I've been making bread for a while now, but I can never get it to rise enough. The bread comes out really dense, so it's not very useful for sandwiches. I give it ten minutes after kneading, bash it down again, then another hour before baking. I've tried adding sugar as well but this hasn't made much impact.
A big factor besides the dough is the temperature at which you bake the bread.
If you are not baking it at some recipe specified temperature you are probably playing on the safe side and your breads won't raise much.
You have to heat the CO2 pockets quickly so that they expand before the dough hardens. The more temperature you can give it the better.
Another possible factor may be the yeast. Are you waiting enough? Are you using enough? Like temperature, more yeast and longer fermentation times can't go wrong.
The short answer to dense bread is always rise.
There are many solutions to rise problems. There are also many other bread problems that are not just about rise (colour, flavour, wetness, shape). However, denseness is always about the rise.
Rise happens when microbes (yeast) make air pockets in a network of gluten (or starch, in the case of rye and gluten-free breads). If your microbes don't make enough CO2, you don't get rise. If your gluten network isn't strong enough to hold the CO2 in pockets, it escapes and you don't get rise. Take note that both air pockets and gluten structure change over time, so time is critical. Temperature (besides baking) doesn't affect gluten but it drastically affects microbe activity, so that's important too.
Yeast, gluten. Time, temperature.
Nearly everything else that affects bread rise is a function of one or more of those variables. Here's a very brief list of a bit of the 'everything else'. If you want a more specific answer, you'll have to make your question more specific.
- Yeast must be alive. (Check it's not dead, also not excessive antimicrobial ingredients such as salt or raw garlic.)
- Yeast must be able to move to more food. (Water.)
- Yeast must have food to ferment. (Raw flour is food. Note other microbes can compete for food.)
- Yeast must be at respirating temperature to ferment. (This is a window. Very low temperatures will stop activity entirely, moving up the scale will permit slow activity, all the way up to ideal, very fast activity and eventually death.)
- Yeast must ferment for long enough for air pockets to form. (Not enough time means underfermenting).
- Yeast must not ferment so long that the air pockets start breaking. (Too much time means overfermenting. Stop the fermentation by baking it.)
- Gliadin and glutenin must be present in the flour in sufficient quantities. (Check content of flour, eg gluten-free flours will not produce a gluten network).
- Gluten must be formed and developed by kneading and/or time. (Not enough is underkneading)
- But not too much. (Too much is overkneading)
- If rye, pentosan network must not be kneaded too much, if at all. (Shape it like clay.)
- Gluten must not be broken down by factors such as acid or enzymatic activity.
On oven temperature: Yes, oven temperature will affect your rise very slightly, in that lower temperatures will delay the killing of the yeast of the inside of the dough, allowing slightly more fermentation in the centre than on the crust. Depending where your fermentation is, how hot the oven is and what shape your bread is, this may be fine, or it may allow the centre to overferment. For that reason it is usually recommended to bake bread at very high temperatures so that the entire thing cooks at once. However, if your problem is a dense loaf, oven temperature is not your problem.
On slashing: I'll grant that slashing allows a little more rise than without slashing in the specific case that your dough has trouble finding a weak point in the crust to expand. However, excessive uniformity in shaping is not most newbies' problem, and of course slashing will not help rise for anyone new or old where there is not enough air in the dough to begin with (can't expand on nothing). Again, if your problem is a dense loaf, slashing is not your problem.
On the other hand, if by 'fluffy' you mean 'like cotton fluff', as in fine in texture, insubstantial in taste and white in colour, there are recipes and specific dough-handling techniques that will give you that. Recipes will never guarantee airy bread, though, so you might still end up with dense bread if you don't keep track of your yeast, gluten, time and temperature.
Are you slashing the doughball before baking it?
Although they can be decorative, they're functional -- once the crust is formed, the bread can't rise any more, which is going to affect the density. The slashing allows for expansion even after the crust has begun for form.
Also, density might be a sign that you've worked in too much flour. As you end up with more flour if you use dip-and-sweep vs. spoon-and-sweep, you might be adding extra flour without even realizing it.
After reading all the responses I would add that dough handling is very important. The dough isn't a boxer or your enemy so don't punch it or bash it down but rather treat it like a lover. When kneading, don't rip the dough apart, stretch it until it just begins to tear. After the first rise, at least an hour in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, I gently turn out the dough on the counter top and cut to size then tuck the dough into balls and let bench rest for 15 minutes before repeated folding to shape loaves pinching closed the folds to trap gases. Let rise at least another 45 mins before slashing and baking.
Most recipes that I have made require a lot more rising time. Usually an hour or more for each rise…some do best with 24 hours in the fridge for the second rise. Certainly, there are some recipes that do call for less, but I expect that giving only 10 minutes for your first rise is not enough.
Also, you want to make sure that you are kneading the bread enough and not too much. As a rule of thumb if I don't have a better guideline from the recipe, I will kneed the dough until a bit pinched off the dough ball will stretch about an inch before separating completely.
Add wheat gluten.
There is no short or easy answer to this. I spent around 15 years learning to master this. In short, the main factors are:
- The right flour and balance between water and flour - depends greatly on flour quality.
- The right kneading.
- The right handling of the wet dough.
- The right baking.
You can read a detailed description of my efforts here (including pictures and videos): http://www.rkursem.com/food/bread/fluffy-bread/
Only ten minutes proving time after kneading and before bashing down? That's pretty much the same as only letting the dough rise once. You also don't say whether the dough's increased in size before you bake it.
As a simple thing to try, leave the dough after kneading for long enough for it to double in size, then bash it down, shape it, then leave it until it does the same size increase again, then bake it.
If it doesn't grow, you've got a problem with your yeast. If it won't double, you might still have a problem with your yeast, or not enough food for it, or the gluten network's just too strong for it to stretch out that far.
I used to always get dense bread by always following the rule to rise once and then punch it down. Unfortunately supermarket yeast is often lame and the crap would barely rise a second time no matter how much time I gave it in a warm place to proof period. I recommend forming the dough out immediately after kneading or dough hooking and let it proof just one time.
If you've tried all the previous methods and still are not having success, I've heard that using seltzer instead of water can make the bread fluffier, usually recommended for whole wheat varieties since that flour is denser, but in other uses too.