The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


cutty13's picture


I have been trying for years to get my bread to rise properly. I always end up with dense (no lovely large holes) tasty but almost flat bread. I purchased Reinharts' bread makers apprentice. I have tried four of his seemingly easy recipes. And met with always abject failure. I have a scale, an instant read thermometer, an oven that can achieve 500"F in regular and convection mode. I am a chemical engineer.  I am totally frustrated and about to give up. This is harder than quantum mechanics -which was actually kind of easy-. Is there a baker for dummies book? 

barryvabeach's picture

There is something similar, called No More Bricks.

She suggests taking a recipe and sticking with it till you get it right - instead of my initial approach, which was to make something, not happy about result, jump to a different recipe, and so on.  What is  interesting is that if you read each of the Rheinhart books in order, you will see he has changed his approach over the years to the same bread. I think the most recent one is Artisan Breads Every Day which was in 2009,  the BBA was in 2001, and Whole Grains was in 2007.  My suggestion is to take one recipe and keep at it, with copious notes, until you perfect it.  If you use regular bread flour, you might want to try Jason's Quick Ciabatta,    there are several pages of posters, each giving their results and variations, and a really great video.  I use only whole wheat, and have found I have to add vital wheat gluten to keep the bread from falling, and my mixing method is totally different.  If you are using whole wheat, let me know and I will give you a different recipe to start out with, since the ciabatta has some quirks.   If you are using bread flour,  just try it, try it again, and again until you get it right - it will be airly, full of holes, and delicious.  Then once you have that as accomplished, you can pick another recipe, and work on it till it comes out right.  The only downside of this approach is that the ciabatta is really unlike most other recipes due to its high hydration, so not much of the methods will translate, but it is delicious, and not that hard, and the  video really gives you a great idea of how to make it that way.

jcking's picture

I live in the vicinity, check your messages box in the upper left.


alexlegeros's picture

I had been an amater baker, grasping at mist in the darkness, until my thesis adviser put this book into my hand.


It will change your outlook for the better and explain everything.  I'm not exaggerating--this is great!

Chuck's picture

You have good tools.

If your procedure is a problem, there are several helpful comments above.

But maybe your problem is the third leg of the stool, your ingredients:

  • Have you tried with bottled mineral (not distilled) water? Tap water once in a while has something in it that kills yeast. So all the breadmaking attempts that used that same tap water will all fail.
  • Is your yeast relatively new, stored properly, and acts vigorous? Yeast older than a year is suspect and should be checked. A good way to store yeast is in a screw-top jar in your refrigerator. What matters the most is don't ever get yeast granules even a little bit wet. (Avoid high temperatures too. Yeast packets at the top of a grocery bag next to the window of a station wagon will get hot enough to kill the yeast before they ever even get home:-) Put a couple tablespoons of baby-bottle-warm (95F?) water in a bowl, add a half teaspoon yeast and a half teaspoon sugar, stir it all up, and wait ten minutes. It should have become hugely frothy, sort of like when you pour a warm bottle of root beer.
  • What kinds of flour have you used? Any good brand of unbleached, unbromated flour should work. "All Purpose" flour is probably best overall  ...although you may have better luck initially with some kind of "Bread" flour. Be sure to avoid cake flour, pastry flour, and self-rising flour  ...and if in doubt avoid that "Joe Sixpac Bulk Bin" of really inexpensive flour.

(By the way, I assume you're starting with some kind of white bread. Whole wheat is certainly important  ...but it's not a good place to start.)

PeterS's picture

Pick one of Reinhart's or Hamelman's basic recipes and practice it repeatedly.

Another suggestion: try Lahey's (New York Times) no-knead recipe and practice with it as written. It is very forgiving and if you can work with this high hydration dough it is downhill from there with many other doughs. It is a good recipe to get a feel for what a fully fermented dough looks like.

Active yeast is important. I buy it by the pound and refrigerate it. After 6 months, I find its activity can fall 25-30+% and I boost the usage accordingly or replace it.

Over proofed dough leads to poor oven spring; try knocking an 1/2 hour or more off what you think is your desired 2nd fermentation (proof) and bake in a fully heated oven and see what happens if you get better oven spring, then you are overproofing. I think this may be the most common mistakes: it is always tempting to want to let your dough rise to the max and end up overshooting your target. At that point your yeast food is substantially spent and your gluten may not well support the the volume of exanded gas.

Overworking the dough when stretching/folding and forming stages can lead to reduced volume, too. Generally, you want to do this to a minimal amount--especially if you are striving for a high volume hole-y result.

I use tap water and, if I remember, I fill a container, let it stand open overnight to let any excess chlorine dissipate. This has not been a problem, but it's easy to do...  

If you do not have a humid enough environment during the first 8 mins or so of baking your bread will crust over to quickly squelching your spring, provided you have not overproofed. If this is the case, your scores will not be expanding and the loaf might blow out at a weak point, not at your scores.

Oh yeah, I suggest using the convection mode to heat your oven, but to bake without it. Also, I preheat to 450-500F, then drop it to 400-425F when the bread goes in.

You're a process guy/gal, it's all about consistency & control of temperature and timing. You need to find out what the optimal times are for the fermenting and proofing steps at the temperatures you are encountering in your kitchen.

When was the last time you took a process from the lab to the pilot plant and lined it out on the first try? ;)