The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

debugging bread recipe for better results

joels's picture

debugging bread recipe for better results


I was originally posting before looking for bread solutions for our hotel and happily came to a few conclusions as a result of the great help from this board, as well as a base recipe to work from to achieve the bread we need. I've tested things out (mostly testing the recipe + our new oven) in a slightly different way than the recipe was mainly intended and have come across mixed results that maybe a few people can fix up based on the details of the prep and baking. 

I'll post the recipe first followed by the results after (courtesy of Ford--Thanks!!):


For the poolish

3 cup (12.8 oz.) King Arthur Bread Flour
1/4 tspn. dry active yeast
3 cup (24.9 oz.) chlorine-free water

Poolish hydration: 188%. Note: for half a cup of the bread flour you may substitute half a cup of whole-wheat flour to modify the taste and texture.

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in a little of the water, then add the rest of the water and flour and mix enough to wet all of the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let ferment for 8 to 18 hours at room temperature. If desired, the poolish may be refrigerated after 4 hours of fermentation.

For the dough

All of the poolish
2 1/8 cup (17.6 oz.) warm scalded milk (or skim ♥)
1 tspn. dry active yeast
10 1/4 cup (43.6 oz.) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1/4 cup (2 oz.) melted butter (or corn oil ♥)
1 1/2 Tbs. (1 oz.) salt
1/4 cup (2 oz.) of melted butter (or corn oil ♥) for greasing pans and brushing the loaves
water in a sprayer

Dough hydration: 69%.

Into the bowl containing the poolish, beat in the milk, the yeast, and about 6 cups of the flour, or as much as can be readily mixed by hand. Cover and let stand for half an hour or an hour (autolyse).

Mix in the 2 ounces melted butter, the salt, and as much of the rest of the flour as convenient. Scrape the dough on to a surface dusted with bread flour and thoroughly knead the dough, adding flour from the measured amount as necessary until the dough is smooth. For a more open structure, minimize the amount of flour. For a more dense structure, add additional flour. Allow the dough to rest for about ten minutes and then knead some more. This dough will be elastic and smooth. Place the dough into a greased bowl (about a teaspoon of corn oil) and cover to rise to double the volume, about an hour. Gently degas the dough by folding it on itself.

With melted butter, thoroughly brush three loaf pans (2 qt size, 9 5/8" x 5 1/2" x 2 3/4"). Divide the dough into three equal pieces (about 32 to 34 oz. each). Shape each piece to fit the bottom of each pan, puncturing the large bubbles. Place the loaves in the pans, seam side down. Brush the top of the loaves with melted butter. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let rise until the domes are about 2 inches above the tops of the pans. Bread benefits from retardation. (Place in the refrigerator when dough just reaches the top of the pan and remove next day and allow to come to room temperature.)

Preheat oven to 450°F with a pan of boiling water on the bottom shelf, with the middle shelf being reserved for the bread pans. A large broiler pan works well. When the dough has risen above the tops of the pans (about an hour), spray them with water, and immediately place them into the oven. Spray the loaves 2 additional times at 1 minute intervals to permit additional rising. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350°F. Bake until the interior loaf temperature reaches 195°F, an additional 45 minutes (about one hour total). The loaves should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Turn out on to a cooling rack, brush with melted butter, and cover with a damp paper towel until cooled. Bread may then be packaged and frozen.




Firstly, the recipe stated that it would be for bread loaf pans, whereas we really get off on the idea of serving a more country-style oblong loaf. Our bread seems to not rise much after kneading - We let it rise in a huge metal bowl. Is it possible the large shape of the bowl would give off a less impressive first rise, or maybe just less noticeable? 

Also when we put it away in the fridge for a slowed-down proofing overnight the dough balls tend to get flatter and also the surface is somewhat bubbled. I let it come to room temp. for an hour or so and then start the baking, but there isn't much obvious oven spring and the flattened logs tend to then make super-flat loafs to the dimensions of 25x35x7 cm. The first time it rose a bit better but this time the only change is a touch more salt than originally added and I also added in a half-tablespoon of honey. The breads taste is absolutely wonderful, the crust is a perfect crisp thickness and the inside is moist, perhaps too moist. 

Any other questions or details I can answer to help you help me with this?

BakerBen's picture

First, go back and "recheck" your formula - everyone can make, and has, a mistake in this area (e.g. wrote down wrong numbers, wrong units, etc.).  And, make sure you are using the exact ingredients specified, or if not you substituted correctly - the type of yeast is what I am thinking of in your case.  Quanties of yeast vary based on the type - instant vs. active dry vs cake. 

As a rule of thumb, for every 150gm (5.3oz, 1 cup) of flour in the recipe to use either of:

3 gm compressed fresh yeast (0.1 oz, 1/6 cake)
2 gm active dry yeast (0.05oz, 1/2 tsp)
1 gm instant active dry yeast (0.04oz, 3/8 tsp)

(reference from ARTISAN BAKING ACROSS AMERICA, Maggie Glezer)

So in your formula above one would expect to see more like 5 teaspoons of dry active yeast OR a little less than 4 tsp. of instant yeast - which is a bit more than ONE Tablespoon of instant.

Since becoming serious about baking bread I have always used "instant" yeast - it does not have to be "activated" in liquid such as water or milk and can just be mixed in with the dry ingredients. 

Not enough yeast in the original formula could explain the lack of rising that you are seeing - I beleive this is the problem you are having.  A note of advice, when wanting to tell if dough has double it is much easier to use a cylindrical container with vertical walls - you can obtain clear food grade plastic containers at most restaurant supply stores or even at some retail stores.  You need to keep dough covered when rising too (a lid or cloth or wrap) to keep it from drying out and forming a skin on top.  And, the most important thing is that you have to wait until it happens - that is, you can not just wait for an hour and then go on, room temparature and humidity all vary during the year and will effect the time required for a dough to double (i.e. rising times are normally faster in the summer than in the cold winter).  You must be patient and look at the dough.

As for loaf pan verses not using a loaf pan.  For this type dough you can go either way, but you must realize that the finished loaf will vary in shape based on whether it was baked in a pan or not.  The pan gives the loaf support on the sides and thus the resulting loaf will be more like the shape of the breads you would see in a super market.  The pan bread will have a more domed crust and a softer side area - the area of the loaf in the pan.  The same exact dough baked out of a loaf pan as you are doing will not rise as high due to the fact that the loaf does not have the side support of the pan - the resulting loaf look and shape will be much different.  The real question I would think you might want to answer is "does the shape of the non-pan laof meet the use that it is intened for - for example, making a sandwich".   The non-panned loaf will also have more crust than the panned version. 

All this said, it sounds as though you are just getting started baking bread.  Advice that I believe everyone on this site would give is - it takes time and experience to become a good bread baker.  Your first few loaves will be experiments, but if you really think about what you are doing so you can both learn from your mistakes and repeat the things that you do right your time will be well spent and you will be rewarded by being able to bake really good bread.


joels's picture

Great -  interesting advice!

I am using a poolish though, with about 12 hours time for the preferment. I'm roughly covering what's noted in that recipe and based on other poolish recipes I've seen before this the amount can't be more than a tiny fraction off. If this were a straight and simple bread recipe then yeah, I'd likely need several times more yeast right??

Definitely correct me if I'm wrong. I wish it were a simple issue of getting something in the amounts wayyy off. The fact is that the bread tastes amazing, has a slightly dense/wet crumb and a perfect crust. Not sure if it is something in the handling that causes the problem or what. I like your idea of using a clear container for the dough rising to see it's progress better. My problem is that the amount of dough is quite large for any normal container that I can think of, unless I let a few pieces rise separately (?)


msbreadbaker's picture

I hope the answer to this dilema gets completed. I agree with your response to Ben, but he was clear in his answer, so we are still in a little bit of a quandry. As a bread baker of a number of decades, (home) I can tell where "double" is, however, I have really liked useing the dough buckets that are clear enough to see through and have the measurements on the side. King Arthur sells several sizes, my large one will hold 3 loaves worth of dough. Even having to hand wash as opposed to a bowl that goes in the DW, it is interesting to watch the dough climb up.  I'll keep watching til this is settled and think I'm going to try the recipe too. Thanks for your post, Jean P. (VA)

BakerBen's picture

Joel,  Most folks may just move on based on your reply but for some reason I would like to offer my thoughts once again.  I agree with your reply to a degree, but I would be interested in specifics - possibly some example formulas that back up your  numbers or some other posts.  I did find one example post that I felt was relevant and provides one baseline for specific numbers when dealing with a poolish preferment dough.  The example of formula with a poolish ( CTRL + Click to follow link" href=""> uses 0.07 % "instant" yeast in poolish and 0.33 % in final dough.  Based on the formula you provided you are using 0.04 % and 0.18 % of "active dry" yeast which if converted to "instant" would be 0.032 % and 0.144 %.  This is a fairly significant difference in my book.  Also, if you look at the Overall Dough below your hydration is not 69% but closer to 75% which I believe explains your comment on the crumb being a bit moist.   The bottom line is if your dough doesn't rise there is a reason - some times it is old yeast and sometimes it is not enough yeast.  Unless I am misunderstanding something based on my calculation I still believe your issue is "not enough yeast" - I would recommend "doubling" your current yeast amounts in both the poolish and the final dough to 0.05 oz and 0.2 oz respectively.  I believe this will address your issues but don't forget to watch the dough to see it double.  You mentioned not having a container large enough with vertical to hold all the dough - an alternative is to take a smaller sample (say six ounce or so) and place it in a oiled drinking glass and when it doubles your larger quantity will have double too (just a thought).   I would be interested also why you are not corresponding directly with Ford if that is the source of your formula?  Again, you solicited opinions for what you are experiencing.  I have provided my thoughts and wish you well.  I will be interested to hear and see your results if you do indeed take my advice.   Good luck and good baking,Ben
 Your formula as you have given them in this posit:Overall formula - your formula Formula with suggested "increase" in yeastOverall formula - with suggested "increase" in yeast