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Bread density- Am I using too much water?

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Pland's picture
Pland

Bread density- Am I using too much water?

Hi everyone,

I'm new to this site...I'm an American expat living in Germany, which means I'm forced to eat all kinds of new, delicious food because most of my comfort foods are not available.  One of the staples of German life is the bi-weekly farmer's market.  This is where I encountered the most delicious bread ever made, and thus began my quest to copycat this recipe, because it's too expensive for me to buy twice a week.

The bread I would like to copy is soft and fluffy, with pieces of olive and paprika (bell peppers) throughout it.  It also has several herbs which I believe I've identified as thyme, oregano, and sage, and some coarse salt and sesame seeds sprinkled on the crust.

Here is the recipe that I tried:

  • 1.5 cups all purpose white flour
  • 1 tsp dry yeast
  • 1 tbs white sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup chopped black olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped red, yellow, and green bell peppers
  • 1.5 tbs butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tbs cornmeal
  • 1/4 tsp dried sage
  • 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme

Based on my results the first time, this time I put the yeast in the warm water first and added the sugar to it, and left it for 5 min. or so.  I mixed all other ingredients in a bowl, and then added the water, but didn't add all of it because the dough got too sticky.

My dough was slower to rise than I expected.  I let it rise 3 times, kneading it after the first 2 times.  After baking it at 375F/190C for about an hour, the middle was still dense and doesn't look done.  The bread is DELICIOUS, but I need to work on texture.

Can anyone give me some suggestions as to how to improve my texture?  I'm thinking that instead of not adding all of my water, I should have added more flour, because not adding all the water means I didn't have all the yeast or sugar either.  I'm also not sure how much water is added by using olives, bell peppers, and butter.

What about baking temperature?  Does my temp sound reasonable?

Any thoughts would be appreciated.  I'm a total novice!

fancy4baking's picture
fancy4baking

Hello, 

I don't know if i'm thinking correctly as i'm not familiar with cups measurement thing. But thinking of it, i tend to believe that you hae low hydration dough. The stickiness that you are describing maybe comes from kneading the dough with olives inside, which result in infusion of olive oil inside the dough. On the other hand, i can't see if you allowed your dry ingredients and water to settle and rest (autolyse) for some time before you proceed with everything else?!!

I do this kind of bread and with much higher hydration, but what i do is i mis flours and water (including yeast water) and allow to sit for autolysis for approx. 30-60 mins. depending on the ambient temperature. Then i add the salt and knead till gluten reaches moderate development, once it's there i add olives and knead on slow speed for about 2-3 mins. As for the seasoning, last time i made a new variation as herbs tend to inhibit the work of yeast and hinder development of gluten, so what i did is, i brushed the surface of the shaped ready-to-beke loaf with some (tiny bit) of olive oil and sprinkled the herb on top. Yes they got browned somehow, but that did not affect neither their flavor nor the texture of the crumb.

Pland's picture
Pland

Thanks a lot for your input.  1.5 cups of all purpose flour is roughly 185 grams.

As I'm new to bread-making, I didn't know about autolysis.  I just mixed my ingredients and got kneading right away.  Next time I will let it sit for an hour, like you recommended.

I'd like to change one thing at a time so I know how much each affects the outcome, so I'll try the herbs on top after I try it with autolysis, and adding the olives in a little bit later.

Thanks again!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Which is a little on the wet side.  (Take the liquid weight 118 or 120 and divide by flour weight 185 x 100 for %)  A stiff dough with AP (all purpose) would be around 50% or less so....  I think you should hold back on the water.  (I also think one teaspoon of sugar is more than enough or a half teaspoon of diastatic malt flour.)  Try mixing all the dry ingredients together with a fork (including soft butter not well mixed) and then add the warm water.  Use a tablespoon to remove two or three spoonfuls of water from the half cup of water. (or if you have a scale, use it for it is far more accurate. Start with 95g water or 52% )  Then when you need to add, you can do it one tablespoon at a time.  

Let the shaggy dough (no dry spots of flour) stand covered 30 minutes and then turn it out to knead.  The dough will be much more cooperative after the half hour wait.   You can add herbs anytime, now or after the first (bulk) rise, or even while shaping the loaf.  The steam during the bake will soften the dry herbs.  Go for one bulk rise to double volume, degas, rest 10 minutes, shape and allow a final rise.  Two bulk rises might be one too many in my opinion.

Mini Oven  (Sort of south of the boarder in Austria)

 

Pland's picture
Pland

Thank you, your math helps me understand what's going wrong.  I believe I definitely had too much water, and I will follow your direction when I make it again (hopefully this week!)

There are a couple of other things that I struggle with; one of them is wanting to be patient enough to let my dough rise properly, while not being experienced enough to know if I made an error that will prevent it from rising enough to begin with.  My original bread recipe predicted that I would need to wait about 45 minutes for the first rise and 30 for the second.  In total, I actually waited almost 3 hours, and it still didn't actually *double* in size.  In this situation, how long should I wait?  Should I trust that it will rise more, or have I likely done something wrong?  Bread-making teaches patience :)

My other challenge is with my oven, which is awfully old and definitely has an actual temperature lower than the stated temperature.  My understanding so far is that for soft breads, it's generally find to cook them on a lower temperature, until they're done.  Do you think my oven's temperature inconsistency could've contributed to my dense bread?  If my dough was too wet, would baking it longer ever make it look totally done inside?

I'm grateful that you experts out there are willing to take some time with a novice.  Thanks a lot.

 

Pland

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

whatever that means...   (oops, turning into a bread snob, forgive me :)   

I think you mean sweet bread requires lower temps because it tends to burn easily.  I generally aim for 220°C or a little more for white wheat, upon opening the oven, the temp drops a bit and finish off the bake with 200°C.  I got a cheap €5 spring thermometer hanging in my oven to help me out.  My oven tends to run cool.  It may also help to trap some steam in the oven during the initial first 10 minutes to help the crust stretch an expand.  Another "helper" is to score the loaf if the risen loaf feels strong enough to take it.  This directs expansion into the cuts.  Another trick is to cover (tent) your dough or bake inside a dutch oven or casserole trapping steam right next to the loaf.  You can find lots of info using the site search box.

Dense bread.  Could be a number of things, maybe the dough was over-proofed or under-proofed or maybe too wet, or bad gluten development, or not baked long enough, expired yeast, or or or.  Hard to say.  To get more info from your dough, when you bulk rise, look for a container with straight sides that can be marked.  Press the dough into the container flat and mark the level, then make a mark when it would be double.  Cover & Wait.   Another method is to pinch off a little bit of dough and squish into a tall narrow glass, mark and wait.  This is very useful for watching the dough as often with dough in a bowl, "double" is hard to guesstimate.  The little dough ball can be added back to the main dough and pinched off again for each rise.  Yeast likes a warm temp (24°C +) to rise quickly.  Slowing down the rise times is something many of us take pride in, adding more flavour to the dough and testing our patience watching the dough instead of the clock.   

Don't let your final rise double is the best advice I can give, save some of the rise for the hot oven.  The water inside the dough forms steam that collects in the tiny yeast gas bubbles expanding the loaf.  Hot oven in the beginning is usually good and you can turn the heat down after the initial oven spring, which normally happens in the first 10-20 minutes.  

Pland's picture
Pland

Haha, by 'soft' bread I was thinking about sandwich bread, as opposed to something like a crusty french bread... I read somewhere that for crusty french bread, hotter is better, but for soft sandwich bread, it's better to bake longer at a cooler temp.  I suppose really what they're referring to is crust, and that's not really what I'm having a problem with anyway. 

In any case, I baked it at 200C for 15 minutes, and then dropped off to 180C.  Perhaps that's too cool.  I'll try your temps.

I'll definitely rise it in a marked container from now on, too.  It sounds like I probably should've just been patient, and given it one good rise before shaping instead of two.

I'm sure you know that 24C is hard to come by in our little part of the world!  I let it rise in the cool oven with the light on for some heat, but it was nearly snowing outside....

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

:)   

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

techniques.  It does help a very wet dough develop into a decent self standing loaf.  (later)  You also might want to substitute milk for water and see how that softens your crumb.   :)

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

Hi. Just a note. As you are in Germany - what flour do you really use? Do you have access to american All Purpose or do you use standard German flour. Don't forget that European flour contain much less gluten and you have use less water to get the same dough consistency as in US. For only white wheat bread it might be around 55-60%.

As for you problem with rise time and dense spot in the middle, thy to change the brand of your flour and the yeast. It has happen to me several times that the problem was there. 1 tsp instant yeast for 185g flour should rise fairy quickly (usually 1 tsp instant yeast is used for 250 - 500 g flour)

zdenka

Pland's picture
Pland

I use standard German flour (weizen mehl).  It also comes in varying types, indicated by number.  This indicates the degree to which it's refined, I guess.  Starting out, I just chose the cheapest one.

I didn't know the flour here contained less gluten.  Sometimes searching for ingredients here and really knowing what I'm getting is difficult....my German is not very good.

As for yeast, so far all I've found here is dry yeast (hefe) that comes in individual packets containing roughly 2 tsp each.  All I know concerning yeast is that there is dry yeast, and fresh yeast.  You suggested changing the flour and the yeast...is there something I should specifically be looking for with the yeast?

Thanks for your help.

Pland

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

when using European flours. I'e had occasion to try out baking with American flour and it was really easy. But don't worry you can bake with German flours and still make beautiful and tasty breads, including sweet and sourdough.

I'd even say that it's much more about the quality of wheat than its gluten content. However you have to:

- use less liquid (by 10-15%) in comparison with US flours or - if you prefer looser dough - it helps tu refrigerate the dough overnight

- shorter kneading time

- avoid fermantation times longer than 24 hours (as in ABin5 or ABED)

I'm sorry I can't help you much with concrete flour producers. On internet I've found that e.g. Gloria and Aurora should be good quality flours. There may be others... But even here (in the Czech republic) I'd never use the cheap flours from Lidl or Penny for bread. For wholemeal flours you can try Alnatura.

As for the yeast I much prefer using fresh yeast as it's widely available, much cheaper and more "lively". Instant yeast can sometimes be quite old and week even if still within its shelflife. If you still prefer instant for the reason of convinience, try Dr.Oetker or Alnatura (Alnatura is available in DM drogeriemarkt and Healthfood stores).

You can also contact one of these bakers from TFL who live in Germany: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/profile/profile_location/Germany

zdenka

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Europe is a big place and flours will vary according to region.  I find that the high ash content (as indicated by higher number on the label) helps for long fermentation times and wonderful for sourdoughs.  I use a W700 or W900 or higher for sourdough but blend with the all purpose 450 for white yeast breads, Spar brand works just fine.  Rarely do I get a dry instant yeast that doesn't work.  Fresh yeast is sold in small cubes in the refrigerated section.  

One obvious differences in wheat flour is the German label "griffig" which is a coarse grind compared to the finer "glatt."  I will often use griffig in the main dough and glatt when working on the bench.  I am not using american flours.

kolobezka's picture
kolobezka

Thank you for your post, explanation and experience.

Yes, I also use any mixture of flours between T550 to wholemeal (T1800) usually with 20-40% rye and get very good results. But I've alredy come accross flour brands that made the dough more liquid or fall apart very early. It could also be just a bad harvest. But even with good flour - do you use less water than in usual American formulas?

I didn't know about 2 coarsness degrees in Germany. Thank you for sharing. We found 3 various flour coarseness here, but the finest is usually used for bread (sometimes a little of the second as well). The most "griffig" is meant mainly for dumplings.

You're right the problem with instant yeast happens rarely. But it does - to me it might have been 2 in 4 years of baking (well, in fact less, as I make 90% pure sourdough)

zdenka

Pland's picture
Pland

i.e., Do you think a coarser grind would help hold up vegetables better?

I may have had a problem with my yeast the first time, but it also could've been all my other mistakes ;)  Generally, I think I'll be fine with dry yeast for now.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Not at all.  I think you're coming along just fine.  Experimenting helps a lot changing one thing at a time to move foward.  I have to experiment with every new location to get my baking bearings.  

I haven't noticed the need to use less water in American flour recipes but I have also grown in my abilities to handle wet doughs possibly covering up the obvious.  I did notice that in baking cakes with American recipes, I've had to remove 1/3 of the AP flour and replace with starch (potato or corn starch) as the gluten levels were too high resulting in a rubber cake.  (Thanks Norm & Stan) I do give the coarser grind flours more autolyse time, or more time to soak up moisture before kneading.  

Eliminating salt from the basic dough (getting salt from the olives) will lead to a wetter dough as salt absorbs water & tightens protein strands in the gluten matrix.  So by eliminating salt in the dough, fermenting speeds up and at the same time, more available water is present and the dough will not rise as high.  If salt is reduced so should the water amount be somewhat reduced.  I am always reducing the salt in my American recipes and that leads me to slightly reduce the liquids but I never associated it with the flour being less absorbent.  Not yet...  I will have to devise a test... 

What do you think is the problem with the vegetables?  Do they sink? 

Broc's picture
Broc

Slicing into the bread soon after baking, while the bread is still warm, can result in a mushy interior.  Always wait an hour or so before diving in!  If you like warm bread... once your loaf has cooled, slice a chunk and warm it up in the microwave [or a toaster]...

 

~ B

 

Pland's picture
Pland

This latest loaf looked so much better coming out of the oven.....I was excited to dive into it.  Just before I did, it hit me that perhaps I'm supposed to let it cool.  Alas, I was right.  Luckily, I made the bread late at night, so I forced myself to just go to bed and get a piece in the morning :)

 

On that note, though- is one hour the rule of thumb, or am I just supposed to wait until the bottom has reached room temperature?

Olof's picture
Olof

Here are information about the different white flour types in Germany and their uses. I suggest you use type 550 instead of all purpose (type 405). All purpose flour has 10% protein, whereas type 550 has 12% protein which is better for bread. If you are not sure about what type of flour it is, just read the nutrion information on the packaging. I've never has luck with bread with bakers yeast from all purpose flour but it's wonderful for fluffy cream cakes. Even though your recipe is white flour only, it is still as rather heavy bread because of the vegetables so you probably need a stonger flour.

To add the olives and other vegetables, I suggest you do that when you shape your bread before the final rise. You flatten out the dough, sprinkle the stuff on top of the doug and then roll it up or fold according to your technique. As for dry spices/herbs, those should do fine in the dough from the start and they probably need the time to moist up, soften and give flavor.

Cheers,
Olof in Iceland

Pland's picture
Pland

I'm thankful for your knowledge of German flour!  These things are always more complicated for a foreigner.

On my latest attempt at this bread (which came out quite a lot better), I stuck the paprika pieces in the oven for a bit to get some of the water out of them, and added them and the olives after letting the dough sit (but before kneading/rising).  It definitely helped, and next time I will try even later, as you suggested.  Just to be clear, do you suggest kneading them into the dough, or just folding them into the middle?

I will get 550 flour before trying again, and for now I'll stick with the dry yeast.

Thanks again,

Pland

Olof's picture
Olof

I think it's a good idea to roast the peppers, it will also enhance their flavor.
As for kneading or folding: I guess it's up to you and your technique. If I was doing it. I'd flatten the dough, spread the vegetables all over, not just in the middle and then roll up the dough. Then I would flatten it again and shape in into a boule, like this
Then I would let it rest for 5 minutes and then tighten up the boule like this

If someone has better suggestion, I'd love to hear

hanseata's picture
hanseata

Being inspired by a certain bread you would like to replicate is a good start for learning how to make bread. But, in my opinion, you tackle just too many tasks at once. If you try to come up with an own recipe from the scratch, without having any bread baking experience, there are so many unknowns and variables that make it very difficult to find out what works and what not.

You don't know how your oven performs: is the temperature correct, or if, not, how much is it off? Do you have a baking stone, where is the best position to place it? Is your oven well insulated, so that it holds steam, or, if not, which tricks can you use to retain steam a bit longer? Do you use steaming at all?

You don't know your ingredients. As others mentioned, German and European flours have less protein. German Weizenmehl Typ 405 is good for making Brötchen with a fluffy, loose crumb, but not for breads. Typ 550 has the most gluten of German flours, but, with 10-12%, it is still more like American all-purpose flour (American bread flour has 12-15%). The reason why Germans consider Typ 405 all-purpose flour? They usually don't bake bread at home, it is all-purpose for cake and pastry baking!

You haven't worked with different bread mixing techniques that make it easier to achieve a well developed dough without long kneading. Using olives or other juicy ingredients is tricky, you have to know when and how to incorporate them. How do you judge whether water or flour adjustments are necessary? Or how the dough should feel like?

You have no experience how much, depending on the kind of dough, a shaped bread should rise - 1 1/2 times or 2 times its original size? - and when the right time is to put it into the oven (finger poke test - not kitchen timer or eye balling.)

At what temperatures do you have to bake which type of bread? The wrong temperatures can make a huge differences (thick, tough crust versus thin, crisp one), as well as steaming in the beginning of the bake.

How do you know whether your bread is baked long enough? Only a instant thermometer gives you an accurate idea whether it's done or not.

I'm asking these questions because I don't want you to get discouraged by failures you can avoid, if you have some better guidelines. When I relocated from Germany to Maine, I started baking my own bread, not because I was inspired by a great loaf from a local store, but, on the contrary, out of desperation because there was no good bread available at all!

It took me many months of trial and error to make a bread that was at least halfways similiar to what I had at home in Germany, producing many "bricks" on the way. And, only after I read some great books on bread baking, I realized what was needed to improve my homegrown loaf to make it really good.

Therefore I would strongly recommend that you start out with a proven recipe, either from one of the many instructive books (see recommendations in this website - I learned most from Peter Reinhart's books) or from of the formulas of TFL's experienced bakers, before you try to reinvent the wheel, and deal with too many confusing variables at once.

Happy baking,

Karin

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... but can I just add that I have to use Active Dried Yeast (or my own sourdough starter) as we can't get fresh yeast here.  You mention activating the dried yeast with warm water and sugar - then changed your mind on how much water to use, so didn't use all the yeast as it was already incorporated in the water. But you really don't need to activate the yeast at all - nor use sugar unless extra sweetness is required. Just add the dried yeast as a dry ingredient to your flour(s) making sure it is well distributed before adding salt. It will leap into action once you add your water to the mix. (Btw, I keep my dried yeast in an airtight tin in the fridge). Adding the yeast dry to the flour ensures you know exactly how much yeast you've added, and can change your mind on water quantity as you add it - so you can stop when the dough feels wet enough.

 

I don't think your dough was too wet - I make olive herb bread regularly using various brands of flour, and never less than 70% hydration.  Dense, or hard crumb is not a problem. You complain of how sticky it felt when you mixed - but that's quite normal.  As you work the dough, so it will firm up and become far less sticky and more silky to the touch. My foray into high hydration doughs really took off when I copied the method demonstrated by Richard Bertinet.  See here. Then you won't panic and be tempted to add extra flour which throws the whole recipe into chaos.

That you still had a delicious-tasting loaf at the end says you're doing a lot that's right, anyway!

jamesberry's picture
jamesberry

Hi, first of all buy a didgital scale approx 12 Euros from Lidl or Aldi.Forget the cups.rinse the olives in water,dry then cut in quarters.roast the peppers or use bottled preserved in olive oil and drain well.try increasing the dough content by 25%.using250 gms flour half tsp instant yeast or half a 25 gms pack of fresh (available from larger supermarkets) and165 gms of water(more accurate if weighed) make the dough by mixing all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl at least 3 times the size of the combined ingredients.Do not be tempted to add more flour.After 5 mins of kneading add 1 tsp of salt.cover  place in a lightly oiled container cover and leave to rise till twice the size. Now spread the dough out lightly into a rectangle 25 cms long 15cms wide.spread the olive pepper mix evenly over all the surface.Fold over as you would an envelope ie in 3 folds.Spread out again after 10 minutes and repeat the folds. this dough is now ready for cutting into whatever shapes you like then proving till almost doubled in size then baking.Brush lightly with olive oil after removing from oven .eat warm yum yum. all the best james