The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello and help a newcomer

Ron Frost's picture
Ron Frost

Hello and help a newcomer

Hello from Amelia Court House, VA


I am been looking at the forum and trying some of the recipes here for the past couple of months and I finally decided it was time to join.  I am very new to baking.  I have made pizza dough, rolls, french bread and a few other recipes from this site.  I think I made have had beginners luck with my first few attempts.  I am very confused about gluten development.  I make all of my dough by hand in a big bowl with a big wooden spoon.  I am not sure how log I should mix it and kneed it.  My first few attemps the dough would come away from the sides of the bowl and kind of wrap around the wooden spoon as I mixed.  The dough was pretty easy to work with and shape (not real sticky and wet).  Doing the same recipe again using the same ingredients (I weigh the flower, yeast, water etc) the dough would be very wet, sticky and almost impossible to work with and try to shape.  When I try to make bread into a baquette shaped loaf it ends up being pretty flat and will not stay round and or rise properly.  I am not sure if I mixed and kneeded too much or not enough or if there is another issue.  I would appreciate any tips.

clazar123's picture

I don't think it's possible to knead too long when you are hand kneading. Not to the point of causing damage to the dough.So push,pull,slap,stretch and have at it!

If your flour is capable of developing good gluten, it will start forming it the minute it is dissolved in water. We mix and then knead the dough in order to expose more of the flour particles to the water molecules and allow the magic to begin. I like to think of kneading to windowpane as similar to weaving a net. The gluten forms but is a snarl of long strands. By kneading,we are helping them align together so they can form a "net" to capture the gas that the yeast gives off and inflate the loaf. The starch in the flour swells to form a gel and that also helps hold the gas in place until we can bake and "set" the sculpture we call the loaf. Some flours have more or less gluten(bread flour/more,pastry flour/less),different kinds of gluten (kamut/stretchy gluten) or form more gel and have very little gluten (rye and oats,for example)The other ingredients we add to the dough can affect how the gluten strands and starch form and act. Salt can stabilize the gluten but negatively affect the yeast growth and the starch formation. Enzymes in the flour and yeast can affect things also. Sharp structures in the flour (bran bits,nuts,etc) can actually cut the gluten strands if not properly softened/moistened or the dough roughly kneaded. Sugar affects the yeast,starch and gluten formation. So bread recipes are really a balance to achieve texture,taste and make sure all the components come together and behave like you want.It's a miracle-very complex and yet simple-to blend  4 ingredients (flour,salt,water and yeast) to yield so many delicious results.

Have fun!

Ron Frost's picture
Ron Frost

Thanks for the information.  I think you may have helped me solve part of my problem.  I had been adding my yeast without any concern about the other ingredients already added.  Specifically I was adding my yeast on top of the salt in my recipe.  That may have been causing some of the issues with the inconsistent rise from the yeast.

caraway's picture

Where to begin... there are so many variables to consider.  But once you learn them, reliability will be yours!  Usually.  : )

Humidity and temperature variations are primary in considering how much flour and water to mix.  You'll get used to the look and feel of your 'good' dough and adjust every time you make a loaf.  That's what makes it interesting...

A few of the things that affect rise could be not enough gluten development, dough overheated, dough too cold, shaping and handling problems causing gluten cloak tearing, bad yeast or sluggish starter, and I've probably got a few more to learn myself.

Have you learned to stretch and fold yet?  How about autolyse?  Feed those terms into 'search' if you're not familiar.  They're two procedures you'll find invaluable no matter what kind of bread you're making.

Meanwhile, hope you enjoy the learning trip.  I think it's really fun.


lazybaker's picture

Wet your hands first. The dough doesn't stick to wet fingers. Stretch and fold the dough. 

Here's a video on stretching and folding the dough.

Here's on pre-shaping and shaping the baguettes:

During the pre-shaping and shaping, I lightly dust flour on the dough.

yy's picture

here's another great video about handling high hydration doughs. You can really see the transformation of the dough from a soupy mess to a plump pile that stands up nicely.