The Fresh Loaf

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Failed focaccia

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kate2011's picture
kate2011

Failed focaccia

As a long time reader who has learned a great deal from this site I am now here to ask for help.

For years I have regularly made focaccia using a recipe from Suzanne Dunaway’s “No need to knead’ book.

2 cups lukewarm water/I packet instant dry yeast/4 cups flour/2 teaspoons salt
Baked in a 2 inch deep baking tray at 190C for 35 minutes in a fan forced electric oven.

The batch I made yesterday looked fine when it went into the preheated oven, it had risen well - 2/3 way up the sides,& looked slightly bubbly.After 35 minutes the crust was the usual golden brown, came away from the baking tin to the cooling rack cleanly, but looked much flatter than usual, and when cool I found the dough was greyish, gluey and inedible.

The flour and yeast were well within their use by dates, so I thought I had made an error with the amount of water.

I made the same recipe today - new yeast which bubbled well when tested, flour from new bag with a 2012 use by date.
2 cups lukewarm water / mixed as per directions as usual, left to rise for 20 minutes to accommodate the instant yeast that I always use. I stand the tray on a rack inside a deep kitchen sink that has a cover - warmish, but not hot, and draught free.

Then gently moved into the oiled tray,stretched and finger dimpled, left to rise for 20 minutes, by which time it was well risen and looked fine.
I checked the oven temp using two thermometers - both showed the correct temperature.
Baked for the usual time - but got the same result as before - the focaccia was only about a half inch deep [usually about 2 inches]the dough was grayish and uncooked.

Any suggestion as to why or how this is happening will be appreciated.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Not knowing how much your "4 cups" of flour weighs it's difficult to assess the hydration of your dough but if your cup = 4.5 ounces your hydration level is, IMO, too high.  If your cup = 5 ounces it's probably OK.  Is there any oil in your formula?  Suzanne Dunaway’s recipe uses Kosher salt.  Did you use that or substitute table salt?


How warm is "luke warm" in terms of actual temperature?


My focaccia:


Cold ferments for minimum of 12 hours, then rests for about 3 hours at room temp before loading into the oven.  It bakes at 235C for ten minutes, the gets a 180 degree turn for another 5 - 8 minutes or until it's nicely browned; I think your oven may be too cool.


 


 

kate2011's picture
kate2011

Thank you for your comments - I agree that things you have mentioned can make for difficulties, but  I have been using this recipe for six years now, made exactly as I described, and could make it in my sleep,  so at first was sure I had made a mistake somewhere along the line.

Being a no knead recipe the dough is wet and tacky, and after the initial two minutes brisk mixing, and then after mixing in the second half of the flour is not kneaded at all. After tipping it into the baking pan it gets stretched  to fill the base, but no other handling. I use the same day option, rather than the overnight methods, but always have, so that is not new.

The oven temperature is slightly lower than recommended to allow for the fan free oven running 20 degrees hotter than a non-fan one, but has always worked in the past. The focaccia looks perfect when taken from the oven, flatter than usual, but fine until it is cut and the gluey dough can be see.

Having made the second batch today, being extra careful not to miss anything I can’t understand what is happening to get this failed end product, or why. Allowing that yeast doughs can vary have you ever experienced this result when using a long time, reliable recipe?  I have searched everywhere but, other than points ones you have raised, no advice as to why it the problem persists across two attempts despite having excluded the obvious reasons.


Thanks again though for your suggestions.

AnnaInMD's picture
AnnaInMD

I am in Southern Maryland, and we currently have snow AGAIN !! Anyway, I have baked some horrible creations lately until last week when the weather was in the 70s. My starters were bubbling all over the place, the bread rose ahead of time while proofing, etc etc.  Before those warm days, I was ready to throw out all ingredients and go through the expense of renewing flours, yeast, salt, etc. But those warm days changed my mind.  Could that be part of the problem ?


FWIW, I love "No need to knead" !  She has wonderful ideas and stories and recipes.


Best,


Anna


PS:  It might help if the recipes were in grams which most here use. Weigh your four cups of flour and assign 100% to that weight and go from there with water, yeast, salt, etc. More help could be forthcoming that way.


 

jcking's picture
jcking

I would try a well oiled sheet pan.


Jim

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Well, Kate, I'm sorry you're having disappointing results.  Based on the information, nothing short of adjusting some element in the process will improve the output.  Based on what you've posted, there are some obvious possibilities (all previously listed) and I'm wondering if re-reading the recipe would help.  I noticed that the initial baking temperature in the Dunaway recipe is higher than the 190C you listed.


Somebody once said that continuing to perform a task the same way each time and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity.  Bread making, while it can be enjoyable and relaxing, can also be frustrating.  Gotta be flexible ....

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Guesses as to what changed:


1) Your local water supply got worried about bacteria and significantly upped the amount of chlorine they use, and the chlorine is now killing your yeast. One way to test is to "prove" the yeast with your tap water. Another way to test is to try a batch either with distilled water from your market or with water that's set out overnight in a reasonably shallow pan.


2) Although the new flour is within the use by date, it's a different brand.


3) If a packet of yeast gets "hot" (maybe by sitting in the sun:-), it can be thoroughly dead despite the use by date. (A posting here on TFL described buying brand new yeast packets at the store, but killing them with the sunlight coming through the car window before they even got home.) You do store all your yeast packets in your refrigerator, right? Can you "prove" your yeast (dissolve a packet of yeast in a small bowl of baby-bottle-temperature water with a teaspoon of sugar, and check after ten minutes that it's frothy)? (The "use by" date on yeast is just a wild guess that's easily dramatically affected by how the yeast is stored.)

jcking's picture
jcking

I think Chuck hit the nail. I never trust tap water. Either filter and let stand, or buy spring at the store. Avoid distilled water. Does anyone have an idea of what effect floride might have with baked goods?


Jim

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Our tap water is both fluoridated and chlorinated.  Makes no difference whether I use it or "purified" water.  Same result  -  great bread.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Yep, the amount of chlorine in "typical" tap water tends to be okay for bread, and often even for starter. But the amount of chlorine in different water supplies differs enormously, and "too much" chlorine will kill yeast. Just ask the woman who suddenly couldn't get any of her bread to rise, and was puzzled by the mystery that starting at the very same time the flappers in all the toilets in her house failed.


Water suppliers whose bacterial counts a) get them sued or b) get them in trouble with the feds or maybe c) exceed their own catastrophic limits are prone to suddenly and with no notice to their users double or triple or quadruple the amount of chlorine they put in the water.


I forgot that for sourdough (especially starter) distilled water is a no-no because all the trace minerals have been distilled away too, so yeast can't thrive.

jcking's picture
jcking

I keep rereading all the above and racking my brain. My next guess would be for you to try a different style of bread. I'm leaning toward bad flour.


Jim

jcking's picture
jcking

Checking other resources; I now believe the problem is raw flour in your dough, which would cause gray streaks in the finished loaf.


Jim

kate2011's picture
kate2011

Thank you all for your replies - I certainly came to the right place.
To answer your questions/ and address your suggestions I hope the following will not too much to absorb - I am sending it as one reply to you all -


** Recipe: not only did I reread them, I wrote them out to double check as I worked - and felt like a nervous newbie.

**Water :   110F -
Chlorine - Sydney water >> Some systems use 'free' chlorine (5 mg/L) and others use monochloramines (3 mg/L)<<
I leave water to stand at room temp overnight to remove the chlorine,  then warm to 110F

Amount used : depending on the  flour to be used, as even with careful storage  it be affected by our weather - Sydney summer weather is very humid, and especially so after  heavy summer rain.
To counteract this I use the recommended amount of water, holding back half a cup to add or not, depending on the take up.

** Yeast - instant, dissolved in warm water until bubbly [rather than add to the dry ingredients , I do this to make sure the yeast is active] I store yeast in the refrigerator but stand it at room temp before using.

**Flour - today a new brand. Bread flour as such is not freely available in Australia, so I use plain APF - but this has never created any problems before.  I do not add gluten unless called for in a recipe.

**Salt - added with the third cup of flour, I use table, or sea salt.

**Method - using a Kenwood mixer: I dissolve the yeast in the 110F water until bubbly, add two cups of flour mix thoroughly, add   the third cup of flour with the salt then, with the machine running,  keep adding flour, +/- remaining half cup water, aiming for a moderately stiff dough, tacky but not wet.
 I  leave the dough to stand for approx 15 minutes, then hand knead until smooth and elastic.
Our room temps are presently about 70 to 75F, I leave the kneaded dough to rise in an oiled bowl inside a deep, covered sink in the kitchen, until it retains a finger impression, then push down, divide with a bench scraper, and shape.
The dough then goes into three 8 v 4“ oiled bread pans, left to stand until well risen [ almost to the top of the pans] then baked in a preheated oven [eqiv  400F] for 35 minutes.

Different recipe: Today I used another  recipe that I use regularly - a white sandwich loaf using- 1 x pkt instant yeast/ 8 cups flour /  2 cups [+/-] water,  three teaspoons salt >makes  three 8 x 4 loaves, baked at 400F for 35 minutes, checked for doneness [ taken out of tin, base tapped for hollowness]

All three were well, and evenly  risen, crisp brown crust, internal temp 110F, probe came out clean. Left until completely cold but, when sliced  loaf has good, white crumb, but too soft  to cut through evenly, tastes damp, and had a rubbery mouth feel. Aaargh! This result, from three separate batches has come out of the blue, something I have never experienced before.

I have been baking for so long - 20+ years - without any of these problems I am at a loss what to do.

? Try putting it in the oven at a slightly lower temperature and let it cook longer?

?Have the oven checked out, despite two thermometers showing the same correct temperatures? 
? Is it possible for a sensor or temperature controller to work erratically, allowing the temp to fluctuate?
I use a three-year old; SMEG fan forced, electric oven .

I am cross eyed after converting Fahrenheit to Celsius - I hope I got it right.

Thank you all again for your patience.




Chuck's picture
Chuck

...Bread flour as such is not freely available in Australia, so I use plain APF...


Although it doesn't respond directly to your original question, this aside prompted by your defailed description may prove interesting: I'm not certain (I don't live there), but I believe that Australia is one of the places where "plain" flour means what many folks call "self-rising" flour with a chemical bubbling agent already included. Bread doesn't want this, it needs no additives (especially not "auto-rising" ones). Beware - read the entire label carefully.


The name "bread" flour is nothing more than a marketing gimmick in the U.S. and some other places. It is usually not needed to make bread (although the companies that market it might prefer you to believe otherwise:-). Often the term "bread" flour means very high gluten, which is not necessarily even a good thing for the dedicated baker.


Celcius is fine  ...all you need do is make it clear that's what it is ("retard" at 45F or 45C? - "bake" at 220F or 220C?). So you can get a "feel" for ballpark values and reasonableness of conversions, 0C is 32F and 100C is 212F. 110F is reasonable as a water temperature, but for "done" internal temperature should be 210F (or 205F or whatever).


Setting out overnight should handle the possible issue of a sudden dramatic increase in chlorine in your water, so that doesn't seem to apply. And it sounds like you've proved there's no problem with your yeast. So..what about the flour? Can you get not a "new" brand, but the "same old" brand you used when it worked?


 


...Is it possible for a sensor or temperature controller to work erratically, allowing the temp to fluctuate?...


Possible? Yes  ...in the sense that anything is possible. Likely? Not very; I've never heard of anything like this.


What is somewhat likely is an oven temperature sensor "shift", so all oven temperatures are now consistently different from what they used to be. In this case recalibration is needed. But you've shown with your oven thermometers this is not what happened to you...

jcking's picture
jcking

Internal temp of 110 is too low. Aim for 190 degrees F.


Jim

kate2011's picture
kate2011

Ach! Sorry, that should have been 110C [aka 230F]

kate2011's picture
kate2011

Thanks Chuck,


Re Self raising flour: used less often these days. It is our plain flour / your APF with added baking powder, a relic of some marketing gimmick in, I think the UK, meant to save housewives the trouble fo adding their own [ 1 cup APF to 1 teaspoon baking powder = self raising [SR] flour.]


In Australia plain flour is your APF - baking powder is added when called for by a recipe. Interesting to hear that your bread flour is a gimmick - and that our plain flour is not only acceptable as a replacement, but is actually just as good.


I used the ‘old’ flour for the first two batches of focaccia - both of which were leaden - then bought a different brand for the white sandwich bread, in case the first lot was the culprit.


BTW Yesterday’s “dampish/ rubbery” bread makes great toast - though not good for sandwiches.


Kate

Chuck's picture
Chuck

Well it's become clear my guesses were wide of the mark. Looks like it's time for me to give up and leave more airtime for somebody else with better suggestions.


But before I go, let me make one more -wilder- suggestion: Are there either "clean nuts" or "practical jokers" or "health nuts" or "over helpers" in your house, or extended family, or next door? Could somebody in the process of "cleaning up everything" have put two different flours (maybe a rice flour?) in the same container? Or could somebody have put something weird in your flour container just to watch you tear your hair out? Or could somebody have "ground their own" then snuck it into your flour container intending you to bake with it without knowing? Or could somebody have put a bunch of baking powder in your flour container thinking doing so would be helpful?

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Wow!!  A mystery novel.  Sabotage; intrigue.  I love the way you think outside the box, Chuck.  ;>}   Wish I'd had a few like you on my management planning teams when I still worked for a living.

kate2011's picture
kate2011

Thanks Chuck - I like your sense of humour.


I did clean, scald and heat dry the flour bin before I used it for the second batch of flour. No other helpers, animals, or neighbours go near my baking supplies, but it was an original thought. I will look out for wandering koalas, flying foxes and possums though.


Since I last posted I made a batch of soft, potato bun dough - first half dozen cooked perfectly, the second lot were only half cooked after the usual 25 minute baking time. Now I am thinking that it has got to be the oven, and have booked a service call.  I will share the results of that when I can.


Thanks again though.


Kate

jcking's picture
jcking

A rubbery mouth feel could be the result of too much vital wheat gluten. The mill may have fouled up or tried to compensate for some weak flour.


Jim

kate2011's picture
kate2011

Im sorry it has taken me so long to let you know the outcome. I dont have the technical terms but, after three appointments, it was found that the bottom of the door seal had split, allowing the temperature to gradually fall during cooking.


Once replaced all was well, and my collapsing bread is now a thing of the past.


Many thanks for your help


Kate