The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

bread making

qahtan's picture

bread making

 Can I just say for what it's worth , myself I think that many newbies also some oldies that are haveing problems with their breads is that they are trying too hard to get it right.

 I have been a self taught  home  bread maker for over 50 years.


ehanner's picture


I agree and would add that the home stand mixer is responsible for many people trying to make bread without actually knowing how it should feel. Relax and mix by hand.


dmsnyder's picture

Qahtan & Eric,

I disagree.

I think that each of us has goals for our baking. Some are more stringent than others. That's okay.

My personal goals are on the high end. I don't get the concept of "trying too hard to get it right." How one deals with one's "failures" is what matters. To me, when I fail to achieve my goal, I regard it as an opportunity to learn more, and these challenges are one of the rewards of baking.

I also disagree somewhat with Eric regarding the evils of mechanical mixing. If you watch videos of professional bakers using mixers, you will observe them frequently testing their dough's temperature and gluten development. Yes, using a mixer is (literally) less hands on than hand mixing, but it does not preclude learning how the dough "should feel."

I believe I could make a stronger argument for the clock being responsible for home bakers' failure to pay attention to the dough. Mixing by the clock, whether by hand or stand mixer, is a poor way of learning how much mixing a bread wants.


MJO's picture

I would like to comment on this subject...I refer you all to my  WW Bread thread.  Look at the results!  For me, the fun is in the achieving.  I personally don't know how anyone can really rejoice in mediocrity.  It is so enjoyable to accomplish the art of bread baking for me, because I want to share this wonderful food with all my loved ones, and also to educate others on the value of whole grains.  I guess it is a matter of passion...

flournwater's picture

I'm gonna join dmsnyder and Sexysadie in this one.  If I haven't learned from mediocrity, the exercise wasn't worth my time.  I don't let mediocrity depress me, I rely on it to inspire me to examine my ingredients and methods more closely and to try again.  I'm willing to accept a good loaf of bread but when a fantastic loaf comes out of my oven I declare a holiday and do my best to make a habit of it. 

I think I'll have a T-shirt made with the statement:

"Mixing bread by the clock, whether by hand or stand mixer, is a poor way of learning how much mixing a bread wants".  There's a motto you can live by.

clazar123's picture


Bread baking is like any other occupation/activity/hobby-the people doing it run the gamut of reasons and intensity. I know knitters and quilters and a number of other occupations that could be substituted for breadbaking in the original post and be accurate.

Bottom line is- it is great to have the luxury of exploring an interest to the level we want, whether it is out of necessity or down to the minute details. And the people on this site are interested in persuing it for many different reasons and to satisfy many different needs. That's what can make it so interesting and so much fun.



Andreas's picture

I think I understand what quahtan means. I come to baking from cooking, and while I am a novice baker, I am an accomplished and competent cook. 

The first thing I teach about cooking, is to relax. If you try too hard "to get it right", you never will. If you cramp up, then that tension will show in your finished dish. If you relax and let things flow, then all is normally well. 

That doesn't mean that one should accept mediocracy, it just means that the way to perfection doesn't need to be painful. It should be enjoyable and enriching. 

For example, I made my first sourdough yesterday. I made two mistakes, which resulted in a bread with less rise, and a less perfect shape, than I would have liked it to have. However, taste, texture and crust were better than anything I can buy in the store and at the end of the evening our guests and us had eaten, and enjoyed, the entire loaf. 

Next time I know that dough, especially rye dough, sticks to clingfilm and needs to be oiled and that I need to flour the brotform more. The next loaf will be "better" but that will not mean that we didn't enjoy it's inferior cousin last night. 

ehanner's picture

I'm sure I don't aspire to create mediocre breads. Every loaf is a project designed to be the best I can produce. I'm a no holds barred guy and will go to extremes to achieve a perfect loaf. That said, I didn't really learn to bake well until I learned about mixing and developing the dough by hand.

David; True you can watch pro bakers working in large batches measuring and testing. There are things to be learned there but for a home baker, we have to know how the dough feels in our hands when it is right. Beating the daylights out of the ingredients and stopping now and then to test the dough is a hard way to learn the skills of our ancestors who had no such tools. I use a mixer for large batches, but only because it's easier to incorporate the ingredients evenly on a 8-10 pound mix. I do most of the kneading or folding manually so I don't over do the development by mistake.

The statement that a lot of people are "trying too hard to get it right" I think is right on the mark. That doesn't mean you shouldn't want to learn from your mistakes or accept less than you are capable of. To me it means you should think about making hand made artisan bread, with your hands. The transformation from newbie to accomplished baker will be faster and I think more fulfilling.


dghdctr's picture

Everybody has their own threshold for what's critical in breadmaking.  Some want to re-create their idea about what bread was like in the 19th century, right on through kneading by hand and using a wood-fired oven.   Some insist you have to use organic flour, while others are interested more in the taste, texture and performance of their ingredients -- not so much how they got here.

I'm pretty unsentimental about my bread, despite my using many techniques drawn from antiquity.   I want a loaf to have great taste, texture, & aroma, but I don't need to know it's life story (after you get to know thousands upon thousands of loaves on an intimate level, this could happen to you).  Still, I used to feel that sort of emotional connection with the bread I make, so if others groove more on the process than I do, and they want to experience the romance, I understand.  I do expect, though, that they not be critical of me in my concept of what's essential.

Example: I attended a gathering of the Bread Baker's Guild in Sacramento about 10 years ago, and one of the seminars dealt with various aspects of using wood-fired ovens to bake your bread, especially at a professional level.  Didier Rosada (frequent Team USA coach) was the first speaker, and I guess he was pulled into the presentation reluctantly, because he said flatly that when a wood-fired oven is swept & mopped out properly after firing, you will notice no real change in flavor or aromas of bread when compared to using a good quality deck oven.

I don't think that's what the wood lovers wanted to hear.  One protege of Alan Scott angrily choked up at the end of his presentation, insisting that only wood-fired ovens produce true "artisan bread."  No kidding -- I think I saw tears.

I'm not mocking anyone's interest in wood-fired ovens here -- oven choice is beside the point.   If a baker doesn't mind complicating their baking process, and they like the challenge of going retro, I wish them joy.

But I would caution all bakers not to hold people who don't revere antiquity in contempt.  Embrace as many old-fashioned techniques as you wish, but be careful not to mistake "old-fashionedness" for quality.  If others want to analyze the process closely to see what really is essential, we should not begrudge them their curiosity, or think that they have followed the wrong path.

--Dan DiMuzio


MJO's picture


I just want to say that I really do see your point--I am very glad that you gave me the help that you did.  I wasn't getting anywhere doing the same old thing--that included the kneading by machine method .  Now I mix my ingredients in my mixer only to get them mixed, then take it out onto the counter and finish by hand.  As far as my mediocre comment--I only meant that it's very exciting to improve on anything one applies oneself to.


xaipete's picture

Dan made a comment on how to improve your baking efforts a while ago. It went something like this: pick out one recipe and make it everyday (or almost everyday) for a couple of weeks.

I think that is sound advice for both newbies and more accomplished bakers who are trying to improve one aspect of their baking, e.g., developing an eye for proper proofing or improving surface tension.

Still, even mature bakers sometimes have flops on the most unexpected recipes, e.g., a recent post about cookies or yesterday's hamburger rolls that I made from Hamelman's Bread that wouldn't rise in spite of a warm room and a lot of extra time.

Take out an index card. On one side write "mistake"; on the other side write "learning experience."


qahtan's picture


 My point in my first post about newbies and some oldies trying too hard, was that bread making is NOT the exact science that it is made out to be.

  One time you may use flour milled by a different miller, so it may absorb a little more water, or you may need a little more flour to get the right feel to your dough.

 Or your kitchen may be cooler or warmer, the recipe may say rise/proof for 45 minutes or say 1 1/2 hours,  bread takes it's own sweet time to do these things, if you try and hurry it along , which you can, then you loose some of the flavour that is being developed in the slower  rising/proofing.      


Alpine's picture

The flour changes, the ambiant temperature changes, the humidity changes. Bread making IS NOT an exact science.

I bake several hundred loaves a week, as many as 12 different dough types on a given day, every bake day is different.

We tweek every dough, every time, adding flour or water until it's right (sometimes we screw-up a dough and have to baby it along all day). The first proof in the buckets is pretty forgiving, it still rolls-out well if within a fairly wide margin. Once formed into loaves, forgivness is history: a "properly proofed" loaf in winter may have almost no oven spring...or a lot; the same proofing during summer may go wild in the oven...and may not.

Commercial yeast bakers can control their product more exactly, those of us using sourdough starters have the added complication of "happy" and "lethargic" starter.

Producing a good loaf of bread means knowing a good loaf when you see it; not having every loaf meet a photo-perfect standard. Trying too hard takes all the fun and satisfaction out of the whole process.