The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Now what am I doing wrong?

rodentraiser's picture

Now what am I doing wrong?

 I recently tried a recipe for an 80% hydration baguette. Again, since I don't have a scale, I converted to cups and teaspoons and I halved the recipe. The first time, I had waaaaaay too much water in it, but I thought I had halved it wrong and gotten confused between the water and the flour. The second time, I got this:



 As you can tell, I finally learned how to score those suckers! I followed a suggestion and let them bake in the oven a minute and then scored them - that seems to work. I also got some nice holes in the crumb.

 However, I then tried to make the full recipe as it stood and after 5 tries, the dough is incredibly wet. It will not come together no matter how much I stretch and fold, unlike when I made it as a half recipe. This last time, I cut out a full third cup of water and it's still too wet to form into baguettes.

 This is the recipe from the blog of a member here:


Ingredients for the Poolish:

380 g bread flour  (1 2/3 cup flour)

304 g water (1 1/2 cup of water)

3 g instant yeast


Ingredients for the Baguette:


380 g bread flower

304 g cold water

12 g salt

1.5 g instant yeast


 Now the poolish is supposed to go into the fridge for 10 to 17 hours. My fridge is set at about between 32° and 38°, so I leave the poolish out for about 12 to 18 hours. Is this part of the problem? Also, Since I am sooooo tired of scraping flour off my counter, I am now doing folds in the bowl. I only take the dough out to form it into baguettes. That worked well for the half recipe - maybe it's not working so well for the full recipe?

 Any suggestions? And also, is there any way at the beginning to tell if I have too much water in the dough? When I start, the dough looks no wetter than any of the pictures of wet dough I've seen here. I guess it should be coming together after I fold it several times. If at that point I don't think it is, should I add more flour then to salvage it or should I just toss it and try again? I'm baking this latest disaster because I also forgot oil, so the bread is going to burn on the cookie sheet, but I can practice scoring. Otherwise, I would be dumping it like the last 4 times.



LindyD's picture

Hi Kelly, 

First, a poolish is 100 percent hydration - it contains equal amounts of flour and water.  Your pre-ferment is technically not a poolish.

I scaled 304 grams of water twice after reading your post, and using two different liquid measuring cups it came to 1 and 1/4 cups of water.  You have a separate measuring cup for liquids, correct?

My cup of bread flour weighs 4.6 ounces, or 130.4 grams. Or it did the day I scaled it.  Because volume measurements are so inaccurate, I imagine I'd have a slightly different result today if I scooped and weighed again.

That's why a scale is an essential tool.  It's so much more accurate than cups.  It will save you money in the long run, too.  No more dumping of all the ingredients because of measurement errors.

But that doesn't answer your question.  Why not hold back a portion of the water when you are mixing the dough?  If it needs more water after you bring the ingredients together, add some.  A tablespoon at a time.  

Looking at a photo of dough won't tell you a thing about its actual hydration.  Only your hands can do that.

I've never heard of scoring baguettes by pulling them out of the oven and scoring after the skin has set.  Seems rather wasteful given you lose oven heat and it takes time for the oven to recover.

Hope things work out better for you the next time - there are a lot of great baguette recipes here at TFL, posted by experienced bakers.  Check out the blogs.

rodentraiser's picture

 I double checked what I had been using and you are very close on the water. For 304 grams, I was using 1 1/3 cups of water. However, I can see the problems with the flour. I was using 1 2/3 cup of flour for 380 grams, but by your measurements, even if I used 2 cups of flour, that would be only about 260 grams, well below the required 380 grams. No wonder my dough is so wet.

 I find it very easy when I'm kneading to add flour until I have dough I can work with. However, doing it the other way around by adding water until I have the right amount is much harder. I have gone from a very solid dough to thick pancake mix by adding just 1/3 of a cup of water. And that dough never did come together. However, before I added the water, the dough itself would have been too thick to fold in my opinion, although it could have been kneaded - with difficulty. and learn, I guess.

rodentraiser's picture

 Sheesh, I didn't even know there was such a thing as separate cups for liquids.

 I would like to have a scale, but unfortunatley that is out of the question for right now. Maybe once I'm working again. Ditto any more measuring cups. I just have to be creative and work with what I have. I am currently using my (now defunct) credit card to do stretch and folds in the bowl. Works well as long as I don't have a lot of dough.

 The suggestion to pull the baguettes out and score them after they had baked for a bit was made by someone here. Otherwise, I was having a heck of a time scoring them and not collapsing them. I don't feel I lose that much heat out of the oven. I set the temp to 500°, let it warm up, and then open it to put the bread and ice cubes in. After about a minute or so, I take out the bread and score it quickly, and then when I put the bread back in, I turn the temp down to 450°. The oven has not had to reheat, so the temp is not going below 450°. So far that has worked very well. That's how I scored the loaf in the picture.

 The recipe said to add the water to the poolish (which I guess is not a real poolish) first, so in the future I will do as you suggested and add the flour first. I guess it's going to be a judgement call on my part. I do sort of know what the dough is supposed to look like, so I will take it from there.

 The loaves I did tonight aren't too bad - handled too much, so not too many holes in the crumb and the taste is so-so (will I EVER remember to put in salt!). They just about doubled their height while baking which isn't saying much, but considering they looked like pancake dough when they were put in the oven, that's pretty good. Now they just look like slugs, but they're edible.


EvaB's picture

but you can work around that problem by haunting dollar stores, they have cheap plastic measures, and even reasonable priced baking equipment and pots and pans etc. You can get scales for around 20$ Canadian at places like Canadian Tire and Wal Mart in my small city (around 20,000 pop) so should be able to find a Starfrit brand one at a reasonable cost somewhere around you. They may not weigh over 10 pounds and may not even get that high, but you can work around that by weighing in stages and then combining the whole into your dough.

The plastic measures I don't reccomend using with sugar syrups or sugar anything in a microwave, but as long as you watch what you melt in them (butter is another thing that tends to melt plastics in microwaves) they will measure your liquids just fine until you can afford a more pricey and in my opinion better glass measure.

If you can afford a scale, I have just attempted to purchase for the second time, a scale which does bakers % measuring, and it wasn't that expensive, with the ac adaptor it was around 115.00$ Canadian with shipping and Provincial taxes, the scale itself was around 80$

The thing to do is educate yourself on the various things that are required for baking, and build a list of must haves, and want to haves and keep looking for them at reasonable prices and build up your kitchen piece by piece, I have been collecting for over 30 years, and still have things that I'd like to have, but have most of what I must have. Of course you do have to take into consideration the storage of things as well, so dreaming of having a full sized deck oven might be ok for the dream, but the practical space needed for such a dream is to be considered before doing that impulse buy!

But you can find things in unexpected places, like a lot of hardware stores and buidling supply centers have kitchen ware, and even laundry items, they generally tend to cost more in those stores, but they have them.

rodentraiser's picture

 Thank  you for your info! I know I can get a cheap scale but right now, it's just something I will have to put off for a while. Besides, I am still not entirely sure I absolutely need one. I'm know it would make my life easier, but people baked bread - and good bread, at that - for centuries before scales were even thought of. How did they do it?

 I do have some nice measuring cups though, that I got years ago. They're ceramic and I use those all the time. Meantime, I am doing as you suggest and trying to build up my kitchen equipment. My problem is I didn't really like cooking, so while I was working, I was happy with just the bare minimum of pots and pans and stuff like that. It's only been since I was laid off that I have actually gotten an interest in any kind of cooking and baking. Baking bread was a just a way to try to save some money and I thought I would try baguettes because I like to snack on them (yeah, gotta start exercising again LOL).

Now, of course, you guys have me inspired to make <i>good</i> baguettes.

EvaB's picture

I think it was, but they certainly might not have been as accurate as now. The thing I have found is yes they do make a difference if you are trying to produce the same results each time, and have started using mine for more than just baking bread.

The thing with measuring cups and not weighing flour is that the flour is different each bake, age, temperature and humidity all make flour lighter or heavier, and dryer or moister therefore heavier. So by weighing the flour instead of measuring (which is ok for things like nuts or chopped fruit etc,) you can get the same amount of flour each time, and then the adjustment to moister flour can be made with ease. I have only been using a scale for baking for the past 6 months or so, but I can see the usefulness of it, since I just measured before, so when I started weighing I measured my usual cups and weighed it to see, and just adding the second cup made me see that cups are not really accurate, as it was lighter than the first. And I tried doing three cups in three different ways, I dipped and weighed (each cup was a different weight) I spooned into the cup (again each one was different, just not quite as much) and I sifted my flour and spooned and weighed, and that was again 3 different weights. So that convinced me that weighing flour was a good idea, same with any other ingredient, although I do usually just measure my water, unless the whole recipe is in grams or ounces, then I am very careful to weigh the water to get the right amount. I might not be so picky about the salt, but I do try to get it the same each time. And of course yeast is very picky as to amount, although if I get a tiny bit more or less, it doesn't make that much difference.

But for adding different flours to your base bread flour, its almost imperitive that you have a scale, as it makes the ratio of flours to each other more accurate, and that can make the difference between having the bread raise properly or to make bricks, which when I was struggling with funds was certainly not apealing to make as the cost of not eating the food was high! You simply have to live on a limited income for a long time to appreciate the scale. That was one reason I never learned to cook young, my mother simply couldn't afford to waste food on mistakes, so she cooked. And we ate portioned meals, none of this put it out on the table and let everyone help themselves, that only happened when we had vistors for a meal (rare) or at Christmas when she had managed to cook dinner for a large family of extended variety. About once every second year.

LindyD's picture

to forget the salt, Kelly!  A good reason to always taste your dough after you've mixed it.

I learned that the hard way - mixed Hamelman's VT sourdough, got through the first S&F, then happened to see the salt sitting on the counter.  Whoops.  I did manage to get the salt into the dough, but now I always put the container of the salt either on my mixer (if I'm using it to mix), or next to the bowl containing the dough, if hand mixing (I always autolyse).

You can mix your pre-ferment however - but when mixing the dough and other ingredients, don't dump all the water in immediately.  That's when you want to hold some back until you're happy with the hydration and feel of the dough.  You might use all of it - or  you might not.  

Sounds like you're making progress, and that's good.  The heck with how they look - it's the edible part that counts.

BTW, pretty creative use of a credit card!  If you have an empty plastic milk/water container handy, you can fashion a dough scraper or two from the bottom.  Then you'll have a few.  ;-)

Keep on baking!

rodentraiser's picture

 Thanks, I'm certainly trying! And the bread really doesn't get thrown out. The ones I can, I bake. If I can't eat them, I think the raccoons will eat them. I haven't seen them actually pick up any chunks of bread and chew yet, but the bread is always gone in the morning.

 Um, I forgot something. I am also using dry active yeast (I think), not instant. That wouldn't have anything to do with it, would it? I am using just a little more than the recipe with instant yeast calls for and I sure haven't had a problem with the baguettes rising.

rodentraiser's picture

 Well, it's becoming very apparent to me from the videos I see here of people who say they're working with "wet" doughs, that if their doughs are wet, mine must be sopping. The doughs I see here are well behaved and smooth, also looking very silky after just a couple of folds. My dough has a shiney, wet look to it, even after folding until my hands get sore and that's how it's been looking when it goes into the oven. That may also be why I am having so much trouble scoring. Also why it sticks to everything - counter, hands, bowls, regardless of how much flour, water, or oil I put on everything. What I am surprised at, is the baguettes will go into the oven looking like 1/2" thick pancakes in baguette form (I tried using a an old scrunched up T-shirt to proof them on - all they did was gently collapse when they got turned out on the baking sheet) and then they practically quadruple in height as they're baking. So I am looking to maybe get a scale in the future then, because I really am curious to know what hydration I've been trying to work with here. Meantime, I will definitely work with less water and see what happens.