The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help! My bread is too flat!

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abovethelau's picture
abovethelau

Help! My bread is too flat!

Hi Everyone,

I was hoping someone would be able to help me with a constant problem I have been having.  I am relatively new to baking bread (I have been baking breads for about 6 to 8 months) but have always had success with every bread I have tried, whether artisan or simple, to a point.  The problem I keep running into is really wide bread.

Let me explain: Every time I make a round loaf my bread gets wider instead of getting taller (it gets tall to a degree but i still end up with a larger shorter round) causing my slices to be about 8 inches long but only an inch and a half or so tall.  Is there a way to avoid this and get more of a fully round loaf?  Do I need to use a mold in order to achieve this? I thought that I would be able to get a round free form, but it hasn't been working so far.  Is it possible that my bread is just too slack? I think its possible that the dough is too slack but it seems odd that it would happen to all my different types of bread and recipes I've used.

I currently have a poolish sitting out and would like to make some bread when I get home, so any tips would be greatly appreciated!!

Thanks for any help you can give!

- Laura

Neil C's picture
Neil C

While not an expert by any means, I've improved the vertical dimension through much tighter preshaping and shaping. 

Specifically, I try to gently tighten the outside skin . . . without impacting the interior too much.  David Snyder has some pictures which I wasn't able to find before responding.  However, he shows toothpick placed directly on the top of an unshaped batard.  Then, after the shaping, the toothpick lies about 75 degrees off to the side of the loaf (in the direction of the skin tightening.  In other words, he's significantly stretched the skin.

The key for me has been to tighten only the outside skin.  Otherwise, it diminishes the crumb structure.

 

abovethelau's picture
abovethelau

Thanks Neil! That definitely sounds like it could help my problem drastically.  I will definitely try it for this evenings loaves!

-Laura

Neil C's picture
Neil C

A few posts down from mine . . . by Chuck . . . refers to the pictures that Dave Snyder took and can be seen using the hypertext in his comment.

Good luck and enjoy.

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Also using a banetton, bowl, or whatever sort of "mold" you may have laying around is usually better than nothing.

Many, dare I say most, of the many impressive looking free formed loaves pictured here at tfl(the fresh loaf) were risen in/with some sort of mold, couche, etc.

But to reemphasize the earlier advice, conscientous shaping is also very important.

(And please, this is not to say one cannot achieve a satisfactory loaf without a mold. Just that all things being equal, a mold, of some sort, can help give a better result.)

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

As the process unfolds, the important parts that resolve themselves into a well-formed loaf are:

  1. flour choice
  2. kneading/development/autolyse
  3. shaping
  4. molding
  5. proofing
These are generalizations that hold for most breads; the variables are many; caveat emptor.
  1. If you choose a weak(ish) flour like AP flour, you may never achieve a desired result. Think about using a stronger flour, like bread flour.
  2. Stronger flour has more gluten, which will help your loaf hold its structure; but, if you don't develop the gluten by kneading, stretching-and-folding, mixing, (or my favorite) autolyse, then you won't have a strong internal structure (a "gluten skeletal system") to maintain your loaf's shape. Think of physical development as giving your dough a workout so it has the muscles it needs to be a bread (as opposed to a lazy, jellylike thing that doesn't keep a shape).
  3. Shaping is one of the hardest things to explain. Text and photography don't help much. You really have to see it in person (or on video) to understand what is meant by "creating surface tension". Do a search for "surface tension". You will find many threads on the topic. It's essentially stretching, molding, and tapering only the outer surface of a loaf so that the outer surface is strong enough to hold the shape of the bread you're trying to make. A good analogy is taping up a very full box for shipping. You don't want the contents of the box to distort the box itself, so you reinforce the box (the outer surface) so the contents (the inner stuff) don't distort the shape of the box.
  4. Yes, use a mold, a banneton, a brotform, couche (linen) in a bowl, etc. There's a limit of how much dough you can use and still get a nicely-shaped and risen freeform loaf. I find that much larger than 1-2 pounds (2 pounds is probably pushing it) and the result of freeform loaves is your result: flattened loaves. (It's not impossible to make large, freeform loaves, but you have to pay extraordinary attention to every step in the process that comes before).
  5. If you proof a loaf too long (overproof) (second rise is too long), nothing will save it from collapse. All of the structure you created by choosing the right flour, using good development practice (kneading, etc.), shaping, and so on will be lost if you proof your dough too long. The balloon, as it were, will have deflated. Pay particular attention to proofing time, room temperature (hotter means faster proofing, vice versa), oven preheat, etc. (Most overproofing is because people forget to preheat the oven and, while they're doing so, that extra 20+ minutes added to proofing weakens the loaf (overproofs it) and it spreads out or collapses on bake).
I didn't mention hydration, as that one's fairly obvious. If your dough is too wet, you'll know by default that your shape options are limited to slipper breads and the like.
GermanFoodie's picture
GermanFoodie

depends on the loaf and the kind of bread you're actually baking. Even if you are proofing your bread in a brotform before baking, it WILL flatten out somewhat on the baking sheet.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Shaping techniques (supported by flour, hydration, S&F, proofing, etc.) will form a "gluten sheath" that gives loaves the strength to hold their shape.  Here's a fine pictorial tutorial on forming loaves that may be useful.

But it may take quite a bit of practice to get there, perhaps even exhausting your frustration tolerance. If you try things, and they still don't work right away, and you're about to tear your hair out, use a mold  ...at least for the time being.

(It may even help a little more to shape the dough into the mold and put it in the refrigerator for proofing, then move it directly from the refrigerator to the oven. Cold dough holds its shape a little more; besides you only need a few minutes until the loaf shape "sets". The downside is it's awfully hard to tell when a refrigerated loaf has "proofed enough". But you may find the tradeoff worthwhile.)

(A "mold" may even mean shaping and proofing the loaf on a piece of parchment paper with rolled towels stuffed under both edges of the parchment paper to corral the dough. [This of course works best with longer narrower shapes, probably not with boules.])

abovethelau's picture
abovethelau

Thanks everyone for all your help and suggestions! I found a few videos and tutorials in addition to everyone gave me, I will be making some bread tonight and let you know how it turns out!