The Fresh Loaf

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Coupla beginner questions

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VonildaBakesBread's picture
VonildaBakesBread

Coupla beginner questions

I am making a basic whole wheat bread. How do I tell if I'm adding too much flour in the kneading? I know I have added up to a cup, which is crazy. How do I handle the stickiness until the kneading smooths out the dough.

Why are they folding the dough prior to proofing in some of the videos? Just a form of shaping for the proof?

Ambimom's picture
Ambimom

The easiest way to control your bread baking proportions is to measure by weight, not volume.  Invest in a scale that measures both ounces and grams.  It should have a tare function.  The cost of such scale ranges from $20 and up.  There are plenty of websites that will do the conversions of the weight of one cup of flour, sugar, teaspoon salt, et. al.  Convert whatever recipe you are using (liquids and dry ingredients)  into these weight measurements to form your dough.

The advantage is your results will be more consistent.  When you measure by volume, you can be off by as much as a cup of flour, usually too much, and adding more when you knead will make for a rock, not a loaf of bread. 

Bread baking is a skill, and like any other skill, it requires practice to get good at it.   It will take a few loaves (...in my case, I had made about 20 loaves) to recognize whether  more flour or more liquid, or any at all is needed for a successful loaf.  You will learn to "feel" and "see" the right consistency. 

 They key to successful bread baking for me was that scale; and buying a thermometer to make sure the finished loaf was at least 200 degrees F.   I have my recipes down to a strict formula, and yet, depending on the weather I might have to tweak an ounce or a gram or two.

  

G-man's picture
G-man

It seems like an unnecessary addition to the kitchen on the surface, why spend the money if you don't have to? But the savings in time, flour, and headaches makes it more than worth it. The level of accuracy you get with a scale, while not absolute due to changes in humidity, temperature, the seasons, the phases of the moom, the planets falling in and out of alignment (ok, maybe not really the last two), etc. beats volume measurements so thoroughly it's ridiculous. For example, one tsp of table salt might actually be twice as much salt as one tsp of kosher salt, and one tsp of one type of kosher salt may be nearly twice as much as another type of kosher salt.

Arming yourself with a scale (Escali is a great brand, I use http://www.amazon.com/Escali-P115C-Digital-Multifunctional-Chrome/dp/B0007GAWRS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326400112&sr=8-1 that one) is probably the best way to improve your baking right off the bat.

G-man's picture
G-man

One cup of flour and another will not necessarily be the same amount, especially when you're using a different type of flour than the one listed in a recipe. When you want to tell how much is too much, go by what you know. Whole wheat is going to be a little more sticky/tacky than AP or Bread flour. You'll have to make the recipe a few times before you can produce a loaf by feel, according to what has worked in the past.

When it comes to adding flour to the dough while kneading to make it easier to work with, I would try to avoid that as much as possible. All of the flour you need should be in the recipe itself. There are a few circumstances where this isn't really the case, but again, you'll know those by trial and error really, knowledge of how dough should feel at certain hydrations and the description of how the dough should feel in the recipe itself. Some recipes don't have such descriptions. I'd shy away from those recipes until you learn more. Personally, I try to accept stickiness/tackiness until the gluten has developed as much as it can. If I do add any flour, it'll usually be while shaping.

Stretch and Fold, as it's called, is another method of assisting the developing gluten, just like kneading. It's considerably less work. Generally I'll knead my dough to get all the ingredients together and then switch to stretch and fold.

Darxus's picture
Darxus

I wish I remembered where I read it, but I saw somebody say a lot of people think you're supposed to keep adding flour until it's not miserably sticky to handle, and that's just wrong.  I was originally doing exactly that.  Miserably sticky is often good.  Depends on the recipe.  I've been doing 90% hydration whole wheat dough, which is almost as much like batter as it is like dough.  Before handling it, instead of coating my hands in flour, I run my hands under the faucet, so they're dripping wet.  I also handle it very little, a couple minutes of stretching and folding, which I'm not convinced is even necessary with the amount of moisture and time I give it to allow the gluten to build up on its own.  

The other option is to just suffer through the stickyness :)

There's a video somewhere showing wet dough handling.  Basically just accepting the messyness.

jstreed1476's picture
jstreed1476

In his book The Art of Handmade Bread (European title, The Handmade Loaf), Dan Lepard recommends what I call periodic kneading. That is, you mix the ingredients throroughly with your hands for a minute or so, scrape the dough off your fingers, cover the bowl, and let it sit for about 10 minutes. (I sometimes stretch this to 20.) After this rest, you knead briefly, and not all that frantically, for 10 seconds. Repeat that rest-knead pattern a couple of times. Then round off the dough, put it in a container to rise, and proceed as normal through the rest of the recipe.

He suggests a very light film of oil on the kneading surface, which I used to do but don't anymore. If I think it might be too sticky, I just set aside about a tablespoon of the total flour and use about 1 tsp per kneading session.

I don't use this method exclusively, but I can tell you that it really works well. It doesn't seem like it should--kneading a total of about 40 seconds spread out over a half hour?--but the results are usually very satisfactory. With whole grain recipes up to about 50% whole wheat, I usually extend the bouts of kneading to 30-60 seconds each, reasoning that the gluten is harder to develop in those doughs.

G-man's picture
G-man

That sounds a lot like what's called the autolyze step around here.

jstreed1476's picture
jstreed1476

at least as I understand the term. I've seen "autolyze" used to refer to mixtures of flour and water, and sometimes yeast, that are rested before adding other ingredients, most notably salt. Mixing all the ingredients and resting the dough before kneading is, in a limited sense, like an autolyze. I don't know if there's a good term to substitute here, but for my part I'd prefer to keep "autolyze" to its classical, Calvel-inspired definition.

Ambimom's picture
Ambimom

It works in the same way Jim Lahey's no-knead bread works.  If you let bread sit, the gluten will stretch on its own.  Lahey's bread is left unkneaded for 14 to 18 hours depending on the ambient temperature, flour, moisture, et. al.  

 I generally mix my dough and knead it by hand for 10-20 minutes until it is smooth and elastic; form it into loaves, put it in pan, and then leave it alone (covered) for at least 12-14 hours before baking.   I never use yeast, only sourdough for leavening.  

 Caution:  This is my method for the conditions in my home.  It works for me.  You have to find the method that works best for your conditions.   I happen to enjoy kneading because I like to feel the dough as it changes from lumpy, floury mess into smooth elastic bread dough.   I always knead in the same large bowl in which I mix.   I rarely (if ever) have to add more flour because I have worked out the proportions for two loaves (220 grams active sourdough; 880 grams AP flour; 540 grams water, 2TBS salt.)  I typically include bran and ground flax as part of the 880 gram measure of flour.   I prefer baking in uncovered loaf pans because it is easier for me to slice but I've made scores of free-form loaves in covered dutch ovens too.

 You have to experiment to get what sort of bread works for your life.  I haven't bought a loaf a bread for the past 5 years because this has become so routine and uncomplicated.