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Trying to improve my bread

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OttovonBrot's picture
OttovonBrot

Trying to improve my bread

I have been making bread by hand on and off for 5 years or so. The last year or two has been more off than on and I am trying to change that. This last weekend I decided to dive back in and made an Italian wheat bread from Caroline Fields "The Italian Baker." I have the general techniques down and am really looking for advice on how to improve the crumb, crust and overall texture of my bread. The crumb is always denser than I would like and I have tried a number of things to improve it with little success (with and without vital wheat gluten, wetter doughs, more and less kneading, different rising speeds and times, with and without steaming). Additionally, my crusts always turn out very thin and flimsy. I found a forum post on just that topic and tried the suggestion of letting it bake 5 minutes longer but no luck.

Below are pictures of the progression of my most recent loaf. Any and all comments, suggestions, help, criticisms are welcome. I would love to have a more robust loaf with more structure and substance. Perhaps I am looking for the bread holy land but it is always good to strive to be better.

Done kneading and just about to go into a bowl for first rise:

From Bread 10/11/2010

Beginning of first rise:

From Bread 10/11/2010

Finished with first rise at around 2.5-3 hours. The recipe says there should be "full of air bubbles" but none are visible on the surface. Of course, there are SOME or it wouldnt have risen:

From Bread 10/11/2010

I divided the dough into three equal pieces. Two are going into the fridge to slow proof and be cooked in the next couple days, this one was cooked today. Proofing setup:

From Bread 10/11/2010

Proofed, slashed, dusted and ready to bake; about 1 hour proofing gave not quite double size:

From Bread 10/11/2010

In the oven, on the baking stone:

From Bread 10/11/2010

Fresh out of the oven, baked just over 30 minutes (calls for 45-55 for larger, if I had divided into 2 rather than 3, loaves):

From Bread 10/11/2010

The finale! The crumb is slightly more open than some of my breads in the past but, as you can see, the crust is very thin. The whole loaf is also quite elastic and rubbery:

From Bread 10/11/2010

After looking it over, what do people think? Any expert suggestions? Are there some secret tricks that bakeries use to get that "perfect" crust and crumb?
Thanks for any help!

Syd's picture
Syd

Your crust looks good.  It has a nice even thickness all round and a good color.  I would hardly categorize it as 'thin' or 'flimsy'.  But it is difficult to tell from that small picture so I may be wrong.  Basically, the longer the bake the thicker the crust.   Does it soften up when it has cooled down?  If so, you haven't baked it long enough or your oven temp was too low.  How accurate is your oven?  Have you checked it lately? You said you baked it for 30 mins.  Why don't you try 35 and then leave it in for a further 5 with the oven off and the door slightly ajar.


 


Here is some advice I picked up from Mariana.  She reckons, to get your WW breads to rise higher, try autolysing the WW  component for 30 mins before you add the other ingredients.  The addition of some fat (the type that is solid at room temp. eg. butter, lard - not oil) will also improve them.  You don't need a lot (about 1 - 2% of your total flour weight).  She also says, it is really important to develop the gluten structure of WW breads at kneading.  I always give mine a good 15 minute knead by hand and try to get as close to passing the window pane test as possible.  3 stretch and folds at 30/60/90 mins should also improve both extensibility and elasticity.  You could also try and sieve some of the coarser bits of  bran out of the flour.  You will still have the same flavour of WW but sans the larger bits of bran which can pierce holes in the gluten structure and deflate the loaf.


 


What is the hydration of the recipe that you are using?  Some more details on the recipe would help with a diagnosis, too.  Handling is another crucial issue.  You  need to firm up that outer 'gluten cloak'  so that the loaf stands up nice and high but you don't want to lose too many of those fermentation bunbbles in the process.


 


You said that the loaf was 'elastic and rubbery'.  What was the protein percent of the flour you were using?  


 


You could try giving the loaf a longer final proof.  If it wasn't quite doubled as you say and your oven temp was too low, you wouldn't have got much oven spring.  I allow some of my yeasted loaves to more than treble in bulk before I bake them and then they still rise some in the oven.  Admittedly, these are usually loaves baked in forms but it does serve to illustrate that you can often prove loaves more than you think.


 

pmccool's picture
pmccool

The dough pictured appears to have trebled, maybe even quadrupled, in volume during the first rise.  Consequently, it was riddled with bubbles.  If you had seen bubbles at the surface, it would have meant that the gluten was breaking down and allowing the gas trapped in the bubbles to escape.  For your own understanding, try slicing part way into the risen dough when you bake next time, prior to degassing.  You will see all kinds of bubbles throughout the dough.


The shape of a bowl makes it very difficult to gauge just how much expansion is occurring as a dough ferments.  Try putting the dough in a transparent or translucent container with vertical sidewalls during your next session.  Mark the position of the top of the dough with a piece of tape.  Then use another piece of tape positioned twice as far up the container so that you can see when it reaches the doubling point.  In other words, if the top of the dough is 5 units (inches, centimeters, whatever) from the bottom of the container when first placed, put another piece of tape 10 units up from the bottom of the container.  The key things are that the container has straight sides and that you can see the dough through container walls.  This will give you a much better way to see when the dough has doubled (and maybe let you see some of those bubbles, too).


I'd happily eat that bread, so don't be too hard on yourself.  The stuff that is labeled "Italian bread" in the U.S. usually has a soft crumb and crust.  If you are looking for something more "robust", you might want to switch to a pain de campagne.  Those often feature a hard crust and firm crumb.  They also (usually) only contain flour, water, yeast and salt.  The milk or oil that a lot of Italian bread recipes call for will soften both the crust and the crumb of the finished bread.


Paul

OttovonBrot's picture
OttovonBrot

Great stuff, thanks for the comments. I am not disappointed with my loaf, it tastes good and is fine to eat. I just want to know how to achieve certain qualities. The crust was nice and hard fresh out of the oven but did soften tremendously as it cooled. When fully cooled the loaf looses the rigidity it had and feels more like a big sponge. I am not too sure on the accuracy of the oven, I recently moved and have a different gas oven. Time to get an oven thermometer.

The bowls do make it hard to judge the rise, it is more guess work and timing than looking at doubling or tripling. Looks like it might be time to find a good clear container for bread.

I realized last night that I forgot some of the specifics. Here they are:

Recipe:
1.25 t active dry yeast (I use SAF instant yeast, it comes in a red and white bag with a cartoon baker on the front, http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/saf-red-instant-yeast-16-oz)
2.75 cups water
1 cup Biga (made the night before with 1/8t yeast, 1/2cup water, 1.25 cup flour, halved recipe from same book)
2 cups WW flour
3.75 cups unbleached white
1 T salt

I use King Arthur unbleached white bread flour with 12.7% ,according to their website, and King Arthur whole wheat at 17% protein. I also added 8t of vital wheat gluten, as per instructions on the can.

The loaf was baked in a preheated oven with baking stone at 450 degrees F for 30 minutes. It was getting quite dark, see picture of finished loaf, and I didnt want to burn it. The recipe called for 45-55 minutes but also says it yields 2 big or 3 small loaves. I have two loaves that I let rise in the fridge overnight and will try baking one of those for a full 45 minutes and see what happens; I will also let it sit with the oven door open and see if that helps. I kneaded for a good 10 minutes, maybe 15 would be better.

One more question, when determining the hydration %, is it necessary to include the water and flour that went into the start used (biga or poolish)?

Thanks again, this place is a treasure trove of information.

Syd's picture
Syd


The crust was nice and hard fresh out of the oven but did soften tremendously as it cooled. When fully cooled the loaf looses the rigidity it had and feels more like a big sponge.



 


If you don't bake your loaf long enough, you won't drive enough of the water off.  As the loaf cools, the water migrates to the crust and softens it.  You need to bake your loaf for longer or increase the baking temp.


 



One more question, when determining the hydration %, is it necessary to include the water and flour that went into the start used (biga or poolish)?


 



Yes, if you want to work out the total hydration of the loaf, you must include all the flour and water.  It is going to be difficult to work out the hydration of your loaf accurately because you didn't weigh your ingredients, but I had a go at it anyway.


You had a total of 3.25 cups of water in your loaf.  That is about 760ml of water which equals 760g.  You had 7 cups of flour.  Now this is where the guessing comes in because depending on how you scooped/packed/leveled your flour in the cup measure, you could have anywhere from about 110g to 150g per cup.  let's say that you erred on the heavy side and your cups weighed in at 143g per cup.  That would give you a total flour weight of about 1000g.  Divide the total water by the total flour and you get your hydration:0.76 or 76%. 


 


I can't really comment on the addition of the vital gluten because I have never baked with it.  I have never felt it necessary and I bake with a flour which only has an 11.4% protein content.  I can't say with any certainty but it just may be contributing to what you describe as being 'elastic and rubbery'.  Perhaps others with more knowledge on the subject could comment on this.  Why don't you try halving the vital wheat gluten and see if that makes a difference. 


 


A word of caution:  don't try to change too many variables at once or you won't know which one was responsible for the final result.

OttovonBrot's picture
OttovonBrot

It is going to be difficult to work out the hydration of your loaf accurately because you didn't weigh your ingredients, but I had a go at it anyway.

Is there any significant advantage to baking bread by weight versus volume? (other than calculating hydration %) Perhaps more consistency from loaf to loaf, I suppose.

I have tried the vital wheat gluten because I read that without enough gluten the bread would not have enough strength to support an open crumb. In an effort to coax bigger pockets I thought it was worth a shot.

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

You definitely don't need extra gluten since you are using KA bread flour and KA ww which is also selected and milled for making bread. If your breads are too chewy, it is almost certainly due to the extra vwg. That combo of flours needs no help.

dscheidt's picture
dscheidt

Whole bushels of advantages from working with mass instead of volume.  Biggest is consistancy from batch to batch, but also from taking someone else's recipe and making it yourself.  If it's in mass units, it's easy to make sure you're using the same amount of flour, and not worrying if your cups have more flour in them than his do.  


It makes it easier to scale a recipe.  Want to make four loaves instead of just one?  Multply by four.  (It's even easier if you're using metric units, and not pounds and ounces, which is why even americans use them around here.) 


Releated to your point about hydration numbers is that it makes it easier to see if some ingredient is way out of whack.


One that's rarely mentioned is that its faster and less work to clean up.  It's a lot easier to put a bowl on the scale, tare it, and put a kilogram of flour in it than it is to carefully measure 9 cups of flour.  depending on the recipe and your proceures, you can have no measuring gear to clean.

Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

...behaves better in bread when soaked ahead of time or used in the biga.  Even though your flour mix is only 30% whole wheat, I'd try using 1.25 cups of the 2 cups of whole wheat in the biga and use the 1.25 cups of white flour and the 0.75 cup remaining whole wheat in the final dough. 


You could instead, make a soaker with the 2 cups whole wheat, 0.75 cup of the water in the recipe (or slightly more) and 1 tsp of the salt from the recipe and let this sit out  covered overnight.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

It's pretty easy to underbake loaves - crust color and crust firmness aren't at all good indicators of doneness, and even the old "thump" test of rapping the bottom turns out to be not very accurate. If the loave aren't fully baked, as the loaf cools the moisture from the crumb will migrate out through the crust (except some of the moisture won't make it all the way and will remain in the crust:-). The result will be a crust that seems fine initially but softens significantly while it's cooling.


Try getting a thermometer, maybe a "Thermapen" (if you can afford it) or at least some sort of 'Instant Read' thermometer. When you think the loaf is done, take it out of the oven and close the oven door and leave the oven on and put the loaf on your cooling rack. Then immediately poke the thermometer through the crust in some inconspicuous place into the very center of the crumb and measure the temperature. If it's not done yet, put the loaf back in the oven right away. If it is done, turn the oven off.


Sometimes the recipe will specify the desired temperature   ...but often not, so you have to figure it out yourself. Usually for typical lean doughs the rough rule of thumb is you want the internal temperature to be somewhere between 200F and 210F (my own personal experience is I need the full 210F, otherwise the crumb seems "mushy").


(Of course this needs to be adjusted if you live at a high elevation. The rule is really more like "12 to 2 degrees Fahrenheit less than boiling". But that's a mouthful and is overly complicated for the majority, so it's usually simplified to just 200F-210F with the [largely unspoken] assumption of "near sea level".)


If in doubt, err on the side of overbaking. A loaf that was in the oven five minutes too long might present a very slightly darker crust (or might even not present any visible difference at all). A loaf that was in the oven five minutes too short though will often have either a soft crust or a mushy crumb.


If you really want to modify (not just un-mushify) your crust, I suggest experimenting with either a small amount of uniformly fine water mist over the loaf before going into the oven or with "covering" the baking loaf with something like an inverted roasting pan (maybe a disposable foil one from your supermarket) for the first ten or fifteen minutes.


You can also experiment with raising the temperature and lowering the time (so the net bake is the same), or lowering the temperature and raising the time (again so the net bake is the same). You may be able to significantly affect crust color without affecting anything else.


 


P.S. If the bread is too "chewy" for your taste, and/or if all the bubbles always stay inside and never come to the surface, a strong suspect is flour with too high a gluten content. Often this is nothing more than switching down from some brand's "bread flour" to the same brand's "all purpose flour". Of course, buy the smallest quantity you can to initially bake just a couple test loaves to see whether you want a regular sized sack of the alternate flour you just tested.

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

Hey Chuck, 


Could you please explain the 12º to 2º F less then boiling?   I live at 9200 ft  and understand about water boiling at lower temp at altitude and have been trying to convert that to internal bread temperature.


 Thank you in advance.


 Pam

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Sure, I'll try. In general, for water/steam-related temperatures, instead of counting forward (from 0F or 32F or whatever), count backward from the boiling point of water. Here's a specific example:


Down near sea level water boils at approximately 212F. Another way to say 200F is 212F-12F (i.e. twelve degrees Fahrenheit less than boiling water). Likewise another way to say 210F is 212F-2F (i.e. two degrees Fahrenheit less than boiling water).


Assume water boils at your elevation of 9200 feet at 195F. Then translating 200F-210F to your altitude would be (195F-12F) - (195F-2F), which is 183F-193F.


 


Or, if you prefer to do it a different way, here's a formula for one temperature (use it twice for a range). Plug in the temperature from the recipe or forum and calculate what your thermometer should say:


195{BoilingWaterAtYourAltitude} - ( 212 - SeaLevelTemperature ) = YourTemperature


 


(Of course this works only for temperatures near the boiling point of water. The simplest thing for lower temperatures -for example "ferment at 80F"- is to just use the same number; this isn't exactly right, but it's close enough and it's easy.)

OttovonBrot's picture
OttovonBrot

Once again, there is a lot of really great information to digest here. Thanks again for all the help! Time to put some of this to use and see what happens. I have a pen candy thermometer that should work for testing the loaves. I will give it a whirl tonight when I bake another loaf.

How low does the gluten in flour need to be before a gluten addition becomes necessary?

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Quote:
How low does the gluten in flour need to be before a gluten addition becomes necessary?

If it's a typical "wheat" flour, and it's whitish, and you bought it in North America, and the sack or box doesn't say anything about "cake", and you're just baking up regular bread, then the answer is you should never need to add gluten.


Sometimes you'll want additional gluten for various special purposes; here are some of these special situations (but note even these only sometimes need added gluten, not always):



  • want to make bagels or pizza but have only all purpose flour

  • want to use a specialty (non-wheat or non-white) flour with a regular recipe

  • want to make "bread art" not just bread

  • want to make bread but have only "cake" flour

  • want to use a specialty flour from another place (Europe, India, etc.)

  • want to make a decorative (braided?) loaf but are afraid the dough will break

  • want to use a wonderful locally milled flour, but it's very-low-gluten

  • the recipe explicitly calls for it


The amount of additional gluten needed is quite variable, depending on the other ingredients and on your purpose. No container can explain all that adequately, so they just rather arbitrarily pick a (typically very high) number.


 




 


However, it would be the height of foolishness to argue with pictures of a very nice loaf. Sometimes "rules be damned".


 

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

Thank you so much.  Just exactly what I needed to know.  Pam

OttovonBrot's picture
OttovonBrot

I baked a loaf last night and kept it in the oven until the internal temperature was about 207 or 208 degrees F and the crust is perfect! Just what it needed. However, cooking it longer did make it noticeably chewier than the first loaf, there is clearly too much gluten in it. I will probably try another batch without the gluten in the near future to see how it goes.

The crust is a little thicker and it still nice and crunchy the next day.

From Bread 10/11/2010
From Bread 10/11/2010

Once again, great advice! Thank you.

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

As explained earlier, KA bread flour is considered a higher gluten bread flour, and even on it's own(without added gluten) makes some breads that are too chewy for some people. And again, the KA ww is a very strong flour.


Even most of KAF's own recipes call for their AP flour for most of their bread recipes. Even an AP or bread flour with a protein level of 11.7% or so(like KAAP), will yield a somewhat chewy bread in a lean recipe(no fats, sugars, etc.). 


I suspect KAAP will eventually be the choice you will be most satisfied with for your particular recipe.

OttovonBrot's picture
OttovonBrot

Great stuff. The verdict seems to be that VWG is almost entirely unnecessary and the chewiness of these loaves is a testament to that. Next batch will be without any added gluten to see how it goes.