How Bubbles Form in Batters and Doughs

This story is as old as the stalest bread, which is to say at least 14,000 years. The act of mixing flour with water, raising it with a leavener, and baking it goes back at least that far. The process is deeply familiar, yet most of us don’t know much about what is happening down in that mass of dough. Let me tell you, it’s complicated.

The science of doughs and batters can fill books upon books and still not cover all there is to know about how it works. So a relatively brief article like this one that’s focused on just one facet of a much larger story is guaranteed to have holes in it, which is fitting, because the subject here is exactly that—the bubbly spaces that inflate breads, cakes, and countless other leavened baked goods. Without the bubbles that aerate them, breads would be rock-hard lumps that we’d have to suck on in hopes of dissolving a bit with our saliva, and cakes would be dense and rubbery discs that might work best as drain stoppers.

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Ask people how air bubbles form in doughs and batters, and they’d likely say that yeast or a chemical leavener like baking soda produce gas bubbles that provide aeration. And they’d be partly correct, but the full story is more complicated—and more interesting. Why exactly do cakes have such fine, tiny bubbles while breads can have huge hollows in them? It’s not an easy question to answer, as doughs and batters are incredibly complex systems.

The importance of bubbles, though, isn’t just about the bubbles themselves, it’s about what they make possible. Only through an elaborate dance of a multitude of chemical and physical processes can a loaf of bread or moist cake exist. Understanding this science will not automatically make you a better baker (though it certainly can!), but it will help you understand why so many baking recipes work the way they do.

I want to take you on a journey to witness firsthand the lifecycle of bubbles in doughs and batters. To do it, we’re gonna fire up the miniaturization-laser of our imaginations and shrink ourselves down, Honey-I-Shrunk-the-Kids-style, to visualize the bizarro world of bubbles firsthand.

But First, What Are Batters and Doughs, Anyway?

Doughs, as you’ve probably noticed, are drier than batters. Doughs may be sticky, and they’re very much malleable, but batters are far more wet and flowing. This is because doughs have more flour than water, while batters have more water than flour. Doughs also tend to be simpler in terms of ingredients, often consisting of just flour, water, leavener, and salt. Many batters have several additional ingredients, including eggs, sugar, flavorings, and various sources of fat (butter or oil, milk, the egg yolks, etc.). Bread doughs, meanwhile, are more often leavened with yeast, while batters tend to be leavened by gas-producing chemicals like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

Yet all of this is a generalization. There are doughs with eggs and fat (hello brioche!), and batters that are little more than flour and water. Similarly, there are doughs that are raised with baking soda (they don’t call it soda bread for nothing) and batters teeming with yeast.

To put it bluntly, there’s more complexity and nuance to these categories of food than I can account for here, and many recipes exist on a spectrum somewhere between the doughiest dough and the batteriest batter. So, in the interest of getting the basic points across, we’ll be looking at the most stereotypical versions of bread dough and cake batter.

The Beginning of Bubble Life

Close your eyes and picture this: You’re inside a mass of bread dough that has just had its ingredients of flour, water, yeast, and salt combined. Stretching off in all directions are chains of gluten proteins that seem to go on for miles, so long they fade into the murky distance. You can see that the gluten proteins are just starting to bond with each other to form a network that will be critical to all that happens next. They’re going to give this bread dough strength and elasticity—which will be essential for trapping the gas bubbles later on.

You can also see starch granules everywhere, suspended in the watery matrix of gluten proteins like boulders tangled in an underwater net. They will eventually swell with water and later, when heat is applied, they’ll gel and set, turning a soft dough into something much more solid.

You can also see yeast cells beginning to feed. They’re eating the starch granules, digesting the glucose inside to generate energy and producing alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the process. Despite imagining ourselves at such a tiny scale, the carbon dioxide is still much, much smaller, and therefore impossible to see. The CO2 molecules are diffusing across the yeast cell walls into the watery solution that surrounds them—not as bubbles of gas, but as molecules dissolved in the water. The yeast will continue to eat the glucose in the starch granules and produce more and more alcohol and CO2, but it will take a while; they work slowly and are just getting started. Good thing is, in a bread dough, time is on our side: The yeast have a massive supply of food and there’s a lot left for the baker to do before the dough is ready for the oven.

Speaking of the baker, they’re about to do something important: Knead the dough. If you get motion sick, you may not want to imagine you’re inside the dough at this point, but a lot happens here. First, the baker is mixing the ingredients more thoroughly, distributing the starch, proteins, salt, and yeast more evenly throughout the mass, which will ensure a more even crumb later. All that mixing is also working the gluten proteins round and round, helping them to bond to each other and building an even stronger network to trap air. But there’s a third thing that’s often overlooked in the explanation of why we knead dough: Air pockets and bubbles are being worked into it.

Doughs and batters (and the finished baked breads and cakes) are foams, just like in this fizzy drink.

Without mixing and kneading, it would take longer for a yeasted dough to aerate, and the size and distribution of the eventual air bubbles will be more uneven in both size and distribution (some breads are kneaded minimally precisely to encourage large, uneven bubbles). By working air into the dough mechanically, the baker gives a jump-start to the aeration process, offering sites for larger bubbles to form throughout the dough, while also evening out the bubbles in the crumb.

At the same time, the dissolved CO2 that’s being excreted by the yeast is diffusing through the water in the dough. Anywhere these dissolved CO2 molecules encounter an irregularity in the mass of dough—and there are irregularities everywhere, from the varied shapes of starch granules to impurities in the dough and bits of salt—they will gather and cluster to form the teensiest, tiniest bubbles. This is the same thing that happens in a glass of beer or soda, where microscopic irregularities on the surface of the glass provide nucleation sites, as they’re called, for bubbles to form, eventually break free, and float upwards.

The big thing to know here is that in a dough, there are two pathways for bubbles to form: Larger ones of atmospheric air (mostly nitrogen and oxygen) that are incorporated mechanically when the dough is mixed and kneaded, and miniscule ones of CO2 that are forming at nucleation sites throughout the dough. Additional dissolved CO2 will find its way as it travels through the watery phase of the dough to these bubbles, where it can then escape into them as a gas.

Let’s now move by power of imagination into a batter. Sploop. We’re now bobbing in a thick slurry that was stirred together just moments before. Here, you have a lot more water along with several other ingredients—dissolved sugar, eggs (including emulsifier-rich yolks), fats, flavorings (is this a chocolate cake? Let’s pretend it’s a chocolate cake—I can definitely see chocolate now!), and even more fats, sugar, and proteins from milk. Gluten proteins float through the swampy mix with us, but they seem to be struggling to form much of a network—the fats in the batter appear to be attracted to the gluten proteins, and they’re getting in the way of the kind of gluten-to-gluten bonding we saw in the dough.

In this swampy batter, we see no yeast. Instead, there’s a chemical fizzing away: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), which has wasted no time reacting with acids in the batter. The byproduct, once again: CO2. The whole pace of activity is different here. Unlike the snail-like pace of the yeast in the dough we were just in, the baking soda in this batter is just going absolutely nuts. One thing is clear: batters like this one are developing on a much shorter timescale than doughs—there’s no time to wait for yeast to slowly build up a supply of CO2, it’s being created in much greater quantities by the baking soda as soon as the batter is mixed.

Swimming through this slightly viscous batter, we can see the lingering effects of the mixing that the baker did right before we dropped in: the mixture is homogenous, thanks to all that mixing, and little bubbles of atmospheric air are suspended in the floury soup. In this way, the batter is very much like a dough. But, unlike a dough, gluten didn’t really have much of a chance to form here—there’s no elastic network of wheat proteins to trap air nearly as effectively as in a dough.

From the beginning, these batter bubbles tend to be smaller than what we saw in the dough. That’s because batters are rich with emulsifiers from egg yolks and other ingredients that work as surfactants to help form a stable shell around the bubbles—the more emulsifiers there are, the smaller the bubbles can be. If our baker were to reduce the amount of emulsifiers in the batter, we’d see larger bubbles because there simply wouldn’t be enough surfactants available to cover the increased surface area of smaller bubbles.

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Aside from these differences, the processes we’re seeing in a batter are largely similar to a dough: the dissolved CO2 created by the baking soda diffuses through the water phase of the batter, nucleating on physical imperfections to form the tiniest bubbles, while mechanically-incorporated air provides a bubble-boost to further aerate the batter.

With the bubbles formed, it’s off to the races. For bread, this will be a long-distance run. For the batter, it’s more like the 100-meter dash. But there’s no need for a winner here, we’ll get our delicious and airy baked goods eventually.

Let’s stay in the batter for a moment, because some interesting things are happening here in the short time we have before baking. As I described above, we’re floating in a more liquidy medium, rich with egg and wheat proteins, emulsifiers, starches, sugars, baking soda, flavorings, and, at this point, lots and lots of tiny bubbles.

Because of the relatively lower viscosity of the batter compared to the dough, the bubbles are moving around much more easily, and they’re moving up due to their buoyancy. At the surface, bubbles pop and release their gas into the air, like sulphur burbling up through a muddy geothermal spring (thankfully, minus the sulphur part). The batter is degassing much faster than the dough—it has no good way to truly trap the air bubbles the way a stretchy dough can. It can slow them down, but they’ll eventually find their way to the surface and out into the air. Hence why we need to bake the batter sooner rather than later.

* Okay, okay, that’s a cop-out. Want to know why smaller bubbles have higher pressure than larger ones? Mostly, the answer has to do with the surface tension of the bubble’s shell: Smaller bubbles have a more extreme curvature than larger ones, and more curvature puts the bubble under more pressure, similar to how a tiny balloon is so much harder to blow up than a large one.

All of this coalescing and ripening drives the bubble structure towards an equilibrium in bubble size. At the same time, there’s an upper limit on bubble size in a batter. The reasons are many. Part of it is just time—a batter, being a shorter-lived foam compared to a dough, has less time to amass larger bubbles. Part of it is buoyancy: As bubbles become larger, they float to the surface more quickly, exiting at the surface of the batter. Bigger bubbles go bye-bye more quickly.

But another big part of it is the nature of the surrounding batter slurry, and once again we get to a fundamental difference between doughs and batters here. In a dough, the air is trapped in a strong but elastic gluten network that can swell and swell as the bubbles collect more gas. In a batter, though, there’s no significant gluten network to trap the air. Instead, the bubbles are held stable by the emulsifiers in the wetter batter, and there’s a threshold at which a bubble in a batter just can’t get any larger or it’ll pop due to instability. Plompfffffffff-blub, I think, would be the appropriate sound to imagine here.

The dough, meanwhile, is growing much more slowly, the gluten network expanding like a bunch of rubber balloons to contain a greater quantity of air as the yeast produces more and more of it. While coalescing and Ostwald ripening can happen in a dough, it’s much less frequent due to the lack of mobility of the bubbles in a lower-hydration mass of dough; on top of that, the gluten network acts like barriers for bubble crowd-control, making it more difficult for those bubbles to interact freely. So much of bread-making at this point involves the baker, who can influence bubble size and distribution with a variety of techniques, from a very hands-off no-knead approach for bigger, more uneven bubbles to methods that involve active folding, punching down, slapping, and more, to divide bigger air bubbles into smaller ones while improving the evenness of their distribution.

Immortality (-ish)

It’s time to bake. Thankfully, one of the benefits of imagining we’re inside bread dough or cake batter is we can stay “inside” during baking without actually being roasted to death. Our batter has now been transferred to cake pans, our bread loaf is formed, fully proofed, and ready to go into the oven.

For cake batter, the oven temperature is generally a cooler 325°F or so. Bread goes into hotter ovens of at least 400°F, sometimes much hotter (think: Neapolitan pizza in an 800°F oven). Why the difference? With bread, we tend to want a dramatic and rapid oven spring, the dramatic increase in volume mostly caused by steam as the water in the bread vaporizes in the heat—once the exterior dehydrates enough to begin forming a crust, it won’t allow much further expansion. This is also why breads are often baked with steam or spritzed with water in the beginning stages, to stave off crust development and allow more oven spring.

Cakes, on the other hand, do not require as dramatic of a rise, nor do we want them to form tough crusts, hence the lower oven temperature. Plus, cakes, with their finer bubble size, tend to be more dense than breads, so it takes heat longer to penetrate to the center; if the oven were too hot, the cake would harden on the exterior and still be raw in the middle. More moderate heat helps the cake cook through without over-baking on the outside.

Here, once again, we need to stop and appreciate one of the most important transformations that happens in the whole life story of the bubbles in these baked goods. Up until this point, the bubbles in both cases were forming what is called a closed foam, meaning each pocket of air is discrete and cut off from the rest. Think of the unbaked bread or cake like a huge house with tons of rooms (the bubbles) that each have an explosive device in them. Before baking, all the rooms have all their doors closed. If we were to light a fire in one room, it would eventually cause the explosive device to combust, blowing the door right off its hinges and opening the room up to the next. The heat would then rush into the next room, build, and blow the next device, and on and on until almost no rooms have doors anymore.

The same thing happens in a mass of batter or dough. As heat enters, starting from the outside and working its way to the center, water begins to vaporize and form steam, expanding a whopping 2000 times in volume compared to its liquid state. The bubbles expand, and then they burst into their neighbors’ spaces, in a chain reaction of ruptures and explosions that drive heat much more rapidly towards the center, speeding up cooking, and turning the baked goods into open foams.

Which is to say, by the time they’re baked, breads and cakes are no longer filled with thousands or millions of little bubbles, but rather one huge bubble that snakes and weaves its way through the crumb.

Up until baking, the bubbles in our batter and our dough had acted as a kind of internal support structure—in a sense, the bubbles were a solid framework holding up the liquid substance filled with starches and proteins. But as the bread and cakes cook, the starches gel and, in the case of egg-enriched batters, the egg proteins denature, firming up the crumb and setting the baked goods in their final solid form.

Once they’re cooled, as the accumulated gas and steam that provided so much expansion just minutes before drift off into the atmosphere, the loaves and cakes will not collapse. The bubbles that formed them have been immortalized in a final casting. Well, as final as any cake or bread will ever be, anyway, because I’m hungry. Can I interest you in a slice?


  • Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (Scribner, 2004)
  • F. Ronald Young, Fizzics: The Science of Bubbles, Droplets, and Foams (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011)
  • Sidney Perkowitz, Universal Foam: Exploring the Science of Nature’s Most Mysterious Substance (Anchor Books, 2000)

Shape and size

One of the quickest ways to gauge the proof on your baked bread is to take a closer look at the shape and size of the loaf.

Left to right: over proofed, properly proofed, and under proofed

What to look for in an under proofed loaf

One of the most common traits of an under proofed loaf is uncontrolled tearing in the sides. Because the yeast still has too much fuel when it hits the oven, the loaf will continue to rise once the crust has already begun to form, which causes ripping and bursting in the sides from the excess CO2 escaping from the loaf.

Under proofed loaves often have a considerable amount of height because of this massive expansion in the oven, but the overall shape tends to be uneven, and generally without a good ear where the dough was originally scored. Under proofed bread is often smaller in width and length, due to a lack of proper development during the proofing stage.

What to look for in a properly proofed loaf

A loaf of bread that has been proofed for the correct amount of time will retain its shape in the oven, and expand evenly in both length and width. It will also have a good oven spring, and is more likely to develop a beautiful ear.

What to look for in an over proofed loaf

Similar to the signs of over proofed dough, an over proofed loaf will be very flat, without much rise or retention of shaping. Over proofing destroys the structural integrity of the bread, so loaves that have gone over are unable to hold their shape in the oven.

Color clues

The color of your loaf can also give you hints about whether your dough has been over proofed. The fermentation process eats up the available sugars in the bread, so when that process has gone on too long and there is not much sugar left in the dough, it is much harder for the crust to properly caramelize and brown in the oven.

Properly proofed dough has enough sugars remaining in the dough to produce a beautiful brown, crackly, caramelized crust.

Crumb structure

The last place to look for indicators of proofing levels in your bread is the crumb structure. The interior of your bread can tell you a lot about the fermentation, and proofing of the loaf.

Left to right: over proofed, properly proofed, and under proofed crumb structures.

The crumb structure of an under proofed loaf will be tight and gummy. Because it was not given enough time to develop and trap CO2 gasses, the crumb structure will be very dense, with uneven air bubbles.

Properly proofed dough will be much more consistent in structure, with a soft and fluffy interior, and larger, but more evenly dispersed air bubbles present in the crumb.

Over proofed bread is likely to have a very open crumb structure, due to the development of excess CO2 during the proofing stage.

Sneak Peek: Shaping dough is important, even when using a bread machine. Read why and learn how to shape a simple sandwich loaf.

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Are you a stuffer or a shaper when making a loaf of bread? Do you plop the dough in a loaf pan and give it a couple of love pats, or do you show it love with gentle discipline, patience, and guidance?

Whether you mix and knead your bread dough using a bread machine, a stand mixer, or by hand, shaping the dough improves the crumb texture, the crust, and the overall appearance.

If you want to shape dough for something other than a loaf pan (a braid, a boule, a batard, etc.), I have included pictures and instructions for shaping inside most of the 65+ bread machine recipes on this website.

The best time to shape dough

If you use a bread machine, choose number one or two below.

Shape after removing the dough from the bread machine at the end of the DOUGH cycle. (My preferred method)

The DOUGH cycles of various bread machines come in many configurations. For example, your bread maker may include a preheat phase, a resting phase, mixing phase, a kneading phase, an add-in phase, and at least one or two proofing phases.

Regardless, let your machine process through all these phases until the DOUGH cycle is complete, with one exception. Bread dough should be double the original size at the end of the DOUGH cycle. During hot weather, check the dough with the “poke test” before the end of the DOUGH cycle as you may need to remove the dough early to prevent over-proofing.

Other times, your dough may rise slowly. Leave it in the machine until it doubles in size, but not more. Over-proofing is undesirable but fixable.

If using your machine for baking the bread, remove the dough and shape before the final proof.

After you pull the dough out of the machine onto a floury surface, shape it, and replace the shaped dough into the bread machine.

Figuring out the best time to remove the dough can be tricky. Read your bread manual to figure out when is the right time.

You can see an example here of bread dough pulled out of the machine, shaped, and replaced back into the machine to bake.

How shaping dough makes an amazing difference

Compressing the gas bubbles affects the final appearance and the crumb (more about the crumb below).

Surface tension refers to the tightness of the dough at the surface of your loaf. It helps the bread retain a pretty shape as it bakes.

Finally, the oven spring is the burst of expansion that happens when the loaf hits the high heat of a preheated oven. Without much oven spring, you will most likely have a dense loaf.

The unshaped dough on the left has no surface tension. The dough was not stretched. Instead, the dough was stuffed into the pan directly from the bread machine.

Also, the gas bubbles created during the bread machine’s DOUGH were not deflated. The dough should have been gently pushed down to compress the air bubbles. The large air bubbles at the surface may result in uneven browning.

The dough in the middle was lightly kneaded, then shaped like a big dinner roll. You are looking at the underneath side. I pulled the outer surface from the top to the bottom and pinched it together.

Because I didn’t let the dough relax and stretched the dough too aggressively, the gluten tore on the right side in the picture above. This bread had a good oven rise due to the surface tension. However, it blew out on the left side (see the top picture), and the middle texture was unorganized.

The loaf on the far right was correctly shaped after a short relaxation period. Keep reading to see how I do it.

Shaping creates a structured and cohesive crumb and reduces large holes or tunnels.

Compare the three loaves of bread in the picture above. Do you see the swirl pattern in the shaped loaf on the right? Compare that to the loaf on the far left, where the crumb is random and uneven.

After removing the dough from the bread machine, I lightly knead the dough 4-5 times. Kneading is my method of “punching down” the dough.

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When you use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rectangle, the rolling action compresses the carbon dioxide bubbles produced by the yeast during the first rise. Be sure to roll over the edges, too. Rogue bubbles often hide at the perimeter.

Shaping produces a beautiful crust that is smooth, thin, and uniform.

One reason why the crust of bread baked in a bread machine is tough and thick is that the dough has not been shaped. When you stretch out the gluten strands during shaping by hand, the crust will be thinner and more pliable.

📌Kitchen Tips for shaping dough📌

  • Use a bench knife or scraper. This instrument is valuable for working with sticky dough because it keeps your fingers from touching the dough quite so much. The edge is not sharp like a knife but thin enough to portion dough.
  • Use a non-stick silicone mat as a work surface. Clean-up is a breeze. Throw it into the dishwasher when you’re done.
  • Allow the dough to relax if it seems uncooperative. Don’t forget to cover it with a tea towel. You don’t want dry “skin” to form on the dough surface.
  • Use a rolling pin to reduce rogue bubbles, especially on the perimeter of the rectangle.
  • Choose the correct size loaf pan for the quantity of ingredients. The dough should not fill the loaf pan more than halfway full.
  • I like USA baking sheets and loaf pans because my bread browns beautifully in them. They don’t usually need any oiling or greasing–the bread will fall out on its own. NOTE: The small USA loaf pans you see in the pictures come in a set of four and make the perfect size loaf for giving to neighbors who enjoy a treat but don’t want or need a 1½ or 2-pound loaf.

How to shape dough for a loaf pan

Start with light kneading (4-5 times). Next, fold the dough onto itself while pressing the bubbles out.

If the dough is bouncy and rebellious, walk away like you would with a toddler having a temper tantrum. Give it time to calm down, relax, and find a more compliant mindset. 15-30 minutes should do it.

Use a rolling pin to roll the dough into a rough rectangle. See those bubbles around the perimeter? Roll over the edge to get rid of them.

The size of the rectangle depends on the pan you’re using.

Use your hands or a bench scraper to roll the dough into a cylinder. Try not to stretch the dough. Excess flour on the dough can result in unattractive tunnels where the dough is rolled together.

Pinch the seams to seal the dough and prevent it from splitting apart as it bakes. Sealing the dough securely provides the all-important surface tension you need for a good oven spring and a beautiful loaf.

Place the unbaked loaf into your bread pan with the seam side down.

Use a flat palm to press the dough down so that the ends of the dough cylinder are equal in size. This action results in more uniform slices from end to end for sandwich loaves.

Cover the loaf and allow it to rise. Bake the dough in a preheated oven according to the recipe directions when it peeks over the top.

The shaping produced a beautiful loaf. A small amount of wrinkling is normal.

Parting Words: The final proof may be slower than expected when the dough is shaped correctly. The yeast is producing more carbon dioxide to refill all the tiny “balloons” you smooshed in the shaping process. Your reward for patience is a more uniform texture and better taste. I often say, “the longer your bread takes to rise, the better the taste.”

If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at Hope to see you again soon!

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Making cupcakes is something that you really look forward to. Not only are these tasty treats quite delicious but they’re also a great way to celebrate something special.

Some people bake cupcakes as a way to mark a special occasion such as a birthday. They can also just be good to have after a long work week when you need to enjoy some downtime with your family.

If you’re baking cupcakes and you had something go wrong, then you’re probably going to be a bit frustrated. When your cupcakes explode and you don’t really understand why, you’re going to be left scratching your head.

Why did your they explode like that and what can you do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again? Keep reading to dig into the details of why this sometimes occurs.

1 – Your Oven Is Too Hot

The most common reason why people have cupcakes explode has to do with their ovens being too hot. If you have the temperature set too high, then it’s going to cause them to go through problems during the baking process.

You can sometimes cause the outside of the cupcakes to bake way faster than the inside. When this occurs, the batter inside of them will start rising.

If the batter starts rising when the outside has already formed a skin, then the cupcake is likely going to explode. In all likelihood, that’s going to be the cause of your issue.

Sadly, some ovens have what are known as “hot spots.” What this means is that your oven might get hotter in certain places no matter what temperature you have it set on.

Some ovens are simply not very accurate about temperature settings either. The best way to fix this issue is to simply buy an oven thermometer that you can check.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of baking, then having an oven thermometer will come in handy. You can also check your oven for hot spots by laying out bread in your oven.

Essentially, you’ll be placing a loaf of bread on the oven rack and covering the whole rack. The bread should toast evenly if there are no hot spots, but bread that toasts way faster in some spots than in other spots will help to show you where the hot spots are in your oven.

2 – Leavening Agent Mistakes

The other thing that you need to look out for involves leavening agents. You use leavening agents, such as baking soda or baking powder, when making cupcakes.

If you make a mistake when measuring things out, then that can throw off how the cupcakes will bake. Using too much baking soda could be problematic, but using too little could also cause issues.

Even a simple mistake such as not leveling off your measuring cup or spoon could cause you to experience issues. Thankfully, this mistake is easily remedied by just being more careful.

Don’t get distracted and add too much baking soda or baking powder. Do your best to get the ingredients right so that your cupcakes won’t explode.

Also, you should always try to use the specific leavening agent that is requested in the recipe that you’re using. If you need to replace baking soda with baking powder, then you need to understand that the amount of baking powder that you’ll need to use will be different.

Sometimes it isn’t even recommended to replace baking soda with baking powder. Depending on what other ingredients are in the cupcakes, it might not work out properly.

Generally, it’s going to be better to take a trip to the store and buy any ingredients that you’re out of. That would be much less inconvenient than having your cupcakes explode and not being able to enjoy them at all.

3 – Mixing Issues

Mixing issues will sometimes cause things to explode when you’re baking cupcakes. If you weren’t very thorough when you were mixing the batter, then it’s possible that something could go wrong.

For instance, you might have lumpy parts of the batter that will get stuck toward the bottom. This can cause things to go awry when you’re baking the cupcakes.

Sugar, flour, and butter lumps can cause issues with your batter. You need to try to do the best job that you can to thoroughly mix it before baking your cupcakes.

Usually, something like this is only going to happen when you’re distracted or you try to rush through mixing the batter. Try to slow things down and be a bit more meticulous with your mixing next time just to be safe.

Final Thoughts

It should be possible to learn why your cupcakes exploded if you think about how you went about making them. It could have been something as simple as a leavening agent mishap, but other problems can cause them to explode as well.

You always need to be careful when you’re measuring your ingredients. If you make little mistakes, then it can throw everything off and cause various issues with your cupcakes.

Mixing the cupcake batter properly will also be of paramount importance. You have to ensure that the batter doesn’t have any lumpy spots since that could potentially cause the cupcakes to explode while baking.

If you did everything right, then it might be that your oven is to blame. Some ovens don’t do a great job of accurately regulating the internal temperature while baking, and this might mean that your cupcakes will explode due to the oven being too hot.

Buying an oven thermometer can help you to avoid problems like this in the future. If you do your best, then you should be able to avoid this issue moving forward.

Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.

The popularity of artisan bread is rapidly growing and along with it is the art of scoring or slashing bread dough to create various patterns from rustic lines to elaborate and decorative patterns such as wheatears or flowers.

But it’s not all about decoration, there’s also a practical reason for slashing dough too. So, what is the best way to score dough and why do we do it?

Bread dough is scored (or slashed) before baking to break the outer skin of the dough and allow it to rise up further as it bakes in the oven and without it bursting in the wrong places such as the sides. Scoring it also improves the look of the bread and helps to create more crust texture. It can be done with a tool called a bread lame or a knife.

Read on to find out more about everything you need to know about scoring dough, including; why we score or slash bread dough, easy scoring tips, techniques and patterns along with which pattern you should use for each bread type shape.

How to Score Bread Dough Before Baking

Scoring bread can be as simple or complex as you want to make it, the important thing is to do what you feel comfortable with and to perform each cut with confidence.

Bread dough is best scored with either a bread lame, a small serrated knife or a bread knife. A smooth-edged knife doesn’t work well because it can drag the dough causing some collapse in the bread structure.

It can be tempting to press down on the dough with your hand when you’re scoring dough, but try to just use your hand as a guide without putting any pressure onto the dough.

Make each cut with a quick and confident action without using a sawing action, this way the blade won’t drag the dough and you’ll have a nice clean cut.

At What Stage Should You Score the Dough?

The dough should be scored after it has been shaped and proved for the second time. The oven will need to be pre-heated and up to temperature when you score the bread so it can be baked straight away.

If you score the dough before it’s proved, the proving process will stretch out the cuts and they will be barely visible by the time the dough is ready to bake.

What Is a Bread Lame and How Do You Use One?

A bread lame is a type of serrated razor with a handle, some have rounded edges and some straight.

You don’t have to have a lame to make slash lines in bread, but they’re good if you want to make patterns which require a little bit more precision.

A lame is also good for controlling the depth of the score and for creating a rounded line, whereas a knife is really just good for straight lines.

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Why Do Bakers Score Bread Dough Before Baking?

We know how to slash dough, so let’s have a look at the benefits of dough scoring (apart from making it look pretty).

Here are the reasons it’s good to slash dough before it’s baked:

  • When you shape dough with a tight top the bread can burst open in parts as it bakes if the top crust isn’t broken first.
  • Slashing the dough allows the bread to expand and rise up as it bakes in the oven and before the crust firms up.
  • Bread which has been scored will have a more interesting and crispy crust texture than a smooth loaf.

Top tip!

Spraying the dough with water and/or using steam in the oven complements the scoring process by making the crust more crispy along with a glossy looking finish.

A moist environment will also help the dough to expand, especially if the dough has been scored.

Decorative Bread Patterns

Ultimately the pattern you choose as a home baker is entirely up to you, bread making is all about experimentation and each bake will produce unique results.

The images below show a # shape in a cob loaf (left), a lengthways slash on a tin loaf (centre) and a bloomer loaf with some slanted slashes (right).

The table below lists some bread types which generally produce better results if the dough is slashed before baking along with a good shape pattern to use for the best expansion:

Bread Types Which Don’t Need to Be Scored

Scoring or slashing bread dough doesn’t work with every bread type, here are a few examples of bread which traditionally isn’t scored and those which wouldn’t really work:

  • Any kind of flatbread or pizza dough (for obvious reasons)
  • Ciabatta loaves and rolls – traditionally have a smooth top
  • Focaccia – traditionally has dips or holes to retain toppings rather than slashes
  • Bread rolls for burger or sandwich rolls – work best with a smooth top
  • Brioche bread or rolls – have a smooth glossy looking top

If you’re looking to make bread for sandwiches with a square-ish top you don’t need to slash the dough, many wholemeal loaves have a smooth plain top. It’s really down to the end result you’re looking for.

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Using Flour to Create Pattens on Bread

  • Gently rub flour all over the top of the dough before scoring, this way the scored area of the crust will be a different colour.
  • Sprinkle flour over the loaf after scoring so that some collects in the scored areas
  • Use flour with stencils to create patterns such as wheat on top of the bread along – can be used as well as scoring.

Take care when using flour because it can burn when it’s baked if the oven is very hot or you’re looking to produce a very dark crust.

More Bread Dough Scoring or Slashing FAQ’s

What to do if bread deflates when you score it

When you slash or score bread dough there can be a slight deflation, especially if the dough has been proving for some time or large air bubbles have formed on the top.

If the dough does deflate a bit and there is still life in the yeast, leave it to prove for another 10 or 15 minutes to improve the strength before baking the bread in the oven.

How deep should you score or slash dough?

In general, a slash in bread dough should be around 1/2 cm deep. For slashes down the middle of a loaf or across a bloomer, a deeper cut works well whereas a shallower score works well for patterns such as wheat or flowers. Any cuts into the dough will expand as the dough bakes in the oven.

What does steam in the oven do for bread dough

Spraying water on bread dough before baking

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