Hi, as a still-new member and still VERY new to bread making, I wanted to share some thoughts...
I'm still "wide-eyed" (as one of our members called me) about the art and science of making bread. I took that member's advice and bought DiMuzio's text book and am devouring it slowly and carefully. My serious learning impairment in the area of mathematics ("baker's math") notwithstanding, I can at least grasp the issues at a conceptual level.
Although it is unlikely that I will exceed the status of "rank amateur" I remain nevertheless simply passionate about this wonderful new world I have found.
I bake almost every day, and am just about ready to "graduate" from the machine to the oven (although I will continue to mix and knead in the machine for the most part). I am only awaiting the arrival of some essential supplies from King Arthur Flour.
Somewhere, after reading most of the major "Bread" books, and slowly making my way through DiMuzio, I have begun to develop a sense of application of general principles; portions, ratios, percentages, ingredients (and the kinds of chemical reactions that occur between them).
I have timidly continued using Beth Hensberger's pretty much fail-safe (for the machine) recipes, although I have pored over many other classic and well-recommended books and their recipes for both machine and oven-baked bread.
Finally, today, I had an experience that really cemented (no pun intended with respect to the way the loaf turned out) all that I have learned and absorbed in these last few weeks.
I used a recipe from another (very respected) Bread book. Although the author (Beatrice Ojakangas) includes instructions for oven and machine baking (it is obvious that her inclination is for baking in the oven), the recipe I chose (a cheese/toasted walnut recipe) left me instantly suspicious that it would not turn out well in the machine. Too much cheese, too much fat, too many large chunks, too little yeast, too much salt.......I just had a sense that all of these elements would contribute to an overly dense and un-risen loaf.
I prepared the recipe as written, although I did make my usual modification of adding a portion of whole wheat flour (which I always do and with which I have never previously had a problem).
As predicted, the loaf failed to rise properly, the ingredients were poorly incorporated (chunks of cheese do not work well in the machine), and overall, the loaf was extremely dense and undercooked (machine temperatures do not reach the same level that oven temperatures do). I think additional knead time might also have been needed.
Although I was very disappointed in the outcome, I was truly pleased to see that I had somehow managed to internalize some of the essential principles involved in bread-making to the extent that I had an intuitive (and scientific) sense that the recipe would turn out exactly as it did.
I then pored over more texts and books and began forming modifications to the recipe that would yield a better loaf--yet another effort I will attempt tomorrow.
I have thus learned perhaps my most important lesson as a beginning amateur baker: Making bread is not only about incorporating ingredients in a viable way. It is more about incorporating an understanding in the mind and in the heart about how bread is made and baked.
So, although it sounds perverse to say that I was happy with my failure, in a kind of deep way, I was. For I learned that I am learning something after all, that I am slowly grasping the essentials of bread-making.
To an advanced baker, it may seem ridiculous that a person would spend hours trying to figure out what went wrong with a recipe and then spend more hours trying to come up with a formula for righting what had gone awry.
But to me, it meant that I am learning something.
And that, to a newbie like I am, is thrilling.