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Old 12-13-2006, 10:39 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, 12:44 AM   #2
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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.

HEAVEN is Cade, Ethan,Carson, and Olivia,Alyssa,Gianna
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Old 12-14-2006, 05:40 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, 06:51 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
let me make sure that wine's ok before i use it.
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Old 12-14-2006, 07:27 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, 07:30 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, 08:15 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, 08:55 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, 09:04 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, 09:09 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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