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Old 12-13-2006, 11:39 PM   #1
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Disheartened about baking...

I am not a novice cook - I've been putting some tasty food on the table for around two decades - but the art of baking bread eludes me! I have tried different flours, different methods, different temps, but the results are pretty much the same. Oh, my dough rises wonderfully for the first time, but after I punch it down and shape it, it seems to arrest in time and space. I usually put it in the oven anyway, hoping a miracle would occur, but so far my wishes have not come true. Bread comes out edible for an hour and then it becomes a weapon. There are no nice, airy holes inside, just a bunch of smalish ones, and the crust is too hard. Good for breadcrumbs and nothing else.

What am I doing wrong? I am determined to become a successful baker, and would appreciate any helpful advice.

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Old 12-14-2006, 01:44 AM   #2
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Biberche,
I love making bread, but, I'm not into the art of scientific ideas,this flour that flour..I do it just for the love of having that feeling of the dough in my hands. I've had some wonderful breads and again some that you could use for door stops..So all I can tell you is, that I've learned is from watching and trying all kinds of things..
After the first rise, I don't punch the dough down as if I were kneading it, I just gently fold it in to the center and remove from the bowl. I then shapre it put it into its' container, spray a piece of saran with pam and cover and let rise a second time, give the 2nd/ rise time, just set a timer and walk away..You can make your self crazy wondering about what you've done...I've also found that rainy overcast days the dough rises a little more slowly..That sometimes having the room to wram inhibits the rise, bread can be litke a 2 year old and try your patiences, but it is also forgiving, I've brken it down more than twice and each rise is a little faster..Just don't over do it. If you can't make time after that second rise, put it back into the bowl, cover and refrigerate til morning. Then let it come to room temp and shpe it and start rising again...There is a great book I use off and on ( Bread making made easy) forget authors name if your interested, let me know and I'll get it for you..Some of the other like ( Bread bakers apprentice) while I find fascinating, are so over the top in some cases, that they are a pain, but I tackle them now and then..Jacque Pepin has one for a slow long 5 hour rise 2lb. loaf that I love, I start it in the morning and play with it all day and it is well worth it..
If there is anything I can help with let me know. As I said, I'm a trial and error baker of breads, o can't get into all the number, equations and such..I find it makes baking boring for me.
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Old 12-14-2006, 06:40 AM   #3
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What recipe are you using? There seems to be a problem. Try a regular white bread recipe. One thing that is important in bread making is understanding what the dough looks like in various stages--smoothness ("like a baby's bottom"), proper rising, proofing yeast. Artisanal breads are much more demanding in making the biga or poolish. Have success in a loaf of plain white or partially whole wheat bread and then move on to other types.
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Old 12-14-2006, 07:51 AM   #4
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biberche - sounds like your main problem is not letting the dough rise enough the second time around. don't judge it by time, but by volume. and if you like really fluffy bread, let it go better than double (knowing, of course, that if you really go too far, it can collapse easily).

if your breads are too dry, you're quite possibly overbaking them. you can also wet & wring out a dish or tea towel and wrap the loaves in them while they cool, to prevent a little less moisture from escaping. you can also butter the crusts when you pull them out of the oven. after they are cooled, storing them in a plastic bag will soften up the crusts too.

bread making seems to defy any set of easy rules. candocook's suggestion to start with a simple loaf is probably wise, but in my case i have quite good results with just about any varietal or artisan type bread. what i still can't produce is a simple bagguette that satisfies me. go figure
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Old 12-14-2006, 08:27 AM   #5
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hi Biberche

As CandoCook says, post your recipe (including instructions). Then we can troubleshoot better. We've done it before and we can do it again!
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Old 12-14-2006, 08:30 AM   #6
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I'm like you Biberche, I can't make bread either. I have tried and tried. I now buy frozen dough. I would still love to know how to make a good bread tho. Something to maybe try again this winter.
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Old 12-14-2006, 09:15 AM   #7
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Until this last year, I felt just as you did. Completely disheartened by bread-making attempts! In a country where there's a bakery on every corner, this isn't necessarily a huge issue -- however -- not only had I married into a family with a tradition of making one certain kind of bread (tsoureki) at least once a year (Eastertime), I also have a daughter who's notoriously fussy at breakfast time but who'll eat this one type of bread with enthusiasm. So, I got sucked into trying, yet again.

Exactly the same recipe as my sister-in-law and her aunt, and yet, boy, did we get different results, mine being, sadly, the worst of the lot. So I made it a mission to figure out just what was going wrong and rectify it, just with this one and only recipe. To date I've had something like 12 trials, each just adjusting one variable -- in ingredients or in procedure.

I had wonderful help via e-mail from one of the bakers at King Arthur who happens herself to really love tsoureki (and to have faced similar challenges) but I also learned a HUGE amount from the Paula Figoni book pictured here. I can't recommend it highly enough!

The things that can go slightly wrong in baking are numerous, and I was making plenty of small, but significant, mistakes. The good news is that I can now make tsoureki that's high and light and tender and delicious (actually it still has one particular flaw I haven't managed to yet lick, but the trials will continue after the holidays!).

I'm sure you'd rather have a series of quick hints rather than a book recommendation, but honestly, the information within the Figoni book isn't easy to condense into something smaller that would still be meaningful -- it's not overkill or only intended for professional bakers either, it's just a lot of fascinating stuff that nobody else really teaches you! (It's used as a primer in cooking schools for good reason).

My only thoughts regarding your specific problems are these: (1) that a first rising that's too fast / too energetic, can deplete the yeast's available energy, and, (2) if you're ending up with a bread that becomes 'a weapon' upon cooling (which I interpret to mean brick-hard and heavy?) with a dense rather than open crumb, I suspect maybe you're kneading in too much flour. Especially if what you're aiming for is the very airy/hole-y texture of the rustic breads which are all the rage these days, you need to know that those are made with doughs which are very wet and 'loose' -- a texture that scares novices half to death (myself included!) as it's so difficult to work with.

Meanwhile, book or not, keep trying -- don't give up!
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Old 12-14-2006, 09:55 AM   #8
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I personally don't do alot of baking...Howver I will share this with you for what it is worth...

Cooking is "recipes" that can be toyed with, adding this, a little more of that or less of this..which does not realy effect the outcome to a major degree.

Baking however are "formulas" that must be followed more precisely...

Go at your baking with this in mind and your baking skills will improve.
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Old 12-14-2006, 10:04 AM   #9
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Agree with Bob. Baking does require a certain adherence to rules and ratios. That said, flour in bread making is also subject to climactic conditons and sometimes needs to be increased or decreased. But shouldn't affect the rising as described.
Also a bread that is a weapon (and has already been described as not rising the second time) may also be a bread with little or no shortening, like a French/Italian "baguette". There is just a lot we don't know about this problem being described.
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Old 12-14-2006, 10:09 AM   #10
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Take heart

Don't be disheartened. You'll become a bread baker if you want to. You will soon discover there are proponents of at least three different methods of baking. There probably are officially recognized names for them but being an ignorant amateur I'll call them traditional, artisinal, and new wave.
  • Traditional recipes typically rise for a couple hours, then are "punched down," shaped into loaves, rise a couple more hours, then baked. Start to finish the process takes five or six hours. Very likely all your mothers yeast bread recipes fall into this category.
  • Artisinal bakers are well represented in the forum and those recipes will involve a starter dough, maybe called a biga or poolish. They rise more slowly, sometimes in the ice box, and the process usually takes two days. They typically call their recipes formulas and take them very seriously. There is a very helpful primer in pdf format from the King Arthur Flour folks here.
  • New wave bread baking may not really be a separate category but it's probably useful to consider it as one for the time being. It is well explained in a thread called NYTimes bread recipe--what fun. The dough isn't kneaded and, judging only from reading the thread, seems very forgiving in both ingredients and method. Gretchen et al; I mean no offense. Please don't be mad.
I mention these different methods because I'm pretty sure it will be helpful in the conversation to follow and because it might be useful for Biberche to choose one early on, as a starting point, or recognize which category the recipe she chooses to post, falls into.
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Old 12-14-2006, 11:18 AM   #11
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I think the skillet man has given a good synopsis. And his first kind of bread is what I am suggesting that the original poster try, if that isn't what it already is. I think it's pretty hard not to get a good result, if the yeast is fresh.
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Old 12-14-2006, 11:27 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Candocook
I think it's pretty hard not to get a good result, if the yeast is fresh.
Sadly, it's remarkably easy ... even with fresh yeast!
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Old 12-14-2006, 02:13 PM   #13
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Oh, Candocook, I do not even envision myself taking on an artisanal bread! I am shooting for basics here. And yes, the breads I am talking about are your basic "proofing yeast with some sugar and warm water, adding salt, flour and more water" type - no butter, no oli, no eggs... The most recent one was a recipe for a french baguette, which didn't move once punched, shaped, put on a baking sheet and scored. Yes, it was dense and heavy, not what I wanted. I let it rise for 1 hour the second time, several hours for the first time.

Kadesma, I studied languages and liberal arts in college, and believe me, I am not looking for higher math here! Though I am aware that baking is in fact chemistry (thanks, Uncle Bob!) I think that I have to go the route of experience, trial and error kind of thing. I am talking about different kinds of flour because I hear that from some bakers that the best flour is Canadian "Five Roses" and if that's not available then "Montana Sapphire". Everything else is poo-pooed. So, my pantry has a bag of "Gold" unbleached, "King Arthur" and "Montana Sapphire" (I just got it - I am gathering the courage to attempt this soon).

I actually managed to make a nice round bread once with a very wet dough - but that didn't ask for any kneeding, just vigorous stirring with a wooden spoon. Physically demanding, but saved me money from going to the gym! Maybe I do add a lot of flour - but it always says in a recipe to add enough so that the dough separtes from the bowl. And how do I handle a sticky dough with my hands?

Ayerton, I come from Serbia, so I understand the Greek culture around bread making. And yes, I also got horirble results from a very basic recipe. I have friends here who don't give bread making a second thought - they just whip it and it comes out great! My mother does that when she visits and I observe dutifully (I have been an apprentice since my teenage years), but to no availa - our loafs cannot compare!

I am grateful for all your advice and I will check those books out from the library (I usually do that prior to buying any cookbooks). Thanks!
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Old 12-14-2006, 03:11 PM   #14
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Biberche,
When I make foccacia, the dough is quite sticky, so i either oil my hands or I keep a bowl of very warm water right next to me and as I pat the dough into the pan I keep wetting my hands...
Having to add flour to the dough I just do a Tablespoon at a time..After I've done the loaf several times and get to know the "feel" of it you can just grab a handful and sprinkle on..
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Old 12-14-2006, 04:06 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Candocook
What recipe are you using? There seems to be a problem. Try a regular white bread recipe. One thing that is important in bread making is understanding what the dough looks like in various stages--smoothness ("like a baby's bottom"), proper rising, proofing yeast. Artisanal breads are much more demanding in making the biga or poolish. Have success in a loaf of plain white or partially whole wheat bread and then move on to other types.
Biberche, I began this post with a quote of Candocook's first post in order to expose this question. The "plain white or partially whole wheat bread" that I assumed he was referring to are going to include fats, usually butter. Recipes that include only flour, yeast, water, and salt (maybe a little sugar) look easier in writing but are less forgiving in execution and have much shorter shelf lives.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Biberche
Oh, Candocook, I do not even envision myself taking on an artisanal bread! I am shooting for basics here. And yes, the breads I am talking about are your basic "proofing yeast with some sugar and warm water, adding salt, flour and more water" type - no butter, no oli, no eggs...
Is the intent stated above to keep the recipe easy to follow and maximize the chance of success or, is it to create a very lean loaf ala french baguette?

On the subject of books, I would recommend The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.
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Old 12-14-2006, 08:10 PM   #16
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Skilletlicker, the bread I described is a basic recipe done by every babushka-wearing grandma in my part of woods - good, old, peasant bread. That's why I started with those, and not with sourdough and other breads which require a sponge, a starter, a mother, whatever. The basic bread is what I want to replicate, because I grew up surrounded by its wonderful aroma. Of course, I would love to learn more, get advanced, etc., but for now I'd love nothing more than to have the house filled with that unsurpased smell of freshly baked bread (not necessarilly in the morning - I am not that motivated!)

Working with the yeast dough is a true basic for many of my compatriots, who, on the other hand, cannot make more than 5 different meals altogether. I don't wan't to be competitive, but I'd like to add that baking skill to my unofficial resume of a decent home cook.

I have gathered a lot of information from all of you and I will try to make a decent loaf pretty soon. Thanks!
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Old 12-14-2006, 09:49 PM   #17
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Biberche, Sorry to read you are having problems with Bread Baking. I am new to the DC but I did submit an article on Great Homemade Bread Using Your Food Processor. I don't know where it is on the DC Forum. Perhaps you could locate that article?
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Old 12-15-2006, 03:27 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Biberche
Skilletlicker, the bread I described is a basic recipe done by every babushka-wearing grandma in my part of woods - good, old, peasant bread. That's why I started with those, and not with sourdough and other breads which require a sponge, a starter, a mother, whatever. The basic bread is what I want to replicate, because I grew up surrounded by its wonderful aroma. Of course, I would love to learn more, get advanced, etc., but for now I'd love nothing more than to have the house filled with that unsurpased smell of freshly baked bread (not necessarilly in the morning - I am not that motivated!)

Working with the yeast dough is a true basic for many of my compatriots, who, on the other hand, cannot make more than 5 different meals altogether. I don't wan't to be competitive, but I'd like to add that baking skill to my unofficial resume of a decent home cook.

I have gathered a lot of information from all of you and I will try to make a decent loaf pretty soon. Thanks!
Biberche, I was only trying to help focus in on, as closely as possible, to the exact type of bread you wanted to make, so the forum could collectively offer the best answer to your original question, "What am I doing wrong?"
Please forgive any offense. It was not intended.
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Old 12-16-2006, 01:04 AM   #19
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I agree that it is a good idea to start with a very a simple white bread and go through the process by hand in order to get to know what the dough should feel like at any given stage. A very good book is the Laurels Kitchen bread Book, i dont think anyone mentioned it yet. The bread that requires mixing and no kneading is called a batter bread, I converted a type of bread called Sally Lun, which is a batter bread requiring no kneading, and it came out pretty good. I assume that is what the NY times recipe is. French bread baguettes are very difficult for beginners. The sometimes require a sourdorgh starter, and sometimes start with a preferment. The dough is very wet, and so hard to handle and get right. I really recommend starting with a standard white bread loaf.

I havnt in my experience found that bread can be over kneaded by hand, although I understand that it is possible using a machine.

1. The more you knead, the more even and finer holed the crumb will be.

2. Be careful of kneading in too much flour, even after kneading for ten minutes, it is better if the dough feel slightly tacky than bone dry.

3. When adding the flour to liquid ingredients, add only enough so that the dough can be lifted out onto the board enmass. If you want to you can knead the dough in the bowl a few times before dumping it onto a lightly floured board.

4. I bake at 350 for forty five minutes, but bakers yeast bread may take less time than sourdough, check after 30 minutes. If dough sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom it is done. Overbaked bread may have a very hard thick crust, but unless it baked for hours over the time, it should be soft somewhere inside. If it turns hard after baking, it sounds like it had too much flour mixed or kneaded in. Add only enough flour during kneading to keep it from sticking to your hands and no more. If you knead all the flour on the board away, it should still be tacky.

5. Fresh ingredients give the best results. Fresh yeast, Fresh flour. Flour can go rancid by the way, and could affect the baking.

Biberche, if you could post the recipe and exactly what you are doing, it may help to know what suggestions to make.
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Old 12-16-2006, 01:02 PM   #20
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No, no, no, Skilletlicker, I WAS not offended at all! I am sorry if I came off as arrogant, that was not my intention at all. Otherwise, I would not have come here asking for help! And help is what I need. I just wanted everybody to undestand that I was not attempting to produce a "La Brea Bakery" type of bread, just your most basic white bread that everybody seems to produce without thinking twice.

As for recipe, I go by my mother's guidelines: 1-2tsp of yeast proofed with 1tsp of sugar and some warm water, 250gr flour added when bubbly, together with 1tsp of salt and enough water to allow the dough to pull away from the ball. Kneed on a flour surfice to get a smooth, elastic dough, let rise till doubled, punch down, kneed gently, shape and let rise again on a baking sheet. Bake at 350F till done (the toothpick check).

I made buiscuits this morning and my southern husband approved:) I make pretty decent pizza dough. But bread seems to trump me every time!
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