My favourite 14 baking tips on how to make bread soft and fluffy, based on years of baking experience at home and artisan bakery, including adding more water, not using extra flour, using scalded flour method or lowering the oven temperature amongst the few.
How to make bread soft and fluffy is one of the challenges that many home bakers face and it’s certainly something students on my bread baking courses ask me about frequently.
Making soft bread is often the ultimate quest for a lot of of home bakers. If you’ve been brought up on soft white toast bread, you might be searching everywhere for a recipe that would produce bread like that.
The good news is that you can produce amazingly soft and tasty bread at home, but it’s never going to be exactly the same as the supermarket mass produced sliced white toast bread. And, in all honesty I’m glad that it’s not!
Mass produced white bread (and many other types) are fast produced, often taking only 45 minutes from mixing the flour to packing the loaves. I’m sure you can just about imagine, what needs to go into bread like this to rise the dough so quickly!
The quick rise is due to extra dough enhancers such as various E numbers, enzymes, ascorbic acid, water, oil and optimal temperature for both mixing/kneading stages and proving.
So, while you might not want to create supermarket white loaf at home, you might still like to end up with a softer loaf when baking at home.
Here are my top 14 baking tips for how to make bread soft and fluffy – you can use these on their own or mix few together depending on your time and ingredients availability.
MORE BREAD BAKING TIPS
- How to prove bread in warm oven >>
- How to remove baked bread stuck in the baking tin >>
- How to best store bread and stop it from going mouldy >>
Use strong white bread flour
You can make soft bread from wholemeal flour but strong bread flour will produce much better soft bread when you are just starting out baking at home.
I would recommend starting with a good quality strong bread flour or even better use extra strong Canadian flour that has a higher gluten content. If you follow all the other elements of bread baking correctly, using extra-strong bread flour will make a difference and you’ll see your bread rising a bit more than with regular white flour.
Knead your bread properly
Make sure that you knead your bread for at least 10-15 minutes by hand or 5-10 by mixer (refer to your bread mixer instruction booklet).
If your bread is not kneaded properly, the gluten won’t develop as well as it should, which means the dough won’t rise and you’ll end up with tough bread.
Don’t add more flour when you are kneading
If you measure your flour correctly at the beginning, you shouldn’t need to add any more when you are kneading. Yes, the dough will stick to your hands a bit and yes, it will take a little time to absorb the water and become nice and elastic.
After years of kneading by hand, I basically just ignore the sticky dough, but I know not everyone is happy with that. If you really don’t want the dough to stick to your hands, use a little bit of vegetable or sunflower oil on your hands and your work table and carry on kneading.
Oh, and the reason why you shouldn’t add any more flour to your bread, when you are kneading? The minute you start the knead the flour the gluten starts to develop.
If you then add more flour and you don’t increase the kneading time (which most people don’t) you’ll end up with a tough or firmer bread (depending on how much extra flour you use).
Use scalded flour to start your bread
While a lot of recipes include the tangzhong method, I find that using scalded flour is much easier and produces similar results.
Scalded flour is basically flour mixed with boiling water and left to develop gluten. This scalded flour mix is then added back to the bread flour mix and you can follow the rest of your bread recipe.
Although this is not a particularly complicated way of making bread at home, there is quite a lot of detail to go through, so I’ve dedicated a whole blog post to just this subject.
Ad tangzhong mix
Tangzhong method is probably a quicker than scalded flour method, so if you are short of time, you can try this: Boil water in the saucepan and add white flour and carry on slowly stirring until you have a thick sauce. Keep boiling the flour mix until it changes colour – the white flour will become more opague (creamy white and sort of see through) and the whole mixture will look like a thick glue.
Thick glue is quite a good comparison, because the gluten inside the bread flour acts like glue, when it’s awoken.
Similarly like with the scalded flour, we have just supercharged our gluten in the flour mix and this will not only mean that we get soft bread, but we also don’t need to prove our bread twice. It’s fine if you want to do double proving (your bread will be even lighter and fluffier), but it’s not necessary.
Add butter, oil or other suitable fat
Adding about 50 grams for every 500 grams of bread flour does make a difference to the bread texture and makes your bread much lighter.
I often use vegetable or sunflower oil, because butter can sometimes come out when the bread is proving (especially if you prove it in a very warm environment) and that actually makes the bread quite dry.
Use milk or buttermilk instead of water
Another way to add a bit of fat is to use milk, cream, full fat yoghurt or buttermilk. You can use plant based milk, but you won’t be adding much fat.
To use milk or buttermilk in your bread, just replace the water amount with the same amount of milk. If you are using something thicker, like cream or yoghurt, I would normally add a bit of milk or water to thin the liquid down or not use any more butter.
Add egg or egg yolk
Egg yolk will add a lovely golden colour to your bread, but also helps to make the bread a little lighter. You can use a whole egg, but I prefer to use just egg yolks (you can use the egg white for the egg wash on the top of your bread before it goes into the oven or afterwards)
Add more water or other liquid
I find that lack of water in bread is one of the major causes of tough bread, when my students describe their problems with bread baking. I suppose it’s because most people don’t like the idea of dough sticking to their hands when they are baking and they instantly think that something is wrong.
Then they usually add more flour to make sure they hands don’t stick and voila, you end up with a loaf of tough bread! (the gluten hasn’t got the chance to develop properly if you keep adding new flour, which is what makes the bread slightly tougher).
More water (or at least the amount that you have in your recipe) will help to make your bread nice and soft inside. The water will evaporate as you bake the bread, so you don’t need to worry about having wet bread. It’s the air bubbles that you see after you cut your bread, that are caused by the water. So, you see more water = more air bubbles = soft and fluffy bread!
Leave the bread to prove overnight in the fridge
This is a supercool way to make your bread soft and fluffy and it it’s not even as time consuming as it sounds.
I find that the best way to achieve a soft white bread loaf is to prove it once in at room temperature, shape it, place it into a baking tin and leave it in the fridge (loosely covered with oiled plastic bag) to rise overnight or during the day. After about 8 hrs (or when it’s doubled in size) take the bread out, pre-heat your oven and bake as normal.
Leave your bread to prove twice
Modern quick dry yeast is designed so that you can prove your bread only once and you can bake it. Traditionally, you would prove your bread twice – once in the mixing bowl and once when the bread is shaped and resting in the baking tin or baking basket.
If you follow the traditional method of leaving your dough to prove twice you’ll end up with much lighter and softer bread. This, again, is particularly noticeable with white bread, but wholemeal bread benefits from this too.
Lower the oven temperature when baking
I love dark crunchy crust on my sourdough bread, but it also means that the top layer of the bread is quite hard.
If you want your bread to be soft all round, lower the oven temperature to about 150C – 170C (300-330F) and bake at this temperature through the whole baking time. The baking time won’t be much longer because of that, perhaps by 5-10 minutes for large loaf (from 500 grams of flour originally).
The result will be beautifully soft bread, but you’ll have to trust your instinct when you are taking the bread out. Since we are not developing a crust, you won’t be able to test the bread the usual way (knock and listen if the bread sounds hollow).
Instead, you’ll need to use a wooden skewer and test the bread as if it is a cake. If the skewer comes out clean, your bread is ready. If not, add another 5 minutes and re-test (in a different spot).
Create steam when baking
Steam helps to keep the top of the bread dough moist and playable, which then make it easier for your bread to rise. This is particularly important in the first 5-10 minutes of your baking time. After this time, the top layer of the bread dough starts to turn into a crust, so it’s not necessary to use a steam through the whole baking process.
There are several ways you can add steam to your oven (you do this just after you’ve placed your bread in the oven)
Boiling water – boil water and pour it at the bottom of your oven or into a shallow baking tray, placed at the bottom of your oven
Spray water – spray your bread or sides of your oven with a water from a flower spray dispenser or something similar
Ice cubes – through few ice cubes at the bottom of your oven to create steam
Use damp tea towel when cooling down
To make sure that your bread is soft and fluffy, cover it with a slightly damp tea towel or a plastic bag when you take the bread out from the oven. Leave to cool down on a cooling rack (slightly risen from the surface), but with the tea towel or plastic bag on the top.
The steam that’s escaping from the bread as you take it hot from the oven will be re-directed back to your bread and will make the crust and your bread lovely and soft inside.
This blog post was originally written on 29 November 2021 and last updated on 4 December 2022