread flour for your first few loaves at least. The high protein content makes this easy to work with, and you’re much more likely to get a good loaf. As you get better at handling different flours, you can add other options to change the flavor and texture.
Regardless of the flour, you need to devote adequate time to kneading and working the bread. This develops the gluten and makes sure it forms long chains that will create a tight crumb.
Consider Enriching The Dough
Not everybody likes adding extra ingredients, but if you’re struggling with air bubbles, consider putting in milk, oil, butter, or eggs. These can increase the structure of the bread and prevent big bubbles from forming.
As long as you add the ingredients during the mixing stage and not the proofing stage, they won’t cause problems.
- Use fresh flour if possible, as this improves the structure and the texture of the bread. It will make holes less likely to develop, and it tastes better. Old flour may struggle to rise.
- If your kitchen is hot, put your dough somewhere cool while it rises, such as a pantry or cold cupboard.
- Always make sure your yeast is fresh before making bread, as it won’t rise otherwise.
Do you need to proof dough after shaping it?
Yes, it’s usually best to let shaped dough proof until it has almost doubled in size.
How do you stop dough from sticking to your hands while kneading?
Wetting your hands is the best option. It won’t make the dough too floury, and it should stop it from sticking to you.
As you can see, quite a few issues can cause uneven, holey bread. You should spend some time identifying which is the most likely problem you’re encountering and try the above tips to get a tighter crumb.