The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Fairly new @ bread, and pulling my hair out already!

cainemac's picture

Fairly new @ bread, and pulling my hair out already!

Hello everyone,
I'm totally new to this site and loving it so far; it is by far the most logical, educational, and user friendly I've found to date.
I have to admit however, as someone who is used to being 'good at everything he does' by default, it is infuriating to me that I have baked about 8 times in the past week, experimenting with all sorts of variables and yet.. I STILL cannot get a loaf to turn out with a fluffy & soft crumb. My loaves are more dense, look moist (kinda like Ciabatta). Don’t get me wrong, the bread tastes great, I just cant seem to get that lovely fine crumb.


I've been reading this site front to back [even the more advanced stuff, I have a geeky mind and I love to know WHY things happen the way they do] and I found that no recipe or person seems to agree with another on rules/methods I thought would be mostly cardinal.

Someone says dissolve the yeast; the next person says don’t dissolve the yeast it doesn’t like it.
Someone says add sugar; the next page says don’t add sugar for various reasons.
Less yeast longer prove, more yeast less prove, little bit of yeast & a bit of sugar over-night prove.
One recipe adds salt initially; another says the yeast doesn’t like it so always knead it in the second time.
60% recommend autolyse but no one can seem to agree on proportions, which ingredients, how long for, and whether to knead after.
Too much Kneading = bad bread; not enough kneading = bad bread. ( :S ?)
The slower the prove, the better the crumb. Prove too long - bread tastes beery and won’t Oven Spring.
Create closed surface tension when making loaf or it won’t spring / Score the top of the loaf open or it won’t spring.
Wetter, dryer, salt/not, autolyse with/without yeast, water, milk, oil/no oil.
Bake @180c for a softer crumb, bake @220c for a better crust

I’ve followed this recipe to the letter
and it was heavy.
I’ve followed the lesson 1 on this site to the letter and had the same result, only far less tasty.
I’ve followed lesson 2 on this site, [mix,knead(10),rise(90),punchdown,knead(8),shape,prove(60),bake(220c/430f), This tasted better but was still heavy and moist-ish.
I’ve tried a few variations of each recipe. Baking longer. Baking @ a higher heat for the first 5 mins, scoring the surface of the bread, kneading harder/softer, rising more/less, letting it rise outside in the tropical 33c heat of Nth Australia, letting it rise in a 21c air-conned room. I’ve tried a fairly logical procession of variables and still I cant get fluffy white bread.
I remember that back in 1994 [the last time I baked a lot] I once accidentally made the perfect loaf of bread. And I was never able to figure out how/why and replicate it!
I’m using really high quality organic baker’s flour [11.4%p], ‘fresh’ granulated instant yeast, organic panella[evaporated pure cane sugar], and aluminium free seas salt.. With the weekend upon me im going to bake another time tonight [although I’m at a loss to what I could do differently] and at the same time create a water+flour autolyse to leave in the fridge all night and bake with in the morning. I’m going to use bottled water tonight [in spite of my gut feeling that my yeast is fine with it as the dough rises robustly with the tap water I’m using], cos it’s about the ONLY other thing I can think of.
Anyone have any ideas or troubleshooting to suggest?? My lack of success is starting to dishearten me.


Paddyscake's picture

Glad you are enthused, but yikes..hang on..fluffy white and sourdough artisan type breads, techniques,and flours are totally diffferent. It's like comparing English muffins and Cinnamon Buns. There are so many variables. Can I suggest that you post the formula you are trying. Include what type of flour and yeast you are using.

Hang in there, you will find excellent guidance.


Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

I'm assuming that it's sandwich bread you want because you said you want a light and fluffy here's what I do.

My main white sandwich bread, which can be modified to include whole wheat flour if you're so inclined with a few steps, includes butter, honey, and milk. No sugar. I prefer honey to sugar in most breads except for sweet breads.

I tend to like my sandwich breads at decently high hydration levels, which means about 350g of milk for 500g of flour, plus the other ingredients like honey and butter. This makes a tender, fluffy loaf.  I tend to use 2 tablespoons of butter per loaf, and 1.5 tablespoons of honey. I make 2 loaves at a time, plus a few rolls, using 1000g of flour and 700g of milk. For this amount of dough I use 1/2 stick of butter, 1/4 cup honey ( a little extra, but I like it), 1.5 tablespoons of active dry yeast, and 3-4 teaspoons of salt depending on what I have on hand.  It freezes well and, when it comes out of the freezer, if you pop it in the oven for a few minutes to thaw it the bread comes out very good.

davidm's picture

My, that's a pretty long laundry list of stuff.

Anyway, I followed the link you gave to the bread you've been making, and can see no reason in the recipe why it won't work out . Hydration is OK for a panned bread at about 65%,, salt and yeast are at about 1.6% which should work. You say you followed it to the letter but it came out heavy.

Did all go as described during the process? Did the dough double (more or less) after the bulk rise? Did the dough you put into the pans look about the same size (relative to the pan) as in the photos? After you put it into the pans, did it rise again during the proof up above the top of the pan? If it did rise thus, did it rise any more after going in the oven? (oven spring) Did it fall?

Were your finished loaves small by comparison to the pictures? The same color? Different?

The best bet is to give a detailed description of the process step by step, and if something's amiss, someone here will pick up on it most likely.

As for all the other points you raise, boy, that's a lot of territory. 33 deg C is maybe too warm for a proof temp, but it should certainly still work, albeit more quickly than is ideal.

"Heavy" results often mean problems with rising, which is why I asked all that stuff above. If your loaves rose to anything like the size in the photos and stayed that big through to the end, they should not have been 'heavy', and I'm at a loss to know what's up. If they were smaller, and denser, then maybe you're having problems with the yeast somehow. I noticed the recipe said "warm" water or milk. If that was too warm it could be a problem, and would compromise the yeast. Baby's bottle warm is OK, but not much more. 


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Wow that's a lot of experimenting in just 8 loaves!  Power to you!

I've read over the recipe and the thing that stands out is that there is no mention of scalding the milk.  Which would be a good idea,  heating it up till it just starts to get frothy on top (stir often to prevent burning) and let it cool before using.   Do it to stop some enzymes (in the milk) from "messing up the works."   I do get the impression you prefer using just water.  Milk does makes the crumb tender if that's the goal. 

If it is fine bubbles you are after, then the mixing is the trick.   The mixing of the dough in the beginning.  Add the flour to the liquids slowly, whisking after every addition until smooth, sometimes holding back half the flour.   Stir the dough in the bowl in the same direction while it is still easy to do so.  This easy step saves a lot of time in setting up gluten formation.  Then slowly add the rest of the flour and let it autolyse, covered for 30-45 minutes, then knead.   Eliminating this initial mixing, leads to larger bubbles, no matter how rough or gentle one is with shaping the dough later on.

Air conditioning tends to dry out the dough so maybe you want to try hand kneading with wet hands as opposed to using flour.  Just a thought.  Keep a bowl of water nearby and dip hands into it as needed.   Knead until the dough is consistantly smooth.  No need to knead it again.   After a first rise, "man handle" it (drop the bowl, punch it, etc.) to pop all the bubbles, shape into a ball and let it rise again before "man handling" again.   (Sourdoughs don't get rough treatment, instant yeast can take it and should get it for a fine crumb.)   Don't let it rise the second time as long as the first time.  Now roll out (attack) with a rolling pin or pool cue (or some such thing) flattening the dough before shaping into loaves.

Looking forward to hearing the answers to David's Q's.

People are different and so are their methods.    We will soon find a solution so don't get too frustrated.    (a little bit is good)    Got any pictures?    May the bread force be with you,

Mini O

gaaarp's picture

From City Slickers:

Curly: You know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No, what?
Curly: This. (holding up index finger)
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don't mean s**t.
Mitch: That's great, but what's the one thing?
Curly: That's what you've got to figure out.

Caine, Curly knew the secret of life, and as it turns out, one of the secrets of bread baking.  You stated that you had tried many different recipes and methods in your recent flurry of baking.  While that's certainly ambitious, may I recommend a different approach?

Find a good recipe, one that other people have had success with and that purports to make the type of bread you are aiming for.  Then bake it.  And bake it again.  And again.  And again.  Stick with one recipe until you know it almost by heart and, more importantly, are consistently getting the results you desire.  Then you can branch out and make other breads.

Anyway, that's what I would recommend.  Welcome to TFL.  And good luck finding your one thing.


Grumpa's picture

is words of wisdom.  But I would take it one step further.  Once you have gotten the results you want, take the mad scientist approch and intentionally screw it up. Change one thing at a time.  Add more flour, add less flour, underknead, overknead, add too much yeast, don't add enough yeast etc. This way, you will gain experience with what these things do to a bread and be able to directly compare to your standard loaf. Keep notes of your results for reference. 

Takes a bit of time but can be very instructional. Add fun (but I am a bit on the odd side).


ericb's picture

Phyl had some wonderful advice about finding "the one thing." Maybe that's why I am such a frantic baker: I'm always working on two or three recipes at once. (The lineup for Saturday morning includes Thom Leonard's Country Loaf, a Miche-style loaf from WGB, Vermont Sourdough, and Sourdough Waffles. I'm exhausted just thinking about it!)

Caine, you might want to consider dropping your current recipe and trying the "Your First Loaf" Primer a few times, which yields a good, consistent, sandwich-type loaf. I particularly like the lessons that follow, which allow the beginning baker to slowly add new techniques to improve upon the original recipe.

Floyd, perhaps an updated "First Loaf" would be a good addition to the Handbook. I think it needs a tried-and-true, "start here" recipe with clear, consice instructions that someone new to baking can easily work through and get good results.

Eric B


cainemac's picture

my god. thank you all.

i needed a kick in the proverbial to encourage me to work on a simple recipe until i can get it. i took a break from baking on the weekend and settled for cookies.
im going to try that first lesson again. and again until i find that 'one thing' i need to
nail it. [thanks phyl!]
But i'll admit that im going to try some of the suggestions above, in tandem.

yes, it is sandwich sized/textured bread im trying to acheive.

Mini-O: THATS THE KIND OF STUFF i wanted to hear ;)

i'll answer david's question shortly, also.


executor's picture

...Think about some facts like,

A big part of this world is based on baker's personal observations, and some times this observations are just "preferred ways" to do something and some times are just first impressions. In general, I would teach you "my way" because that's the way I feel confortable with. For example, some people will recomend you to add warm water to the dough in order to activate the yeast, some others will tell you to activate the yeast in the water first (adding some sugar) but at the end, the result will be practically the same, even if you use cool water, it will only affect the time you'll need to ferment the dough. I mean, if you found two or more ways to do the same, simply use the one is good for you, or try them all and then choose. Experience will be your best teacher.

Different types of yeast reacts a bit different to temperature and humidity factors, for example, you don't need warm water at all when using instant yeast unless you want a faster levening action. When using sugar, you should use 1/3 more yeast for the same reason: time required to ferment. It is simple, the more you ferment the bread the better flavor, but this won't have a big significance when making rich dough (that contains milk, butter, spices, etc.)

In general, different breads, has different consistency, and you can get different grades of consistency by using different genres of flour, changing the amount of water, adding enriching components and it is also related to the way you bake the dough. For example if you add to much sugar and to much fat in a dough without adding enough water and no yeast you will get a kind of cookie, but if you add enough water you can even get a sort of pancake.

About Kneading, always follow the recipe, but let me tell you, it is far impossible to over knead and ruin a dough, unless you are using industrial equipment. Always try to knead until you get the gluten window, except when the recipe sugest something diferent.

I checked the recipe at the link you posted, and notice that there is an indication to Autolyse first. My sugestion is that you can reduce the amount of ingredients, and then skip this process, then knead until you get the gluten window. Even if you decide to Autolyse the dough, proceed to knead until you get the gluten window. That should work. Are you familiar with the gluten window stage?

I strongly recommend you to get a method of work with wich you feel confortable. Once you master that method, you will be able to learn more and more new techniques. Take a look at this whole site, choose a teacher like Peter Reinhart, Richard Bertinet, Dan Lepard, (there are many others, and very good ones), buy one or two of their books (they also give you free techniques), and have a lot of fun!!!

BTW, I'm sorry if my english is not very good.

Take care!!!

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Welcome to TFL!!!

I know it's frustrating to not succeed when you follow all the directions...  I see that you are fairly new to all of this stuff here.

I have been baking bread for over 16 years and it wasn't until recently (past 2-3 years) that I have been able to bake the breads that I like (ciabatta especially).  Over the past 16 years, I have had my fair share of breads go straight from the oven into the trash...

There are so many variables, and ways to do things, and it just takes time to figure all of them out and what works best for you...

Good luck, and happy fresh loafing...

bodger's picture

cainemac, if it's any consolation at all, there are a few of us here who are finding similar problems.  I'm having terrible trouble with my crumb and until my current dough has been baked I won't know whether I'm on the road to rescue.


I have just bought a copy of Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice ("BBA").  It's a very well written book and explains a lot of the theory behind bread making as well as many of the multitudinous differences between the various recipe types and bread types.  Time will tell whether it accelerates my breadmaking but at the very least it's a very interesting read and it certainly feels as if it's guiding me in the right direction.


Why not borrow one of the suggested bread books from your library and read it cover to cover?  At least it will provide you with a single, unified opinion and guide to baking bread (that's possibly the only downside to internet forums - you have a lot of sometimes contrasting views).

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

I also recommend "Artisan Baking Across America" by Maggie Glezer...  This was my first "serious" bread baking book, and it has helped me so much...  Dare I say, even more than the BBA...  The BBA was my 2nd bread book...