The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Possible trouble with a recipe

  • Pin It
obax's picture
obax

Possible trouble with a recipe

Hi! I'm new here, but have taken an interest in bread baking (baking in general, actually) and am starting to try new recipes. I'm pretty inexperienced, though, so am never sure if what I experience with any given recipe is usual, or within a range that could be called usual, or if I've done something wrong.

Case in point: I'm trying a recipe I found on here, a french bread using a poolish. The recipe I'm actually using from here is called "Pain de Provence" (listed in the list of favourite recipes at the bottom right of the page) but I'm leaving out the herbs and alcohol to just make a plain bread (I couldn't actually find the plain recipe that this one implied existed, so I'm working from this one instead). I added the flour, water, yeast and salt to the poolish and mixed it up, and it was incredibly wet. To the point of being utterly unworkable, as my fingers were quickly glued together. I had to add probably a whole extra cup of flour to make it workable, and I'm still not certain it was enough, as it was still sticking to my hands somewhat, but so long as I didn't hold it for too long I was able to detach it fairly easily. It's sitting in bowl doing its first rise currently, so it'll still be a while before I know how it turs out. I just want to know, is that a usual thing that can happen, or did I do something wrong?

A related question: how does one find a particular recipe on this site? Is there an index somewhere? I tried some searching earlier and came up empty handed (though I'm notoriously bad at finding what I want using a search function). I'm very excited to try new things and draw on the experience of the members here, but worry I might get frustrated if it's hard to find stuff...

Thanks much for any advice!

-obax

 

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I don't think you did anything wrong.  Flour absorbancy can vary, and you'll actually find as time goes on that "the wetter, the better."  A dough that is so sticky that it sticks to your hands and the sides of the bowl will often actually develop quite nicely if you give it enough time and fold it a few times (read more about this process here).  

In terms of learning what is OK and what is not, my advice is to pick a base recipe you enjoy baking (and eating) and bake it a bunch of times, each time experimenting with something like the moisture level, an extra rise, or baking time.  After a few months you'll develop a feel for how those variables all interrelate and become much more confident as a baker.  

An index here?  No, not really.  The search box is often helpful and it is also quite useful to click on folks' names and look at their lists of favorite recipes.  

Good luck!

-Floyd

obax's picture
obax

Thanks for the info. So far I think it's looking good. 'Tis good to know that I didn't screw up hugely. If this works out ok (and probably even if it doesn't), I'll definitely give it several more goes and see what I can learn.

 

-obax

obax's picture
obax

So, it's in the oven now, but during the final rise (after shaping it into something vaguely loaf-like) it got really wide and flat. My understanding is that this indicates not enough surface tension, but what is that caused by? I also had a hell of a time getting it onto the pre-heated stone, and ended up squishing it back up into a higher loaf-like shape in order to be able to pick it up and get it unstuck from the board on which it was sitting (the board was lightly floured, maybe it should've been more floured?). Any tips?

-obax

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... benefit from being supported in a banneton or proofing bowl for the final rise. Then you can simply invert the dough out of the basket/banneton/bowl on to floured parchment (rice flour and or semolina flour are great for non-stick) - just before you wham the little darlings in to the oven - the risen loaves, that is, not the bowls or bannetons! You'll have to have some sort of peel ready - an upturned baking tray will do - to support the parchment and dough into the oven, of course. Keeping the dough confined in a container of sorts will stop it sagging outwards throughout the final proof.

One word about your poolish. As Floyd says, it is supposed to be very wet (poolishes are often an equal weight of flour and water - or at least a very high hydration) - and therefore will stick to you and yours and the world in general if it manages to escape the bowl. To combat that at the poolish mixing stage, use a spoon, not your fingers to keep your hands out of it altogether. Once added to your main dough ingredients, the stickiness will be lesser since there's more flour involved, but even so, expect a lot of gunky fingers and palms until you've worked the dough into something far smoother and with the right technique, I promise you, it will be a lot easier to handle.  Do yourself a favour if you haven't already, and type Richard Bertinet technique into the search box top left of this page. Wet doughs make great breads when handled correctly.  And you'll have a blast learning and conquering that technique. But don't be tempted to add extra flour as you did in your (understandable) alarm - it might sort the stickiness short term, but it will throw out the recipe proportions and potentially make for a denser, less flavoursome bread long term.

Got those little darlings out of the oven yet? Ah yes ... if I'm not mistaken, that's the lovely aroma of freshly baked bread wafting over the ether ;0)

All at Sea

 

 

obax's picture
obax

Thanks for those tips. I have nothing that would be appropriate for a proofing bowl, but I may invest in something if I find I'm continuing to have trouble. I'll give that technique you mentioned a search too. My first attempts will be out of the oven in one minutes, I'll let you know how it is once it's cool enough to eat. I will say that even after the poolish was mixed with the other ingredients, it was barely less wet than the 'batter' of the poolish and I really don't know how I could've worked with it before it flowed off the board and onto the floor, but that said, I will try to reisist the urge to throw in more flour next time I give it a try.

-obax

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... when you say "I added the flour, water, yeast and salt to the poolish and mixed it up", how much water was that? Floyd states 1/4 cup, I believe.  Did you add the full 1/4 cup? You see, if your flour isn't as thirsty as the one he was using, that 1/4 cup is purely optional. See how he states in his list of ingredients, "1/4-1/2 cup water, as necessary"  In your case, it might not have been necessary. You'll find you'll get a much better sense of how dough should feel as you gain experience.

Also, can I ask how long you let your poolish ferment for? And most importantly, at what temperature? That is, what temperature is the kitchen where you made and kept your poolish? And what did the poolish look like when you added it to the rest of the flour and ingredients? Had it risen and then sunk back down again? The reason I ask is, if your kitchen is a lot warmer than Floyd's say, then your poolish would ferment much quicker. If it was left to ferment too long, at too high a temperature, then the result would be a terrible sticky runny gloop. If you add an over-ripe poolish to your main dough ingredients, it can spoil the whole batch - and you'll find you have a very difficult dough. The good news is the resulting bread can still be delicious.

Btw - a proofing bowl can be any old cheap plastic thing, but buy new, since you don't want scratched plastic that can cause the dough to stick. For the final proof, I use that same bowl, lightly oiled and floured, or, for loaves, even foil tins treated the same way.  There's a mine of information on here about couches, bannetons, proofing baskets, linen draped or otherwise - and you'll have a lot of fun adapting something you already have in the kitchen, I'll bet.

All at Sea

 

obax's picture
obax

To answer your questions, I added 1/4 cup of water, and then realized almost immediately that I probably didn't need it, but by then it was too late. I let the poolish sit about 12 hours, and the kitchen was at least 25 degrees Celcius, probably more (our house doesn't have A/C and the windows are all open to the outside air, though it tends to stay a few degrees cooler inside than outside due to the large number of shade trees around the house, so the temperature was variable, I'm sure). It didn't seem to have fallen in on itself, though this being my first ever poolish, I don't really have anything to compare to. It had a flat surface that was a bit higher than the original level of the water in the bowl, and lots of little bubbles under the surface. When I poured it out it was kinda stringy-ish, but mostly just gloppy (my initial reaction was mild revulsion, but I went for it anyway) and was incredibly gluey to handle (hence the adding of the flour: to detach the slime from my hands as much as to create real dough).

I feel like it ended up being a good first try, and I'm excieted to give it a second go. Thanks for all your help!

-obax

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Folding helps with surface tension, and it is something to work on when shaping.  It is tough though and just something that takes practice to get right.

More flour may have helped. I often just use parchment paper that I can slide into the oven directly.  There are few things as frustrating as having a perfectly risen and shaped loaf deflate on you when you are trying to transfer it to the oven.

Best,

Floyd

isand66's picture
isand66

As Floyd said, get  yourself some parchment paper.  It is worth every penny and is not very expensive.  This will guarantee you don't end up deflating your loaf while trying to get it unstuck from your peel.  If you don't want to buy a basket you can use a colander or just about any bowl that is big enough.  You can line it with a clean lint free kitchen towel and put flour in it to make sure the dough won't stick.  If you go to Goodwill you can pick up some cheap wicker baskets that will work very well.

Good luck.

Ian

obax's picture
obax

So, the end result: First off, I made one ugly loaf, but I figure I'll focus on getting the taste and texture the way I want, then worry about making it look pretty. The taste was pretty good, but I feel like it could've been better (I'm guessing that's from all the extra flour I added in, perhaps). The crust was hard when I cut through it but ended up being less crispy/crusty and more chewy. The crumb was denser than I expected, which is something I've found to be true with other breads I've made in the past (I will say I'm used to grocery store bread, so maybe this is just a difference I'll have to get used to), though there were much better 'bubbles' than I've gotten in the past. All in all, I'm pleased, but there are definitely things I want to improve on.

I read that articule about mixing and developing the dough that Floyd linked to, and have already identified a couple things I'll try next time. I'm not sure I really understand what factors effect the surface tension of the dough, though, but I'm sure I'll figure it out as I go (I'm one of those annoying people who must understand every little detail in a process before they feel comfortable with it, and for whom 'because that's just how it is' isn't really an answer).

Thanks for everyone's help, and for reminding me I already had a whole box of parchment paper on the shelf ready to go (sigh) which I'll be certain to use next time.

-obax

isand66's picture
isand66

Post some pictures of your next bake and we can help you diagnose much better.

Good luck and hope to read about your exploits soon!

Ian