The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help please! - problems with learning to bake bread

Dave_N's picture

Help please! - problems with learning to bake bread

Hi Guys,

I'm having real problems in my first attempts to bake homemade bread using a number of recipes including 'your first white bread' recipe from this site.

Nearly every time I follow a recipe through to completion my bread seems to be very 'beery' in the middle while the crust is rock hard!

My process:

1. Mix the recipe ingredients (bread flour, salt, yeast (packet) and water)

2. Kneed for around 10 minutes.

3. Leave to prove (usually around 90-120 mins)

4. 'Punch' ( I think this may be where I'm confused) the air out.

5. Leave to re-prove (usually around 45mins)

6. Put in the oven (250 deg C) for around 45mins.


My problems (from above)

4. How long such I punch it for?, should i kneed it again?, should I be more gentle and merely shape it?, what exactly is a punch?

6. It seems that after 20 mins or so the bread is done or at least the crust is golden brown, If I leave for 45 mins the crust is almost black and burnt. Fan oven problem?


I really would love to create my first successful loaf of bread and it's something I'm really looking forward to doing but at the moment I'm just feeding the birds!

Any help would be greatly appreciated






LindyD's picture

Those instructions are a bit dated.  We're not in a boxing match with our dough so there's no need to punch it.  You simply want to gently degas the dough and prehape it.  Check out some of the TFL videos which cover folding, shaping, etc.

Are you kneading by hand or machine?  

If you are baking in a convection oven, it's been suggested by other TFL members that the fan be turned off.

As to the crust, a caramalized crust adds to the flavor of the bread.  Is the crust actually black, or just dark?   What is the internal temperature of the bread when you remove it from the oven?

Edited to add: you said your bread is "beery" tasting.  You are using a package of yeast, which (in the U.S.) contains 2 1/4 teaspoons.  The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons.  Try measuring the yeast rather than just adding an entire package. 

Don't be discouraged and keep in mind you are working with a recipe that measures in volume, which is never as accurate as a recipe that measures by weight.

Dave_N's picture

Thanks Lindy

I've just browsed the videos and I have to admit I've been a little heavy handed in my punches!

Yeast: I have been opening the packets and measuring out rather than just throwing the package in.

I am kneading by hand.

The crust is very dark and tooth breakingly hard!

Sadly my main oven does not have the option of turning off the fan.....but I think the top oven does.


I'm just about to try my 3rd batch of the day...wish me luck and once again many thanks for the assistance.

Regardless of my disasters so far I'm enjoying all this baking lark....the house smells wonderful!



davidg618's picture

I'd recommend about 225°C. It sounds like you're baking a relatively high hydration dough; you didn't include your recipe (or formula), so I can't be certain. Wet doughs (high hydration) take longer to bake, and meanwhile the crust gets dark.

I also recommend, if you don't have them already, buy an oven thermometer and check your knob settings. Ovens often are far off the "knob advertised" temperature. And buy an instant read probe thermometer, and check the internal temperature of your bread for doneness. For lean doughs (no fats, eggs, or sugars) the center of the loaf should reach 93°C to 96°C.; sweet dough 88°C to 91°C.

David G

pmccool's picture

Making your first bread without anyone to coach you through it can be frustrating, can't it?  

In addition to Lindy's good advice, I would suggest you try adjusting the temperature downward.  Note that the "Your First Loaf" bread on TFL suggests a baking temperature of 375ºF, which would be approximately 190ºC.  That is quite a lot cooler than your 250ºC.  And, since you have a fan oven, you should probably drop the temperature another 10-15ºC to approximate the 190ºC temperature that you would select if your oven didn't have a fan.  I think those adjustments should allow you to get to a crust color/texture that you like in a 35-45 minute bake time.

Unless your kitchen temperature is significantly less than 20ºC, the 90-120 minute bulk ferment you use could be the cause of the beery scent/flavor you are experiencing.  Since dough can't tell time, your best indicator of it's readiness for degassing (punching) is when its volume has increased to the amount specified in the recipe.  On a warm summer day, this could go as fast as 35-45 minutes.  On a cold winter day, maybe 90+ minutes.  Most recipes suggest allowing the dough to double in volume.  The easiest way to gauge doubling is to allow the dough to ferment in a clear container with straight sides.  If it has markings on it already, that's lovely.  If not, you can use a piece of tape to indicate how high the dough needs to rise to have doubled in volume.  When it gets to that mark, it's ready, no matter what the clock might say.  Because the sides of bowls curve up and out from the bottom, a dough that doubles in height may have trebled in volume.  That's why a container with straight sides lets you estimate doubling more accurately.

One last suggestion: stay with one bread until you know how it works (and how it doesn't) so that you can get reliably consistent results whenever you make it.  Then you can branch out to others, again one at a time.

I hope that your next bread is all that you want it to be.


Dave_N's picture

Many thanks paul....


some great tips....I will take them all on-board and retry.

I will definitely have to gauge when the size has doubled more accurately


Frustrating yes but enjoyable nonetheless....


Dave_N's picture

After evreyone's kind advice I'm almost there!

The crust is much softer after baking at a lower temperature....although still quite tough.

It's starting to resemble bread now...

The inside is still a little moist and yeasty but much less beery????

I baked the one below for 35 mins @ 180deg C.


coalpines's picture

Don't expect a soft crust like store bought bread. Commercial ovens inject steam. You might try petting a 9x12" pan of water on the bottom reck and baking on the middle rack.  The winter air is often dry depending on where you live.

I prefer crusty breads my wife dosn't.  I put one of the loaves I bake into a plastic ziplock bag befor it is entirely cool. This will soften the crust. 

In my opion, sour dough bread will give you the best flavor. I can't even eat store bought bread any more. Breads of the Labrea Bakery by Nancy Silverton is a great book when your ready to eat great bread.

yozzause's picture

Hi Dave

Punching down is a term that in a large commercial bakery is probably a very apt term  when you have a dough that has been made from 600lbs of of flour and has an extension ring on top of the mixing bowl to allow for the bulk fermentation punching down is probably a very true discription, i can remember many a night that felt like i had gone the full distance in a title fight.

The action we use is more of a push although if you do want to give it a good single biff is also fine, bu then what you need to do is to pull the sides up and in this alows the dough to even up in temperature (it can be cooler or warmer to the sides of the container it also assists in bringing available food to the yeast for your renewed burst of activity.

I wouldn't knead the dough again at this stage just scale up or divide into the number of dough pieces required, depending on the style of bread you are aiming for will depend if you are going  to do a lot of shaping or just pulling the edges in to end up with a more open textured loaf. For a conventional closer sandwhich style crumb you will need to allow the dough to recover and relax (10MIN), hand up into a round and cover and allow to recover ready for the final shaping.  

I agree with other comments on temp probably to hot so the bread is taking to much colour without probably baking all the way through. ovens can be way out on their calibration at the best of times. keep at it success is only another bake away 

regards Yozza

yozzause's picture

Hi Dave the picture came through while i was doing my post that looks A pretty good loaf of bread there, so you have a good base to try another click up on the temp guage and see if that gives you something that you are after and or extend the time with the same setting as the loaf pictured is clearly not overbaked.

regards Yozza  

Dave_N's picture

Thanks guys.....


Really appreciate all your help..

My process for the above 'loaf'.....

Usual ingredients

Knead for 10 mins then left for 90 mins

Folder as per youtube video on TFL and left covered for 10 mins

Shaped as per youtube video and left to rise above sides of loaf tin - approx 20 mins

Baked in oven for 35 mins @ 180C

Will pop to the shops tommorow to get more ingredients and some better method of measuring the proofing process.




Janknitz's picture

You are very ambitious and determined, and it looks like you recognize the steep learning curve.  A big part of baking bread is learning what dough feels like when it's properly kneaded, what it feels like when it's properly proofed, and how to tell when bread is properly baked.  Without a mentor, this is tough to learn on your own.  You're doing very well, considering!

Some of the best advice I've ever seen comes from Susan of the Wildyeast blog. As she points out, dough is ready when it's ready, not when the clock says it's ready. Bread is baked when it's done and had the proper time and temperature to develop.  Some of this just comes with experience.

Over time you are going to learn how much kneading a certain dough needs and what it should feel like when the kneading is done.  Some recipes give you guidelines like "smooth and elastic", others are silent.  To make it more complicated, it varies according to the bread you are making (so the advice about sticking to one type of bread until you master it is a good one).  If you look up "windowpane" here on TFL and elsewhere, you will learn that there are three stages of gluten development and gradually learn which stage is best for the dough you are making.  A good, highly detailed instruction book like Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice or Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible (remember the library!) can help with photos and detailed explanations.  

The clock is not a reliable determination of when dough is properly kneaded or proofed, because other factors including kneading technique, temperature, humidity and other things will impact how your dough behaves.  This will only come with experience and study.  The clock is a guideline only for what to expect under average conditions.  Many of us find in the winter when our houses are cold or in the summer when they are hot, the times are way off one direction or the other.  

Likewise, proofing does not always follow the clock.  For most basic doughs, the best way to determine proofing is stick your finger in the dough and pull it right out again (to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch).  Does the hole close right up, or does it fill in slowly, if at all?  If it fills in slowly, the dough is properly proofed and ready for the next stage.

As far as baking, you will need TWO thermometers.  The first is an oven thermometer to determine the accuracy of your oven.  If it's running hot, turn it down, if it's running cold, turn it up.  if it's uneven, determine the best spot and whether or not you need to turn your bread to maintain even baking.

The second thermometer is an instant read probe thermometer.  When you think the bread is done, stick it to the center as inconspicuously as possible. The temperature should be 180 to 190F for enriched  (added oil, eggs, butter) doughs, and 204 - 210F for lean doughs (flour, water, yeast and salt only).  

As for soft crusts, steam will crisp your crust--that's not what you want.  Bake at a lower temp for longer (350F or so--until the thermometer says it's done).  Sometimes when there is a lot of dough, the dough will brown faster than the dough bakes.  I often cover the loaf with some foil for the last 10 or 15 minutes to prevent the crust from browning any further while the bread is finishing its bake.  

Finally, it sounds like you don't like the flavor of the yeast all that much.  You can gradually reduce the yeast, giving the dough longer at each stage to rise.  Eventually, if you keep up this pace of curiosity you will want to try sourdough, and that will have a profound effect on the flavors of your bread.  

You are on a great adventure.  Enjoy!

spsq's picture

Looks like a whole wheat bread.  They're crusts can be harder when the are removed and as they cool, but when you put it in a plastic bag to store, it'll soften.  Wait til it's all the way cool though!  Nice looking loaf!

Dave_N's picture

Thanks everyone......

Bought some utensils etc on the way home from work...

Going to have another attempt (or two) tonight!

jennyloh's picture

Hi Dave, the loaf above looks great for the first few tries.  you should see mine when I started,  it's as hard as a rock,  even my dog couldn't chew on the bread.  haha...  Like what everyone says,  watch the dough,  the rise, proofing,  and shaping does require a little of experiment.  There's some good links on checking whether your dough has proven enough.  It was I think after my 10th try that I think I finally got it right.  Every oven may also be different in terms of temperature.  In fact,  I just realised that my oven is off by 10-20 degrees after I finally got my oven thermometer.

For the moist in the bread -  you might want to cool for 30 minutes before cutting it.    It will dry out after cooling.

have fun and enjoy - looking forward to your other attempts.