The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello from Costa Rica

Silvia's picture

Hello from Costa Rica

I have been learning to bake bread for some time,

either by reading (Beranbaum's Bread Bible), or by visiting

baking sites or by asking.

So far, my disasters have been few, thanks to the clear

descriptions of TBB, but still, I can´t consider my bread

as succesess.

Anyway, I have a lot of questions to make, in regard, especially,

to ingredientes and *kneading*. Will I, some day, learn when

a dough has been well kneaded????

Anyway, receive my regards from Costa Rica.

Another costarican in the forum?


Dragonbones's picture

Hola Silvia, y bienvenido!

Please be sure to tell us which recipes you've tried, specifically, and in what ways were you not satisfied. The more specific you are about not only your ingredients, but the exact details of the process, the better people here will be able to help you. I'm fairly new to baking, and although I don't have as much expertise as some of the old-timers on this site, I can still share with you some of the tips that helped me move from frequent failures to frequent successes.

Here are a few: 1) Make sure you're not scooping the measuring cup into the flour, because that packs too much flour into the cup, and your dough will end up too dry. Sift or spoon the flour into it, then level it off with a knife. (Better yet, weigh it on a small scale!)  2) Contrary to what I expected when I first started baking bread, dough should not normally feel 'pleasantly dry'. It should normally be tacky (slightly sticky), or even sticky, depending on the recipe.  3) When letting bread rise, don't go by the clock -- go by the amount that the recipe says it should rise. If it says "let rise until double or about 90 minutes", it's the 'until double' that's the important part.

I hope some of that helps. On kneading, well, my admittedly limited understanding is that that will depend on your recipe, your flour type, your hydration. Good recipe books will tell you how long to knead, and by the time you're done with, say, 12 or so minutes of manual kneading, usually the dough will feel very smooth, supple and elastic, and that's generally enough. Some, like Peter Reinhart, always say to take some of the kneaded dough and stretch it between your hands to see if it will form a thin, translucent 'windowpane', as a test for gluten development.

But there are also special techniques using wetter doughs and letting them sit longer, to develop the gluten, with a minimal amount of 'folding' a little later during the bulk rising, rather than heavy mechanical kneading early on.  You can browse the forum here for more on those techniques.  



Silvia's picture

Hello Dragon bones, thanks for your reply. Do you speak Spanish??

I have baked several recipes fron TBB; Now I can just remember Basic hearth Bread,

Basic Sandwich Loaf, Cinnamon Loaf and others that I have forgotten.  Until now, nothing with sourdough.

The results have been edible, in fact, most have been very good, if you consider

that my oven is absolutely unreliable, with a wobbly knob that doesn't let you know the temperature (I have two thermometers, but first, I have to turn the oven on for at leat 1/2 hour, and them adjust the temperature), It also doesn't keep the temperature; when I open the door to put the bread in, it can loose as much as 75 Fahrenheit!!! 

As I always have liked to bake (cakes, cookies), I had my digital scale, measuring cups and spoons, and other basic equipment.  Unfortunately, my digital scale has died, and I have to use the cups (fluff the flour, dip and sweep) and /or an old "analogical" scale, also very unreliable.

Some ingredients are hard to find, at least, in smal quantities. Frequently, I have to do with unbleached all purpose flour for everything (13% protein).

Finally, I have been looking at videos and photographs, and the kneaded dough always looks so even and smooth!  It always easy to shape and then,holds its shape.  My doughs usually are sticky and remain sticky, and therefore,are difficult to shape.  I make do with it, because I don´t want to use more flour than stated.

This has been a long letter. Thanks for you attention, Silvia

Dragonbones's picture

Hi Silvia, yes, I speak it at a functionally fluent but not native level. I'm half Mexican, but was raised speaking mostly English.

On your oven temperature, you might already know this but you can heat your oven to 75 degrees above your target. After you put your bread in and close the door, then turn the temp down to your target.

On your doughs, although the main mistake beginners make is to add too much flour, if you're already measuring fairly accurately, there will be times when it's reasonable to add a little more flour to get a less sticky dough. Remember, different flours can absorb water differently. If your flour is lower in protein than what the recipe calls for, or if you are in a very humid location, your dough could end up wetter than it should be. Slight tackiness is normally a good thing, though.

Try splitting your dough in half, and kneading a measured amount of extra flour into it, and then let both rise and bake, and see what happens. If the one with the extra flour turns out, then you'll know not to be so afraid of making that adjustment the next time!

There are also ways to shape sticky dough. For instance, instead of using flour on your counter, wet (or oil) your counter and hands, shape the dough, and quickly plop it into the greased loaf pan just like that. Another way is to not work extra flour into the dough, but to coat the outside of the dough with flour when it's time to shape it. Try each and see what works for you.

Again, I'm fairly new to this, so if you ask in the main forum areas, you can find advice from people who are real experts instead of me.  Suerte!

Silvia's picture

Dragonbones, excuse me for not having answered before. All your suggestions are very interesting; the one about splitting the dough to experiment with flour is really good; I'll be trying it next weekend.

One of my questions is, "how much kneading is enough kneadin"??? I Have been searching through, but haven´t found a clear (enough for me) answer.