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Why Is My Bread Stringy?

Stringy bread: why is it happening, should it be happening, and what, if anything, can you do about it?

Your bread dough isn’t coming together into a ball. Instead, you have stringy dough being slapped around your mixing bowl. What’s going on, and is that okay?

Bread baking starts with bread mixing: Mix flour, water, salt, and yeast until a dough is created and that’s bread dough. Granny’s basic bread was good and sustained folks for a long time.

When we move from Granny’s kitchen into the baker’s kitchen, mixing gets much more intricate. And, we get stringy dough. So, you’re doing the right thing the right way.

Gluten in the Mixing Bowl

Guten is the protein in bread that holds the air bubbles produced by the yeast and gives baguettes that toothsome mouthfeel.

Granny’s bread example is called a straight dough. You measure and mix the ingredients, let the yeast raise the dough, then shape, pan, proof, and bake the dough. The baker’s dough has the same ingredients and a few additional steps to develop the gluten.

Is Stringy Always a Bad Thing?

Stringy-looking bread dough is not always a bad thing. For those baguettes or similar breads—French bread or sourdough bread—gluten develops when the dough is mixed and creates a bread with a texture we prefer.

Strings in those doughs are the gluten strands bonding together. (Strictly speaking, gluten is two different proteins, glutenin and gliadin that create gluten when water is added to flour.) We see that bonding in the form of a string-like texture in the dough. Higher gluten content or aggressive mixing can produce a stringier-looking dough.

When mixing baguette dough or sourdough boules, stringy is good.

The dough’s stringiness is a visual clue that, so far, everything is right in the mixing world.

Bakers will check a small piece of mixed dough to those strings. By pulling the dough slowly to a thin membrane, they can see the strands, or strings, of gluten. That’s called “the window-pane test.”

Strands of Bread When You Tear the Loaf

Our well-mixed baguette is out of the oven. It has cooled and is ready to taste. Both hands grip the loaf near the center and you pull the loaf apart. It fights back.

That resistance is the strong gluten resisting the tear. As it comes apart, it breaks into jagged, uneven edges, and the crumb (that’s the ironic name for the center of the bread) might unravel a bit before it finally breaks.

Where the mixed dough showed string-like strands on the dough, the crumb might seem like rope coming off of a spool. It’s not stringy, nor is it delicate and tender. This is as it should be.

A baguette that fights back is a baguette that’s made well.

What Is Rope Spoilage and How Do I Avoid It?

Not all bread puts up a fight. Some breads are made not to fight at all. Banana and zucchini breads are in a family called sweet breads (not to be confused with “sweetbreads,” which refers to a dish made from the thymus gland or pancreas of a calf or lamb and is not bread at all). Sweet breads at room temperature are moist food sources for bacteria and molds.

On sanitation and spore-forming bacteria:

Safe food handling practices and procedures do make a difference in producing quality, wholesome food.

Sometimes the experts can seem overly concerned that everything is a danger. Foods spoil. Foods spoiling from spore-forming bacteria have the spoilage bacteria baked in. Literally. The bacteria is in the ingredients.

That’s alarming. Don’t panic and toss out your pantry. It’s going to be okay. Of specific interest is rope spoilage.

A blog post on the National Library of Medicine website reads “[r]opy bread spoilage manifests in sticky and stringy degradation of the crumb, slime formation, discoloration, and an odor reminiscent of rotting fruit.”

Rope spoilage is a bacteria that is common in flour. The website Bakerpedia.com writes, “flour has the potential to introduce greater number of rope spores per gram than any other ingredient to the baking process.”

Muffins, banana breads, and other moist baked goods should be refrigerated in warm weather. In cool weather, they may last only a few days.

You already know the best practices to prevent spoilage. Wash your hands. Keep cold foods cold. Don’t let the batter sit out for hours. Refrigerate moist baked goods in tight sealing containers.

Recipes that yield more than your family can eat in a few days can be divided. Reheat cooled baked goods in an oven or toaster oven at 300°F (150°C) until warm. That will bring back the best flavor and also help the butter melt.

Gluten-Free Mixing

Gluten-free bread dough doesn’t look or behave like gluten bread dough. The first obvious reason is the absence of gluten.

Various gums, most popularly Xanthan gum, are added to gluten-free flour mixes to give them texture and support.

The Bob’s Red Mill website posted a blog post with this passage about how Xanthan gum works in gluten-free doughs. “When xanthan gum gets wet, its texture becomes sticky and gelatinous. It also acts as an emulsifier, helping the water and oil in the recipe to combine. As a result of these changes, xanthan gum binds, stabilizes and thickens the ingredients in the dough, mimicking what gluten does.”

Mixing bread dough with Xanthan gum will produce the stringiness necessary to create the network of gum to hold the air bubbles and keep the dough together.

I’ve found mixing gluten-free bread doughs with Xanthan gum benefits from a speedy mix to exaggerate those strings.

A Note About Gluten-Free Mixing

Not all gluten-free bread has grains. Some have nut flours, almond and coconut are the most popular. All the variations in bread dough recipes mean there are many different looks for the dough in the bowl.

Gluten-free bread mixing only mimics conventional bread mixing. There’s stuff in the mixer and the machine mixes it, and that’s where the similarities end.

Stringy Is Good—Until It Isn’t

Stringy dough and bread that fights back is a good thing. Eat up. Stringy blueberry muffins that look a bit slimy and smell like bananas are not a good thing. Toss that out.

Know your author

Written by

Dann Reid is the author of Cooking For Comfort. He started in commercial kitchens at 13, washing dishes. Dann worked his way up to head chef, then head baker and pastry chef. Dann also worked as an assistant bakery manager for a major grocery store chain. Now, he develops recipes at home and challenges himself with gluten-free baking for a family need. Follow Dann at Culinary Libertarian.