Whole Wheat Bread Raw from Bottom
This is my first post on The Fresh Loaf. I've been a regular (unregistered) visitor to the site for a couple of months and I've learned a lot about bread from these forums, so a quick thank you to all you helpful people out there.
Anyway, here's my problem: no matter what I do, my bread always comes out slightly raw at the bottom and the lower halves of the sides.
I've been baking bread for a couple of months now. I bake whole-wheat bread because it's healthier. I've baked only six loaves up until now so I'm still very much a novice at this. I would appreciate any help you folk could give me. I've searched the forums for answers to my questions but none of the information seems to apply (exactly) to me.
I will now attempt to provide details usually asked of people on these forums in order that they can be helped better. Sorry if it makes the post too long. Please feel free to skip any section if you so wish. I will describe first, the recipe, second, the equipment I use (including my oven) and thirdly, my baking results and problems. I've included photos where (I thought they were) necessary.
A. Ingredients -
I use a simple (not enriched or anything) bread recipe since I'm only starting out. I usually bake a single 500g loaf at a time. These are the ingredients I use:
- 500g whole wheat flour (not very rich in gluten, I know. But it's healthy, so I prefer it).
- 300g (or ml, if you prefer) water (approx. 60% by weight of flour).
- 1tsp active dry yeast (please see below in point 2 of the "Methods" section some notes on the yeast I use).
- 2tbsp vegetable oil for shortening
- 1tsp salt
- 1tbsp sugar (I add sugar only if I feel like it).
In terms of volume, I use 2 cups of water to just over 6 cups of wheat. However, I always measure the ingredients by weight just to make sure.
B. Methods -
1. Proofing the yeast: I warm the water till it's slightly uncomfortable to touch, then add the yeast and the sugar (or honey if I have it). Then I leave this mixture for about 10 minutes.
Note on the yeast I use: The yeast that we get here does NOT foam or bubble on being proofed. I've tried two different brands of active dry yeast that the shops stock over here and I've used yeast from different packets so I'm sure it's not a problem with a bad batch of yeast or anything. The yeast we get here simply doesn't foam like the pictures I've seen on the Internet. Instead, I see only a few small bubbles on the surface at the end of the proofing period. I'm sure that the yeast dissolves into the water properly because it does make it cloudy.
In an attempt to get the yeast to bubble, I've tried proofing for 10 mins, 15 mins and once even for 45 mins but no dice (I didn't use the 45 mins one because I read that proofing the yeast too long kills it). I've also tried adding extra food for the yeast like honey and sugar but I still can't see lots of bubbles. Nevertheless, dough made with this yeast always rises so I guess it's okay. I'm just putting this down here in case this may be contributing to my problem.
2. Making the sponge: Once the yeast has proofed, I make a sponge. I add an equal amount of flour to the yeast and water mixture and stir it till it forms a gooey paste. So, if I'm using 300 ml of water (2 cups), I put in 300g whole wheat flour (just under 4 cups) and stir it (I add the remaining flour in the kneading step). Then I leave this mixture to double. Since I usually add only 1tsp of yeast (half of what most recipes online call for), it takes a long time (max. 6-8 hours) for the sponge to double. I don't place it in a warm place, just an area of the kitchen that's draft-free. If you're wondering why I don't add more yeast, it's just because the dough smells too strong for me if I do (I've got a very sensitive nose).
3. Kneading: once the sponge has doubled, I slowly add in the remaining flour (about 200g or 2.5 cups) while kneading the dough. I do all my kneading by hand because I don't have a bread-maker (and it's more fun getting your hands dirty! :) ) I knead for about 20 mins till the dough is smooth and somewhat shiny. I also use the windowpane test and the finger-poke test to tell that the kneading is done.
4. Second rise: once the dough is ready, I make a ball, stretch it and pinch the sides down under the bottom, coat the entire surface lightly with oil to prevent it from drying out. Then I leave it to double in size. This usually takes about 4-5 hours to happen (probably because of the small amount of yeast I'm using). Again, no special heated environment, just a draft-free corner of the house.
5. Shaping: once the dough has doubled, I knead it again for about 10 minutes. I've read conflicting advice on kneading at this stage. Some people say kneading at this point will de-gas the dough and prevent it from rising but I knead it all the same. Sometimes, I add raisins to the dough at this stage. After shaping the dough (again stretching to maintain surface tension and pinching at the bottom), I put it in my baking pan. Then I leave it for the final doubling. This takes another 2-3 hours.
6. Third rise and baking: After the bread has doubled and is peeking an inch or so over the top of the pan, I put it in the oven. I bake the bread at 150 celsius. I've tried 200, 160, 130 and 140 degrees celsius but I get the best results at 150. Before putting the bread in the oven, I preheat it to 150 degrees. The bread usually takes about 45 minutes to bake. I start getting that wonderful bread-baking aroma after 25 minutes of baking. Some notes on this time duration in point 2 of the "Results and Problems" section below.
I have a convection oven. Some important notes on my oven in point 2 of the "Equipment" section below.
1. A pair of hands :) like I said, I do all my kneading by hand.
2. Oven: I have a CONVECTION oven. It's actually a microwave oven with a convection mode (in which the microwave part is not used). The oven is quite small and has ONLY ONE heating element on the top. There are fans on the sides that circulate the air around the chamber. I usually place the bread pan on a grill so that the hot air flows under the pan as well. Here are two pictures so you get an idea of the size of the oven (I bake the bread in a pan. I've put it directly on the grill only to give you an idea of the relative size of the oven):
Now, a close-up:
3. Bread Pan: I use an aluminum bread pan to do my baking in. I've also tried baking on a flat surface but the bread pan maintains the shape of the bread (during the final rise) so I prefer to use it. Here's a picture:
III. Results and problems:
1. Sides and bottom not fully cooked (slightly moist): this is the major problem I have. Here's a picture of the bread so you can see (sorry for the mess on the table):
The sides look (and taste) slightly uncooked no matter how long I bake the bread. I usually go as long as 45 mins to 1 hour but the only thing that happens is that the crust becomes too hard. It's as if the dough at the bottom doesn't rise at all. I can't tell if it's because:
- of the pan I'm using. I've also tried baking on a flat, open surface but the bottom and lower half of the sides still turn out the same way.
- of my oven. There's only a single heating element on the top so maybe the bottom of the pan doesn't get hot enough? To alleviate this problem, I tried placing my pans on a grill so the hot air can flow under the pan as well. But I still get the same results.
2. Crust too hard: Because it always takes so long for the sides and bottom to cook, the crust is usually hard (and a little burnt) by the time the baking is done (and even then, as I said above, the bottom and sides aren't fully cooked. :( ). Here's a picture. The crust is extra dark because I glazed it with milk while baking and the black thing is a raisin:
I've also tried glazing the top of the bread with milk and water while the bread is baking (I just open the oven door, coat the water/milk on and close the door) in an effort to keep the crust soft. However, with all the time the bread takes to bake, the crust is always hard by the time I'm done. I've read that hard crusts usually indicate a problem with the oven heating, and maybe the fact that the heating coil on the top of the oven is only about six inches from the top of the bread is a problem... Anyway, I've tried so many temperatures while baking and nothing has helped. My gut feeling is that if the sides and bottom didn't take so long to cook, the crust would be just fine.
3. Dense: Here's a close-up of the bread so you can see its texture (the black thing in the center-right of the bread is a raisin):
It's closer to cake than to bread LOL. I've read that high density is usually a result of adding too much flour but I stay strictly within the limit prescribed in recipes (water is 50-60% of whole wheat flour by weight). In fact, the bran in the whole wheat flour is usually good at absorbing excess water, so I don't feel the need to add extra water. My bread is still dense though. Can't quite explain it. Is it because I'm using too little yeast?
Well, thanks for your patience and for reading this far. If you have any advice or suggestions, I'd be most happy to hear it.