The Fresh Loaf

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Newbie is about ready to hang up her apron

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specialk's picture
specialk

Newbie is about ready to hang up her apron

Hi there,


I am here in California and have joined your lovely site after ANOTHER failed yeast recipe :(  I totally SUCK at yeast breads and I have no idea why lol.  It appears I am getting the proper rise out of the products its the end result that is the disaster.  1.  BLAND BLAND BLAND 2.  Not soft and supple in the middle.  The crusts are turning out good but the middles are not.  Could it be I am so scared of over kneading that I am actually under-kneading? Am I not putting in enough salt and they are turning out bland?  I just tried a no knead roasted garlic and caraway bread - beyond bland and the center was - weird - not soft -kind of hard.  It looked good with lots of holes.  It just totally stunk and we threw it away.  I feel it was close but I am missing something.  I have only used AP Flour and granulated yeast. 


Does anyone have a fail proof basic recipe? I have some fresh Rosemary or Asiago cheese I could add to it.  Maybe I should knead by hand instead of letting my KA do it? Any input would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you!!!


 


 

Pioneer Foodie's picture
Pioneer Foodie

As for kneading, are you getting a gluten window?  Search the term here and you'll find excellent pointers.  As for bland, I think 1 Tablespoon salt to 6 cups of flour in a plain old french bread recipe is about normal.  As for good flavor, are you using a poolish?  That does wonders for flavor.


But then, baking isn't for everyone...

specialk's picture
specialk

I had to google all of the terms you used lol I have never performed the window test but now know how to.  No, I have never even heard of Poolish until today.  I am for sure not using enough salt and its possible I am using too much flour. Mine are turning out "heavy".  


I am a really good baker of sweets and cook pretty good too, its the danged YEAST thats killing me and I looooooveeeeeeee bread.  Thank you for the advice :)

sphealey's picture
sphealey

King Arthur Flour used to have two really good videos.  One is titled "Artisan Breads"; can't remember the other one but it was something like "Traditional Breads".  Unfortunately KA no longer sells them, but your library might have or be able to get them and if so I strongly recommend you give them a try.  Artisan Breads gives great instructions on the basics of making good-tasting breads with poolish; from there you can branch out.


sPh

Chuck's picture
Chuck

BLAND BLAND BLAND


I suggest investigating recipes that use some sort of "pre-ferment" (sponge, biga, poolish, etc.). Recipes that make bread start-to-finish in only a few hours are likely to taste rather bland. Compensating with a lot of salt is sometimes possible, but brings its own additional problems.


Also investigate using extra-tasty ingredients, like whole-wheat flour, nuts, bits of dried fruts, coarse breakfast cereals (like Muesli), and so on.


And finally, look for white flour that explicitly says "unbleached". If it doesn't say, it's almost certainly "bleached", and that process may contribute to bland taste.


 


Not soft and supple in the middle


If very-high-gluten flours aren't worked exactly right, they can easily lead to "toothy" breads. Try a generic "All Purpose" flour; be somewhat wary of "Bread Flour".


Also, it's possible the bread is over-baked (is it "dry"?). Crust color is a really really lousy indicator of when bread is done. One of the best tests is to push an "instant read" thermometer deeply into a loaf you think is done, and look for the temperature that's right for you (205F? 200F? 195F?). (If you need to put the loaf back in the oven to bake longer, be sure to first remove the thermometer, as  "instant read" thermometers do not handle oven heat:-) In the meantime, the old "thump" test -where you rap on the bottom with your knuckles and see if it sounds hollow- is fairly reasonable.


And be sure to not cut the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven, Despite the wondrous smell, give it time to cool first (on a wire rack that allows air circulation underneath too). Cutting too-soon doesn't give the inside of the bread a chance to equalize, and can lead to some parts being fine while other parts are too wet or too dry or too funky.


 




But rather than trying to fine-tune these individual things, my general suggestion is to get a recent bread cookbook that sounds good to you and follow both its suggestions and its recipes. Using a recipe from the 50's is almost guaranteed to provoke the sorts of problems you report.

specialk's picture
specialk

First thank you Sph - I watched the video on Baguette and am almost definitely not kneading long enough.  I got that thready look but never went further to the soft supple that she got when doing the window test.  That pre-starter in the video that was all gloopy? I had that part right lol whew.  That combined with probably too much flour (it did look like a runny mess) and not enough salt? Well you can imagine :)


Chuck thank you!  I will buy some unbleached flour as well as am considering using a poolish.  May give it a whirl this weekend to allow myself the time to do it all.  It is possible the bread was also overcooked as I was so OCD about the rise and texture I hardly paid attention to the baking (I know I'm ashamed to admit I simply looked for color)...the thump test will be my next try for sure.  I do have a rectangle pizza stone that I will use to cook it on as well :).  


Now I have all this arsenal, I need a good recipe for the weekend.  I promise, no 1950's recipes lol You guys are awesome thank you!  


 

smithslog's picture
smithslog

First of all, this is just the kind of frustration that got me fascinated enough to learn more about making bread and eventually make some great breads at home so don't give up just yet.

I would recommend that you practice, practice, practice with flour, salt, water, yeast and learn to make something you are proud of with just these ingredients before adding anything else.

Alongside this, seek out great bread all the time. You may actually discover that the best bread is not always the taste and texture of your preconceptions or expectations.

On the practical side there are a few things that I would heartily recommend.

1. Be sure to get your oven really hot to begin with, at least for the first 5-10 minutes of baking. I have to turn mine on a full hour before baking to get the best results. Verify it with an oven thermometer as oven gauges are rarely anywhere near the actual oven temp. Also get some steam in there somehow, this improves the crust and keeps it supple so the loaf can expand 'spring' fully

2. Make sure you have something in your oven that will retain heat and can transfer this quickly to your loaf, ideally a baking stone but I have used some thick old clay floor tiles for years and they work very well. Without this you can't introduce heat quickly enough to your loaf to get a good 'spring' and great internal texture to the crumb.

3. Combine your ingredients thoroughly but then DON'T KNEAD for a period of 10 minutes. This for me was a big turning point it seems to allow the flour time to fully take on the water and behaves much better in the knead for it.

Good luck and very importantly enjoy the journey, if you had seen some of the disasters that were my first loaves you would wonder why I ever bothered to continue but now I make bread I am very pleased with that (most importantly for my enjoyment) tastes great.

Incidentally, I never had much luck with the 'fast action' small sachet type yeast, get if you can the 'dried-active' yeast, the type you reconstitute in water. I bake with this to much more consistent results. Better still, grow your own!! Try building a natural leaven and make some slow rise bread. It takes longer but is much more forgiving on time and temperature.

Sorry, one final thing. Seek out the best flour you can as this can make a huge difference, I found that even the 'best' that my local supermarket sells does not give me a great results, you may need to do some searching and as with everything else, experiment lots and discover what works for you.

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

Specialk, don't give up! There's some very good advice for you in the above posts, but it will still take a little practice to get it right. I second the instant-read thermometer.


Also, for more flavor, I VERY strongly recommend using a pre-ferment like a poolish, sponge or biga to get more flavor. It's something that sounds complex at first, but once you get in the habit of doing it and planning your recipes a day or two early, it's a breeze.


Or you can do an 'old dough' technique: make a little extra dough, cut it off, let it ferment longer, then freeze it until you need it. Thaw then chop that up, and add it with the liquid at the beginning of your next batch. 


Or do an 'old bread' technique. For instance, if you get near the end of a loaf of bread (especially flavorful, crusty artisan bread) and it's getting stale, chop it up, toast it, then put that in the blender to turn it into crumbs, and add it to your next batch.


Or add a little bit of toasted wheat germ and/or whole rye flour, a tiny amount of buckwheat flour, some semolina, flaxseed or toasted nuts.


Or get a sourdough culture, and make your pre-ferment using that.


Or do all of the above at the same time.


Also, consider getting a good bread book like Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice or his Crust & Crumb (there are also many others recommended on this forum). Tried and proven recipes will ensure you're using the right amount of salt, better techniques, the right oven temp and times, etc.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

As you search this site you will no doubt find several recipes that you want to follow.  In addition to the comments above stay with the same recipe and follow the directions to the letter.  And make it several times. 


That will allow you to develop reference points.  Once you feel you have success and a consistent result, it is very easy to move to other recipes and continue to broaden your experience.  Baking is sort of scientific in the sense that following a consistent approach/recipe should allow the outcome to be pretty much consistent everytime.  Yes there are variables in flour, seasons, rainy day vs sunny, but all in all you should have great loaves or good loaves vs success or failure.


Suggest also:


1) use a digital scale - $30 in most stores - 5-10 pound capacity.  Bed bath and beyond 20% off certificate helps!


2) buy a $4 oven themometer - make sure if your oven is on 400° (for 30 minute preheat), that the themometer reads the same.  Your oven may be 50° hotter or colder - or it may be spot on.


3) start with good brand name flour over the cheap no name brands.


4) Use SAF Instant yeast - far superior to the ones you see in the store.  Whole Foods sells a 1 pound bag for $4.  Freeze what you don't use and take out what you need an hour before baking.


5) Use filtered or bottled water (not distilled!)


6) after mixing your ingredients (other than salt and yeast), a 30-45 min autolyse helps (i.e. mix all together until fully incorporated, let rest so water soaks into flour).  then add yeast and salt and knead as normal...


You'll get there...

specialk's picture
specialk

I LOVE the detail in your suggestions - thank you!  @ Smith - I think I will do some practicing this weekend on a basic loaf like you suggested and get a good one before moving on.  It is only flour, water, yeast and salt right? lol  One thing I did learn was that I was spot on with my measuring of the flour with the fluff, scoop and level method King Arthur Flour uses (great video).  I also just bought some of that SAF yeast, a big bag and have it in my fridge.  Now some things I've learned and will be adding:


1.  Instant read thermometer


2. Using that brand new pizza stone I 've had gathering dust :)


3.  REALLY pre-heat my oven WITH the stone in it


4.  Add moisture to my oven (I saw a video on Artisan Bread in 5 minutes do this)


5.  Buy that book The Bakers Apprentice


You guys are so awesome I can't thank you enough.  I'm not hanging up my apron quite yet.  I have lots of successes (nothing professional) posted on my blog EXCEPT for bread (I actually put one of my failures on there lol) it's become my arch enemy lol...until - this weekend :)

RuthieG's picture
RuthieG

I'm in no way an expert baker but really qualified to tell you not to quit.  I think the frustration that you describe is most likely one that most bakers go through.  The truth is that one of these day's you will get it......The feel of the dough, you'll just know that it's right and you will begin to have fewer issues every time you bake.  Ask me how many brick bats I baked before I realized that the recipe was a guide and that I needed to understand the principles of what I was doing.  Learn what it takes to get a soft texture, or what technique you need to use to make it open and airy...It's all about knowledge and practice.........The first and most important thing that I believe is necessary is to hold back on the last cup of flour listed in the recipe.......it's always iffy as to how much of it you will need.......and knead, knead, knead.......


 


It's impossible to tell you what "it" is when I say you'll get it but I promise you, you will know when you step through that doorway.......Hang in there........it will come.

specialk's picture
specialk

This may be a stupid question - but do you knead by hand or let the kitchen aid do the work? I've always let the KA do the work but then would feel it (like that matters if I don't know the "feel" lol) before I would take it out of the bowl.  Yes I am SO buying that book, thank you!

Felila's picture
Felila

When you use a mixer to knead the dough, you have to pay attention to how the dough looks as it is being worked up. I fiddle with the flour/water ratio in my dough based on how it feels when the mixer is off (touch with finger -- dry? too goopy?) and how it looks when it's being kneaded. I like the resulting bread best when the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl but is still sticky enough to cling to the bottom. I'm trying to keep the dough as wet as I can and still handle it. French folds AFTER the first kneading help the dough firm up.


Be sure to check out this site's videos on the French fold.


 


 

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

The best way to learn bread baking is from someone who bakes bread.  You have to learn the way dough is supposed to feel when properly kneaded and have someone show you the shaping techniques.  Next best thing is videos you can find for free online, but there's no substitute for touching and feeling well-kneaded dough, and then properly risen dough.  Once you have experienced how those feel, you know what you're aiming for. 


The Kitchen Aid book that used to come with the mixer (22 years ago!--not sure if they still have it) is what taught me about how bread dough should feel.  The directions were very explicit about how the dough should clean the sides of the bowl and how many minutes to go.  Now, not every dough should have exactly that texture, but it was a good learning texture for basic breads.  I know you're not happy with the flavor of basic breads, but if you learn to get the texture correct, the flavor will follow. 


If you are truly worried about overkneading, remove the dough from the KA about 2 minutes before the designated time and knead by hand from there.  Kneading by hand, it's almost impossible to over-knead.  And you will develop a good  idea of what that dough should feel like. One of the best tips I ever learned is that if you roll the kneaded dough up into a ball and pat it, it will feel just like a baby's bottom.  And it does! 


Or, try a no-knead dough.  It looks like it will never work, but it does.  You don't have to worry too much about dough texture and kneading, but shaping and temperature of the final bread are crucial.  The long retardation of some kNB's imparts a lot of flavor, and they often have a lot of salt. (NOTE:  most bakers use Kosher salt and it measures differently than table salt). 


I second the recommendations for a scale and thermometer.  The thermometer is MOST important--check your water to make sure it's not so warm it will kill the yeast and check the temperature of your baking bread to determine when it is done.  I've killed a few batches that way--water that feels "warm" to my hands is too hot for yeast. 

Chuck's picture
Chuck

...with my measuring of the flour with the fluff, scoop and level method King Arthur Flour uses...


That method is a fairly reasonable compromise between wild inaccuracy and minimizing the need for "specialized equipment"  ...especially so back when it was originally recomended many many years ago. But these days, I concur with lots of others above that weighing ingredients with a digital scale is the only way to go. Inexpensive digital scales haven't been easily available to the public for long enough for KAF to catch up yet, but I've no doubt they will.

mse1152's picture
mse1152

specialk,


Click on 'Lessons' near the top of the Fresh Loaf site.  Floyd has a series of easy to follow recipes to get a beginner started.  You won't get superb bread at first, but you can get an edible loaf; you really should start with a simple type of bread and find out how to make it work, then progress to techniques that create some of the fabulous breads you've seen on the blogs here.


It took me years to get bread that I loved, but if I had had a website like this to help me, I might have created fewer doorstops.  Don't give up!


Sue

msbreadbaker's picture
msbreadbaker

The advice to "start simply" is the best. Find a simple recipe, make it according to the instructions that come with it and this will give you a better foundation to spring from and then add other things. I would wait on the chesses, nuts and all that kind of thing until I got the basic loaf down pat.


I also would not worry so much about weighing, no knead bread or anything but just a basic recipe that you can become comfortable with. And I might add that recipes from the 50's are pretty darn good and do not necessarily result in problems. I think a lot of problems are caused by too much concentration.


The recipe for Amish White Bread is very simple and is delicious. It can be found on the Allrecipes website as well as in Bernard Claytons' Complete Book of Breads. It makes wonderful toast as well.


Some of the "secrets" I use are 1. if you use an egg in the recipe, let it sit in a 2 cup measure of hot water for a minute or two. 2. if you use a utensil, run it under the hot water to warm it up. 3. warm the bowl with hot water. 4. when the recipe says put the water for the yeast in a bowl and sprinkle the yeast over it, don't do that. Put the warm water in a measuring cup and put the yeast in there as well. The measuring cup is smaller than the bowl which would in my experience, cool off too fast. 5. find a nice warm place to let the dough rise and let it rise until the correct description is reached, not the time. The time is an estimate. 5. make sure your oven is accurate.


You will learn a lot through practice, just don't give up. Try kneading by hand before you graduate to the mixer so you will be familiar with how it is supposed to feel and look. Please keep us posted and good luck. Jean P. (VA)

msbreadbaker's picture
msbreadbaker

P.S. When I said to use the hot water for utensil, egg and bowl soak, it was to warm them not to make them hot. Jean P. (VA)

Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Don't hang your apron up........with all the advice above just hang in there. You will get there.  Just one question.......how old is your flour?.................Pete

specialk's picture
specialk

The advice is AWESOME! I can't wait to try again this weekend.  My flour is brand new, regular, AP flour.  I go through it like crazy between the homemade buttermilk pancakes, chewey pretzel bites and cakes and cookies I make every week lol I may even make a trip to BB&B this weekend to pick up a scale :)

sfsourdoughnut's picture
sfsourdoughnut

Just make sure your flour is unbleached.  I also have a Brita water filter to get rid of the Chlorine/Chloramine in my water.  Those two items are designed to kill off any organic substance, which yeast falls into.  That, and the chlorine used to bleach the flour can really inhibit rise, and all other manner of flavor too.


While I prefer King Arthur flour (the other "KA" you will see on this site), just the $1.70 generic "unbleached" AP flour on the bottom shelf of your mega-mart is probably just fine.  Bread flour would make your bread tougher, due to its higher protein content, so just be aware of that.


Have fun!


 

mimifix's picture
mimifix

Have you made bread using the straight dough method? Instead of slow rise bread using a starter, you can learn a lot from making bread the "traditional" way. The final results may not be ideal for your taste, but observing how dough feels, rises, and bakes will contribute to your overall success.


I teach baking but have stayed away from bread because of the time issue. Most of my classes are three hours. But after posting on this site asking for ideas, I eventually settled on teaching a four hour class using the straight dough method. The first class was ten days ago and three students have already written me that the experience has helped in their slow rise adventures.


Mimi

mimifix's picture
mimifix


Basic White or Whole Wheat Bread


For a 2# Loaf:



  • 1 ¼ cups warm water

  • 1 packet yeast (or 2 ½ teaspoons yeast)

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 2 tablespoons oil

  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt

  • 4 (scant) cups flour – all purpose or bread flour; may use part whole wheat


 


1. Pour water into mixer bowl, add yeast and sugar. Stir and wait until mixture begins to bubble.


2. Add oil, salt, and flour until it’s a very stiff dough. Use the dough hook or mix by hand.


3. Knead until soft and pliable, adding flour when necessary so dough is not sticky.


 


Loaves can be formed into pan bread (sandwich loaf), or shaped into rounds, braids, or any shape desired. May use egg wash or spray with water. Proof until light, almost doubled in size, and bake for 20-30 minutes depending upon size. All products will be done when a golden brown.


 


For rolls: Dinner rolls, 2 ounces


                Hamburger or sandwich buns, 4 ounces


                Hoagie or sub rolls, 6 ounces


 


For cinnamon buns: roll into rectangle; spread with butter and cinnamon sugar; roll up and cut into slices. Lay on side, place on cookie sheet, proof until light, bake at 350 degrees 15-25 minutes depending upon size.

specialk's picture
specialk

I need to pick up some unbleached flour for sure and I do have a water filter on my fridge I can use as well.  Maybe I'll try both - one with the poolish and one straight dough method.  I have never heard of these before yesterday lol.  I told ya'll I was a beginner with bread haha!  I am going to go thru the "lessons" on this site as well as do some kneading by hand and not all in my mixer so I can get the feel of it and incorporate some other suggestions in as well.  And get that dang book! :)

Artisan's picture
Artisan

Have to say I am new to bread making as I've only been trying my hand at it for the past several months.  First efforts weren't nearly as fruitful as recent ones and the bread gets better all the time.  Practice and adjustment to the recipies based on past experience have been helpful to move me forward.  I have tried a number of the recipies from this site with fairly good results for a newbie at the craft.  Might want to try your hand at baguette and cibatta breads as they are fairly striaght forward and don't interject some of the other ingredients that are presenting/complicating the bread.  One of the most important things I have learned is that some of the active yeast products don't have near the punch that SAF Instant yeast does and in learning to adjust the type/yeast amount (Less instant versus Active) I get a much better rise and final product.  Don't give up, the trial and error are worth it in my opinion.