The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Greetings and questions

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woolfe99's picture

Greetings and questions

Hi, David here from San Francisco.  I'm totally new to baking bread.  In fact, I've only baked 2 loafs so far.  While awaiting my break baking books from Amazon, I decided to start with this fairly basic recipe from the lesson sectioon:

Anyway, the bread tastes very good, but I have some questions.

The bread ended up being pretty dense, almost across between a flat bread and a regular bread.  Didn't really seem to rise as much as I expected.  After mixing, I kneeded the doe as instructed, and put it into an oiled boil.  It was initially in the shape of a ball.  I let it rise for 2 hours, beyond the 90 minutes specified.  It seemed to gain volume, but mainly width wise.  In other words, it flattened and expanded outward.  Is this normal?

I then shaped it, scored it and let it sit for another hour.  Temperature of the room was 68 degrees. 

Another issue is that the scoring (on both loafs) didn't really turn out.  I used a serated bread knife and cut pretty deep into the doe, about a half inch.  But I could barely see the scoring marks.

There was some oven spring, but it didn't seem to rise that much before I put it in the oven.

Also, I had trouble kneeding the doe as it was too sticky.  I ended up putting more flour into it, but I think it ended up being too much as I couldn't get the doe to be cohesive with that much flour.  Also not sure if that is responsible for it seeming to be too dense.

Thanks in advance for any help.

- Dave






Floydm's picture

Welcome to the site!

It is hard to say for sure what happened.  Extra flour would likely make it a tighter dough which can inhibit your rise, but spreading sideways rather than up sounds like an underdeveloped or super slack dough.  Folding your dough can help with development too.  The safest bet for you might be to add a little bit more yeast while you are getting a feel for it.

Good luck!


woolfe99's picture

Thanks for the reply.  Is there anything wrong with "dry active yeast?"  The packet says to "dissolve" it in lukewarm water for 5 minutes before adding it to the dough.  I did this, but it clumped up a lot and didn't dissolve real well.  Maybe that's the reason?

Chuck's picture

The directions may say "dissolve" (and somebody's mother may say "prove"), but all that's really needed these days is to "wake up the dormant dried yeast". This should take only around 5-10 minutes; if you put the yeast into a bit of water to "wake up" when you first start mixing, the yeast water will typically be ready by the time you need it. At this stage, the yeast is quite sensitive to water temperature, you want water that's just "baby bottle hot" (maybe around 90-100F). And if you use filtered or bottled water for your bread dough, be sure to use it here too. This process will take more water than you think - if what you have looks like a "paste" or some of the yeast granules stubbornly remain un-wetted, there wasn't enough water. The dried yeast granules are so light they'll pile up above the surface of the water, so keep moving around as you sprinkle the yeast into the water so the entire water surface gets a thin coat (rather than a thick coat all in one spot). The yeast will likely clump up to some extent anyway, but will usually spread out all on its own after just a couple minutes. It will be extremely sticky; trying to "stir it up" with a fork will just get the fork tines all yucky and reduce the quantity of yeast left to go into the bread dough.

The conventional wisdom is that "active dry" yeast must be woken up this way and "instant" yeast must not be woken up this way, but I'm quite sure that isn't really true. "Active dry" yeast will wake up in the dough eventually even if you add it with the other dry ingredients without explicitly waking it up first. (It may take an extra half hour though  ...which can be used to your advantage if you want your dough to have a half-hour autolyse without yeast activity.) And waking up "instant" yeast this way -while definitely unnecessary and so rather silly- doesn't really hurt anything.

Janknitz's picture

just really needs to be hydrated.  My usual method is to measure out the liquids first, sprinkle in the yeast, then top with the dry ingredients before mixing the dough.  That's plenty of time to get it "activated".

BTW, if you're getting serious about bread baking, do your wallet a favor and get to the nearest Costco or Smart and Final and buy the yeast by the POUND in airtight packaging.  You can get 1 to 2 lbs for about $5!  The cost of those little packets you buy in the grocery store is OUTRAGEOUS!

richkaimd's picture

We're behind you, hoping you try and try and try 'cause you'll eventually get the hang of it!

Here are my thoughts:  1.)  Maybe your yeast is bad.  To "prove" that yeast is good, you can dissolve it in enough of your recipe's water so that at least enough of it isn't clumped.  While you're doing this dissolving, add a little of the recipe's flour.  I do mean a little.  Even 1/2 tsp is enough.  Also add a teensy bit of white sugar.  When working with yeast, never let the water get hot as measured by your own finger.  Warm is good.  Cold will only slow things down, though it won't hurt anything.  Once you've made this yeast/water/flour/sugar mixture, set it aside while you start making your dough.  If and when the yeast mixture starts to bubble up, you know your yeast is good.  You have "proofed" it, by proving it works.  At this point you know that you can add it to your dough.  2.)  Check the kind of bread you're making to determine how the dough should be when it's ready for the first rise.   Some breads end up with denser doughs (think of these as Northern European breads, like standard white bread, pumpernickel, whole wheat) and some with much looser doughs (like French or Italian breads).   When you get around to it you'll learn that this is determined by the percentage of water to flour.  The looser doughs have much more water in them.  These doughs require an entirely different kind of handling.  I started by learning the denser Northern European bread techniques.  3.)  Check Youtube for videos on bread techniques especially to learn how to check for a good "gluten window."  This is an easy way to know when you've finished kneading.  4.)  Because bread's the product of the action of yeast and because yeast is a living thing which grows faster in warmer temperatures than colder, but can be killed if too hot, you have to remember that the colder your room the longer the rising process will take.  Unless your room is a steady 80-85 degrees F, timing in a recipe is less important than whether the rising process has reached the correct stage.  I've waited in colder weather for many hours longer than any standard recipe would have said just because my house was cold.  Don't be in a hurry, especially if you've proofed your yeast and therefore know that it's alive.

There's lots more to learn.  This is only a start.  I strongly recommend that you find a local home baker who's willing to mentor you.  Tell us where you are.  Maybe someone reading your questions is nearby.  Even if not, keep trying, asking questions, checking out Youtube for videos.  If you're a reader, try DiMuzio's Bread Baking.  It's a reasonably priced short text book which answers lots of questions.


perlnata's picture

Hi Dave,

Folding your dough can help by wetting your arms with a little bit cold water.the dough will get extra water but it will be easier to fold.  Knee the dough a little bit longer that recepie tell you. for how long to knee you can deside by testing the dough' take a little piece  from the dough , place it in a little bowl with flour, mix a little, take the piece between your fingers and try to make a little window by stretching it. if you see the large holes and not the elastic texture , you need to knee for some more time.

If you let it rise for longer than specified, you get the more gluten and more air, than the dough can handle. it will not make the bread higher.

about the yeast, you can use any yest you want but the propotions are deferent.  50gr fresh yeast=17gr dry yeast. I'm using the method that you prepare all measured ingrediends, using cold -refrigider water.

First water then yeast,afterthat flours, sugar,salts.if any oil involved i kneed after salt all together and only than i'm adding the oil. 

HeidiH's picture

Since there is a risk of killing yeast with water that's too hot, I hardly ever warm it.  Our tap water here in the South is rarely ice cold.  If I lived somewhere where it was, I might leave it out to come to room temperature. 

woolfe99's picture

Thank you for all your feedback!  It's been a couple weeks and I'm several loafs further in to this hobby.  I've had better luck using a KA than kneading by hand.  I think I wasn't kneading the dough enough because my hands were getting tired.  Also, I seem to have gotten better results from some instant yeast I bought than I did with that active dry stuff.  I made that recipe a second time and it came out better.  I've since made a honey wheat loaf (delish), and ciabatta from the recipe posted on the forums here (even better), and some others.  My dilemma now is that I want to try different kinds of breads but at the same time I probably won't get good at any of them until I try the same one many times.   My wife and I are gobbling up the rest of the ciabatta I made earlier today as I type this.  I think I'll try that one a few more times before moving on since I know I can get a better crumb.  What a fun hobby!


- David