hello everyone!! i'm new here and i need some advice!! i'm new to yeast bread baking and my loaves always come out heavy and dense!! what am i doing wrong?? is there a secret to a light, fluffy loaf? thanx!!
If you want a real fluffy loaf, try using high gluten flour, or you can add some vital wheat gluten to the dough to get the same effect. I usually use wheat flour for the preferment and high gluten flour for the rest of the dough.
There were two items that plagued me: I tended to use too much flour in my kneading process and I failed to allow my dough to rise fully before I punched it down. I think I need to add a third item; also, I did not allow my yeast to grow sufficiently in it's little warm water pool. It would take me years to learn that by adding a pinch of sugar to that water, and dissolving it, I could get greater yeast growth.
One last thing....be careful to not add your yeast to water that is HOT....it can kill the yeast and really put a damper on your bread making.
Try not to fret; the frustrations of early bread making will do one of two things:
Kill your interest in developing your baking skill, or....
Set you on a path of enlightenment that will have you singing the phrase, "Bread is my journey".....
Don't give up; this wonderful group of bakers is determined to help you find your way. After all, each of us began in a likewise manner.
You can do this!
When I was a kid, we used to smoke grapevine on campouts. We never imagined it would get you high, we just thought smoking would be cool, and we couldn't afford tobacco.
Anyway, Grapevinetx isn't smokin' grapevine. It's good advice that I would modify only slightly.
The biggest problem I see with beginning bakers is a tendency to add too much flour to a recipe. Many beginning bakers have a fear of sticky dough. I don't know why, even though I was there once. It's just flour, water, salt and yeast - it isn't going to eat you or dissolve your flesh. Too many cookbooks use language that make you think your dough should be smooth, shiny, satiny, supple and not sticky. When you get to not sticky your dough is too dry. WAY too dry. And asking yeast to raise it is like asking a soccer mom to lift her SUV. So, shoot for tacky dough, dough that would rather stick to itself than to you or the work surface.
Also, if your definition of light fluffy bread is like the stuff in the grocery store, I'll politely suggest you just go to the grocery store and buy it. Making a bread like that is surprisingly difficult. Kinda like home brewers trying to make a standard American yellow beer. It's not easy making a beer with so little taste.
Home made bread should have more taste and texture than store bought bread. That doesn't mean it has to be "hippy health bread" or "hippy lead bread".
The learning curve is not helped by recipes that measure flour in cups. Flour can be compressed, so the amount of flour in a cup can vary tremendously depending on how it is filled. If you have a recipe that calls for a range of cups of flour, such as "4 to 6 cups of flour" start at the bottom end of the range. If you have a recipe that calls for a certain amount of flour, such as "8 cups of flour" start with half to 2/3 the amount called for. Stir the dough by hand using a wooden spoon adding flour until the dough is too stiff to stir by hand. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.
Now pretend that you are Ebeneezer Scrooge of "A Christmas Carol" and that flour is as expensive as saffron ('The Most Expensive Spice In The World(tm)"). Add flour grudgingly, sparingly, miserly, kneading until the dough looks and feels nice.
As to proofing yeast, I haven't found it necessary with active dry yeast, and it is not recommended with instant dry yeast. I just mix the yeast in with the first flour I use in the recipe. Using a sponge, poolish or biga are exercises for later in your learning about baking.
I have what I like to think is a very good, and painless, introduction to baking at http://www.sourdoughhome.com/bakingintro.html that you might want to look at.
"Also, if your definition of light fluffy bread is like the stuff in the grocery store, I'll politely suggest you just go to the grocery store and buy it. Making a bread like that is surprisingly difficult."
I actually disagree with that. Well, partly, anyway. :) I agree that creating cottony Wonderbread at home isn't easy. But it's not at all difficult to create a nice, soft, pleasant sandwich bread that isn't dense or chewy. Of course, that really means creating enriched bread, as lean breads are invariably more on the chewy, artisanal side, but there's nothing wrong with that. In my case, I've relied on this as my standard sandwich bread recipe:
With a few tweaks (in particular, I cut the sugar down to just a 1/4 tbsp), the result is a nice, reliable sandwich bread that holds up to all kinds of variation. The resulting crumb is nice and soft and tender, far superior to any store-bought bread (as my wife discovered when we bought a store-bought loaf in a pinch :), perfect for sandwiches, toast, etc.
As for the rest, I couldn't agree more. Knowing how the dough should feel is step one, and it's important not to fear a tacky dough. Of course, a key part of this is developing good kneeding technique, and to recognize the changes in the dough... I can't tell you how many times I've started putting a dough together, convinced that it'll never work out, only to watch it transform from a lumpy, irregular mass to a smooth, tacky, pliable ball of dough.
After that, I think the key is patience: patience while the dough is rising, and patience when the bread is cooling. It's so tempting to rush things, but bread takes its time, and doesn't like to be rushed!
Lastly, just a couple tidbits for the original poster: 1) a graduated vessel for bulk rising your dough is really handy, particularly if you're the impatient type, like me... it gives you a real, quantitative measure of how much your dough has risen, and 2) find a recipe you want to get working and stick with it until you do! The goal, here, is to eliminate the human variables, allowing you to perfect technique. Once you've done that, you can start playing around with other recipes.
It's hard to tell what went wrong with your bread without a few details. If you could give your basic recipe and procedure it would help diagnose your problems. i don't Know if I agree with v-rex about the gluten problem. It's probably more in the rising, kneading or basic recipe. I've never had a problem making light fluffy bread, but I've usually wanted a denser crustier bread. Your yeast may be dead, you're killing it or maybe not enough yeast for a fluffy loaf. To dense of a dough, not enough liquid, could also be a problem. Adding dry milk and/or butter helps make a soft loaf also makes for a softer loaf. There is no secret to fluffy bread, but explaining your recipe will help. Oh, and hello to everybody I haven't been around for awhile.
I'm with Grapevine and Mike; so many of my problems with bread came from using too much flour. It took the shock of my first slack dough (NYT no-knead) to show me that sticky isn't bad.
That and this site have turned bread making around for me; stick around, you'll learn heaps!
JERSK; great to see you back! I wondered if you were still around; thought of you as I drove through Lincolville Beach a couple of weeks ago. Hope all is well!
My early disasters had two major causes:
1. I thought warmer is better - all the time. Yeast should be warm, dough should be warm, should rise in a warm oven....VERY WARM..... I killed it with love! The dough would go crazy and then die.
2. I figured that if I wanted higher bread, I should let it rise more...and more.... and even more! (more is better, right?) It would go into the oven as light and fluffy as an angel food cake, and come out a collapsed brick.
Trust the rising times in the recipe, and trust in oven spring. Room temperature is fine: if your place is cool, either let it rise a little longer, or put it in the oven with the oven light on, DO NOT warm up the oven "just a little." Good luck!
Heh, and funny enough, when I first started out, invariably I had the opposite problem... I was just too darned impatient, and so I'd never let the proofing stages fully complete before popping the bread in the oven. The result were dense bricks that were all but inedible.
Incidentally, it's also *vital* to let the bread completely cool before cutting into it... if you cut in prematurely, you'll end up with a gummy mess. And this is only exacerbated if your bread is a bit on the dense side.