The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

total noob here

the apprentice's picture
the apprentice

total noob here

Hello everyone. I am new to the site and completely new to baking bread. This is something that I can really get into, but I am having a little trouble with the texture of my first couple of loaves.


First, about me: I am 22 years old, male, and I live in SoCal. I will be graduating this year with a degree in Marketing. I currently work as a barista at SBux, formerly at a small coffee shop that had the best coffee in all of CA IMO. Working as a barista is what has inspired me to delve into culinary adventures. I have explored the process of making coffee a whole lot, including several brewing methods, home roasting and mixing beans, and refining my palette to taste the nuances of beans from several regions of the world. I would like to travel to the farms where coffee is grown and learn more about coffee and the people who are involved in its cultivation. I am very interested in learning about other cultures, languages, and foods from around the world. I enjoy hobbies that produce something, like car detailing. When I detail my car I call it therapy because it is a process. I have something that I can stand back and admire when I am finished. The next time I go through the process I learn from the time before and do it even better. I think that baking bread is very similar, which is why I like it so far. But bread is cheaper, and I like that too. I would love to work with a renowned artisan, such as Peter Reinhart, and learn and refine my skills in the kitchen.


Now, on to the bread. My first attempt at baking bread was a recipe from King Arthur Flour.

My bread came out with a good flavor, but it is very dense. I am thinking that maybe I didn't let it rise enough after forming it. My crumb does not look as good as in the picture provided with the recipe. In fact, there really aren't any holes in it at all. It is a very heavy loaf.

A picture of loaf 1

loaf 1


So I tried again with the lesson 2 recipe on this website.

My bread was still a little dense, but this time it had some flake to it. I used the steam method of putting a cookie sheet on the bottom rack of the oven while it preheated. Then I poured a cup of water over it just before I stuck the dough in the oven. I baked both loaves of bread in a convection oven. I think the bread needs to stay in the oven longer next time because my bread is not getting a dark crust. I will invest in an oven thermometer at some point to check the accuracy of the oven's internal thermometer. I also need to get a better instant read thermometer to check the bread's temperature. For both loaves I used King Arthur's White Whole Wheat Flour. I would like to try some other flours to see how it affects things.

Pictures of loaf 2

loaf 2



close crumb


What I learned so far:

1. Making bread is more about process than about ingredients.

2. Shaping and scoring are harder than they look. On my second loaf I wasn't going for any specific shape, but it was some sort of boule I guess. I got aggressive with my knife when scoring it and practically ended up with two loaves!

3. Practice makes perfect! Or at least each time comes closer than the last...



1. What should I do to get a lighter, fluffier bread with more holes? Does it need to rise longer on the second rise perhaps? Is the dough not taut enough when I'm shaping it? Does it need to stay in the oven longer or at a higher heat? Should I try a different type of flour (I used King Arthur White Whole Wheat for both loaves)?

2. Does shaping bread always involve punching it down? I understand bread recipes all the way up to the first rise. I put the kneaded dough into a bowl and within an hour or two it doubles in size. At this point is the dough always supposed to be punched down before forming it? Some recipes don't really specify. I assume that it does get punched down because obviously it has to go down to a smaller size when forming it if it is going to have a second rise.

3. On the second rise am I waiting for it to get back to the size that it was when it doubled on the first rise?  On second rise, does the dough need to be covered air tight? I have noticed most recipes say to cover it with plastic wrap on the second rise. My first loaf I covered the dough with the same towel that I used on the first rise. Was that a mistake?


I'm sorry that I have so many questions, but I am completely new to baking bread. When I get into something I get into it. I want to understand every aspect of the entire science and art of baking bread. Being new, I would appreciate any comments, no matter how simple your tips may seem. I already ordered (pretty cheap from one of Peter Reinhart's books that has recipes for artisan breads. I plan on also picking up The Bread Baker's Apprentice to help me better understand the process. I will probably check it out at the library until I get the money to purchase it. Any comments or tips are completely welcome!

Syvwlch's picture


I haven't been doing this that much longer than you have, but I thought I'd share some return on experience anyway.

First, it definitely IS about process, and practice does make perfect. Shaping and slashing are one of those skill sets where you get better very quickly, but will keep learning for years :-)

I don't always (or even very often) punch the dough down, and while I do the rising in a plastic container with an airtight lid, once shaped, I usually just cover it with a moistened towel for the proof.

I've been very happy with a book called The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, recipes, techniques, and a little science. If you want to understand what's going on, read a lot, on paper and online, and make and bake lots of bread. :-)

Have fun!

the apprentice's picture
the apprentice

Hi Syvwlch. Thanks for the tips! I will definitely check out The Bread Bible. I read a couple of reviews somewhere saying that her writing is kind of hard to follow, so I didn't end up ordering her book. I got a book by PR instead. I will have to head over to the library on my day off and see what books I can check out.

Do you have any idea what can be causing my bread to be so dense? I will keep researching and practicing until I figure this out.

Syvwlch's picture

I can think of two reasons why bread would stay dense (tho there may be more, I'm no expert!):

1. Not enough gluten (the protein lattice that holds the CO2 bubbles in the dough). This could be fixed by using flours with more protein content (like bread flour), by kneading the dough more, etc...

2. Not enough CO2 (the bubbles themselves). This could be the yeast, the temperature, the time, etc...

Perhaps you could try a different recipe, all bread flour for example, and take note of any differences between the recipes, and their results?

the apprentice's picture
the apprentice

I did a little bit of research. I might not be letting my dough rise enough during proofing and I probably should try to pinch the seams tighter during forming. I will try using a different flour for my next loaf to see if it makes a difference. I will also practice the window pane test to get the hang of developing good gluten structure. Thanks again for the tips. I will continue to practice and read. I'll keep you updated throughout my bread journey!

jeremiahwasabullfrog's picture

I can see you're really getting into this.

You will be surprised how quickly you are turning out great loaves at least some of the time - just it might take you a while to figure out why!

I would agree with slywlch - drop the wholemeal, develop the gluten more, and proof longer for more bubbles.

For a beginner, I would suggest trying an unbleached white bread flour. The bran in wholewheat flours cuts the gluten strands, and it is a bit of an art to get a good crumb. Once you have a feel of white flours, you can start adding more wholewheat. Changing that will probably give you what you are looking for straight away.

The next thing is that you are probably not developing your gluten enough. A little looking around can be a real eye opener for new bakers - it was for me! A lot of people dabble in Jim Lahey's no knead bread. I suugest you try it - it will be a real revelation, and will probably even give you results with wholewheat flours strait away.

Eventually you will want to move on from this, and play with the dough a bit more. You will learn what a difference time makes.

Firstly, after roughly mixing ingredients, let them sit for 20 min before kneading (this is called autolyse),

Second, don't knead all in one 10 min batch. Try say 3 short kneads of 1 min, with a 10-20 min rest in between.

Thirdly, find some videos on the stretch and fold technique (one stretch and fold every 20 minutes for 3 cycles can replace the entire kneading process for some breads). You may also come across the french fold, similar idea, but leave it till later.


Finally, move away from recipies, buy a good scale, and learn about baker's percentages, it gives you better control of the hydration in doughs, which is important. Aim for about 65% hydration to start with.


And with the covering during proofing - whatever you like as long as the surface of the dough doesn't dry out - oil, wet cloth, glad wrap, humidified proffing box - take your pick. The punching down after the first proof (or a gentle stretch and fold) redistributes sugars for the yeast to feed on and also stops the gluten from being overextended, which weakens it. Basically what the bulk proof (before shaping) does it extend the overall proofing time for more flavour, and gives the dough time to relax a bit. It is also important for the formation of large holes (bubbles) in some breads.

So much info I know, but right now I suggest 2 things. Google for the Jim Lahey (New York Times) no knead bread, and also baker's percent.

Have fun!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I like the looks of your loaves!  The slashing on the second one is great!  It's not too deep and looks pleasingly artistic.   The crumbs on both look typical whole wheat.  The loaves could ues a little more steam & oven time to brown more but they certainly don't look "noob!"   Well done!   

Repeat the same recipe, let the next loaves rise longer after shaping.  Repeat your beautiful slash.  Try adding steam after loading the dough into the oven.  That way more steam is trapped inside.  Many convection ovens trap in steam when bottom heat is used with convection.  (Check your oven instructions.  When the steam tray is removed, bottom heat should then be turned off so as not to burn the bottom of the loaf.)


Marni's picture

I agree with Mini, those look good!  Whole wheat makes a denser loaf than white. 

Repeating the same loaf is a great idea, then you can see what your changes did.

Covering the loaf with a towel is generally fine, but if it's out too long it might dry out.  I lightly spray the top of the rising dough with spray oil.

The "punching down" thing is trickier, you don't need to deflate the dough, just release some gas and shape it.  It is ready to bake when it has risen and when poked with a finger, it doesn't fill in right away.  That's one of those experience things, I think.  Usually a recipe gives you some idea of how much it should rise.  If you wait too long, it can over rise, and you don't want that either.

I hope this helps, and welcome from another SoCal baker.


the apprentice's picture
the apprentice

Thanks for all the great tips everyone! I was watching some videos last night to try to learn from others' techniques. I think that when I knead my dough I might be too rough with it. This would explain it being dense if I am tearing the gluten strands by abusing it. I will work on my kneading technique and try some folding. On my second loaf I did let the formed ball of dough rest a little before kneading it so that the flour would absorb the fluid. I didn't look at the clock at all when making the second loaf. I would do one step, then walk away and do a few chores, and then come back to do the next step. I found that working this way allowed me to use my intuition and pay more attention to the dough rather than a recipe.

There is a baking supply store about 40 minutes from where I live. Next time I am down that way I will have to stop in and pick up some new tools. Apparently it has been around for quite some time and I read some reviews that the workers are very helpful there, so I am excited to pay them a visit. I like that baking bread is a fairly inexpensive hobby! The biggest investment is time.

Thanks again for everyone's help.

phosmer3's picture

the apprentice,

I learned from Rose Levey's "The Bread Bible." I am very new to baking though I went to the Culinary Institute in 1968. I got to bake there but "just some experience" is not learning a trade.

I have stuck to one recipe, Levy's Jewish Rye, because there are so many factors that can change the product that I wanted to keep the number of variables to a minimum. Following this idea a bit further, I keep exact times, weights, same ingredients, temperature bla bla bla. Then I vary only one (or maybe two) things. My last loaf was the best one for me. The one before that I gave to a Hungarian and he wants more - but it was denser. So now I need to go back to what I did for that loaf as that is what he likes and is expecting. All this is the real fun of bread. The life of the loaf gets adjusted to the preference of the consumer.

All in all Rose's book is quite detailed. She is a real pro. All my questions got answered there. Peter's book is excellent also. (I live in LA too)