The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello, Newbie and I seem to be a lousy bread maker so help needed

Gene New's picture
Gene New

Hello, Newbie and I seem to be a lousy bread maker so help needed

Hi - I am new to bread making and do everything by hand and if I am being honest I am really not doing very at all. 

I want to make a soft white loaf to begin with and found a recipe on the web which after a couple of flops produced a reasonably acceptable loaf though it was still too heavy.

Then I got the River Cottage Handbook No3 “Bread” which called for a much lower ratio of liquid to flour than the 75% in the recipe I was using so I switched to the Basic Bread recipe in the book but it always seems too dry and the end results are even heavier than the former recipe but they are both tried and tested recipes so it has to be something I am doing wrong.

The River cottage recipe is 500g strong bread flour (I have Allinsons), 300ml liquid, 5g yeast and 10g salt though after a couple of real flops I switched from water to half water, half milk and switched half the flour to all purpose (Organic Plain) in an attempt to make it softer and added a teaspoon sugar to the yeast part as I use active dried yeast rather than instant yeast and that is what it said do on the tin,  I have also tried adding 14g melted butter which seems to improve the flavour but doesn’t seem to do anything else.  

This is the method I follow

Night before mix half the flour and warm yeasty liquid cover ( tsp sugar all the liquid and the yeast) and leave till morning. Next day morning mix more of the flour into the overnight batter and when it starts coming together add the little bit of starter dough left from last batch plus the salt, turn out and knead in most of the remaining flour stopping while its till tacky.  I did try adding all of the flour before turning it out as stated in the recipe but that made it far too dry

I knead for approx 10-12 mins till dough passes window pane test  then put dough into bowl sprayed with oil and leave till it doubles in size about 1 hour.

Turn out and flatten gently with fingers to deflate excess gas then fold, left right, right left, top bottom, bottom top and return to the bowl.  Roughly an hour later when it doubles again turn out and cut off a small piece for next batch and shape the rest for a tin loaf or divide and form rolls as needed.

If making loaf put into sprayed Silverwood loaf pan and leave for final rise. When back up to size (can be another hour or more) put into heated oven. The recipe calls 240c but mine doesn’t go higher than 220-225c so I have to make do with that.  Leave to bake for 10 minutes then reduce temperature to around 180c and leave to finish cooking.

When I make rolls with the dough they aren’t terrible but the loaves always seem to be much denser and can be stodgy.  Most of the time it’s just about edible providing you eat it all the first day but it is heavier than it should be and even after an hour or more rising my loaves are not nearly as big as the 400g loaves you buy in the shops. They don’t rise much in the oven despite slashing the tops, using a baking stone and putting a baking tray containing boiling water at the bottom so what I end up with is at most half an inch taller than my Silverwood bread pan.

I have tried going back to basics and removing the fat and switching back the milk and plain flour but that produces an even heavier result. So I am running out of ideas and  would appreciate any advice you can give.

richkaimd's picture

Bread baking's a wonderful activity which I've been doing for over 40 years at home.  What I'm about to suggest (and have suggested to others on this website) is that you choose an expert to learn from and dedicate some time to the project.  There are two ways can do this:  either take a course from an expert at a school (the way the pros do it) or learn from an expertly written text book.  Text books are better to learn from than bread cook books.  They start you from the beginning and build a solid foundation slowly and steadily.  I personally like DiMuzio's Bread Baking because it's not too complicated while being thorough and short.  It's the book I wish I'd had when I started.  Compare it to another text, Bread by Hamelman.  You may like Bread better  but I would have been put off by its level of detail.  Your public library might have one or both.  The DiMuzio text can easily purchased in good shape used at Alibris on line.

I might add that learning slowly and steadily, hanging in there with a text to do all the exercises, will teach you gradually why a good bread baker could take many pages to answer your questions.  It will also teach you to recognize good from bad advice, a distinction you cannot make as a newbie. 

I urge you to take the time to watch all the videos with links from this website just to see bakers in action. 

Practice, practice, practice.

cranbo's picture

For me, "light and fluffy" texture comes from really intensive kneading. This means 10-12 minutes in my KA stand mixer at medium speed (#4). Once I started doing that. For most doughs (except really wet or sticky doughs) you should be able to get to this state by hand, but depending on your technique, might take 20 minutes, perhaps more. 

Search TFL for txfarmer's posts on shreddable, fluffy bread and intensive kneading. 

The recipe you posted is a lean dough, not unlike a baguette. Because it has no additional fat or protein in it, it will never be extremely soft, and will not stay soft beyond a short period of time (a day or two). If you want your bread to be soft for a longer period, you must include additional fats or proteins (milk, butter, oil, etc). 

Also, you are using a lot of yeast in your pre-ferment; for your quantities and timing, 2% yeast (i.e., mixing 5g yeast with 250g flour) is way too high for an overnight pre-ferment; the yeast will have eaten through all of the food by morning! If you're going to continue to do an overnight pre-ferment, all you need is a pinch of yeast, probably 0.3% or less. 

Consider posting some photos of your results, that will help other TFL members troubleshoot further. 

Gene New's picture
Gene New

Hi and thank you ,

that explains a lot since the first recipe I tried included both butter and milk and the results were better though they were still far from perfect. I am ashamed to admit that I seem to be getting worse as this is what todays attempt looked like


Ok it was only half of the loaf as the rest became rolls for soup  but it was pretty awful.  In an attempt to get back to basics and practive it was made using the River Cottage recipe I mentioned in the introduction without any additions or deviations - pretty terrible really.  

As I said earlier the first recipe I used gave better results either as a tin or as a boule but it was still far too dense, though it did keep better and made nice toast.

This was what the tin version looked like


That recipe was 210g Strong flour, 210g plain all purpose flour,  320ml warm milk (43c) 10ml golden syrup, honey or sugar, 8g ground rock salt, 4g active dried yeast, 14gms butter and a little oil for the bowl and bread pan; aside from doing it all in one day the method was quite similar to the one mentioned in my first post with a 20 minute rest instead of the longer preferment.  I hand kneaded that for a good 20-30 minutes but even so it still turned out quite dense but it was at least edible. 

I have to say I find pictures on the web quite misleading since from the right angle even a lousy loaf can look quite good - take this for instance it was a boule version of the first recipe I tried


Looks reasonable in the picture but to be honest it wasnt any better or any thicker than the one I made using the the River Cottage recipe today so equally revolting.

I will see if my library has either of the text books mentioned and I am about to try a recommendation from another forum, meanwhile I will do the search for fluffy breads and intensive kneading and see if any of the advice there helps.

If possible I would like to succeed in this as I prefer to know what is in the food I am eating and I am sure its healthier than the stuff they sell in the supermarket but if I need to improve soon before my other half gives up on me.


cranbo's picture

Thanks for sharing the photos Gene. 

The first one looks to be a bit too dry, or possibly overfermented. Would have benefitted from more water. 

The tin loaf looks pretty good, at least on the outside. You should try making it with only all-purpose flour; it will make for a softer crumb. Increasing the butter a bit should help as well. 

You can always try a different recipe. Sometimes our expectations of what a recipe should produce and the reality of the ingredients and instructions don't match up. If you're looking for soft, white, fluffy sandwich bread or rolls, search these forums for such recipes. There are a number of good ones. Alternately, if you're looking for an earther, hearth-style bread, plenty of recipes for that here  too, especially if you wish to play around with sourdough (like the Tartine bread). TFL members will be happy to suggest recipes that you might like, based on your description of what kind of bread you want to make. 

...Or share a picture of the crumb of a loaf that you wish to emulate, that's another approach to get better feedback. 

Damp Patch's picture
Damp Patch


First of all I have to say that I'm a beginner so please take everyone else's advice above mine as most have vastly more experience than me but I thought I'd add some things that I have found out in case they help.

I've also got the River Cottage book, and I like it for ideas and general information but have to admit to never having followed a recipe from it to the letter, I've always used it as a starting point and then done my own thing.

I agree with Cranbo that using all the yeast in an ovenight pre-ferment could cause you problems. It maybe what is affecting your loaves as that amount of yeast may have gobbled up all it's food from the flour really quickly overnight, peaked at sometime during the night and then all but expired by the time you add the rest of the flour the next day.From what I have read on this site pre-ferements normally only have a tiny pinch of yeast in them and this has worked for me.

What I would do to start with would be to forget about the overnight preferment, until you are happy with making a basic loaf without this and then add extra levels of complexity like this in later when you are more confident.

There are some basic bread lessons on this site that Floyd has put together so you could try following those

Maybe if the active dried yeast isn't working well for you just switch to instant yeast for a trial loaf and see if that makes any difference.

Good luck,



Gene New's picture
Gene New


I just wanted to say thank you very much for your help and advice and let you know I finally managed to bake a couple of half decent loaves today!!

and I think I know what I have been doing wrong!!

The recipe for this was the one from the bread episode of the Great British Food revival with Michael Roux Jr (

but instead of using his technique I followed Richard Bertinet's mix, slap and fold technique as I didn't think my regular method of  kneading was up to scratch. Alas while Michael kneads in the bowl he really didn't give much detail of how he did it and when I downloaded his recipe the kneading technique they showed was the standard one I have already been trying so I didn't want to repeat that this time. Fortunetely its quite a sticky mix so it worked well with Bertinet's method.

This is what the bread looks like when sliced.

Soft, nice crumb and a great aroma plus it tastes delicious - I am so pleased. 

I think where I have been going wrong was that after my earlier breads had risen I went overboard on degassing where as with this loaf  all I did was remove it from the bowl flatten it down a bit with my fingers, divide and shape into four balls the way Richard Bertinet does on his video, then put them in the pans and cook. 

But look at the difference I am amazed I really thought it would be full of big holes which would have been the last thing I wanted for a sandwich bread hubby could use for his lunches and why I had done my best to remove as much gas as possible with my earlier attempts - oh well you live and learn.

I really like the way Bertinet works and I find his video's really easy to follow so taking richkaimd's advice he will be my "expert",  it would be great to do one of his workshops if I can convince hubby  to donate towards it for my birthday though he seems booked solid for a few months anyway.  In the meantime hubby has offered to get me  his book 'Dough' and I have spoken to my local library and they can get Bread by Hamelman so I can see what they are like.

Anyway I just wanted to say a big thank you - I think this website is a brilliant resource especially for someone just starting out

all the best Jean ( I use Gene as an email address because it was available and is less obvious)

AnnieT's picture

Jean, your loves are beautiful, congratulations! I make a similar bread which Wandering Bread posted here on TFL, and I noticed that Dan Lepard has a Milk Loaf with the same ingredients. I find the "folding" in the bowl very easy and much less work than slap and fold. I just grab the far edge of the dough and fold it to the center and repeat all the way round for up to 20 folds or until the dough resists. In fact I have been using this method with my sourdough loaves with much better results than stretching and folding on the counter, no fuss, no muss. Hope you will give it a try, A.

cranbo's picture

Congratulations Jean! Those loaves look fantastic.

Gene New's picture
Gene New

Hi again and many thanks both of you that is most appreciated.

AnnieT your comments about the fold in the bowl method sounds really interesting  as I had to get hubby to help with the slap and fold as I am not as strong as he is and you really needed to keep the action perpetually on the go to stop it sticking to everything so I would love to try an alternative for those days when I dont have the energy to slap and fold.

However did I miss something as I can't believe you only need to fold it in 20 or so times,  if thats right it sounds amazing!  The only time I heard of anything like that was on the website of a baker in the States but he did it to produce a no knead dough so the bread needed to be cooked in a dutch oven or something similar and as I said before when I tried something like that it was a devil to handle/form and shape and the bread it produced left the insides of our mouths sore.

But if you have a way of doing it to produce regular bread great.

I am curious though - how would the dough change from a gooey mess to a soft springy ball with so little work? 

If its not too much to ask can you go into a bit more detail about what to do.

Does it work with normal 60% recipes or do you need a higher hydration like the slap and fold technique? Would the recipe I used this time work?

Do you still prove your dough, leave it to rise and then shape as normal.

By all means redirect me if there is already something on this site that goes into more detail just tell me where and I will go take a look.

Once again thanks for everything

AnnieT's picture

Hi again Jean, and I'm sorry I didn't explain more fully. The 20 folds are repeated 3 or 4 times with rests in between! My sourdough recipe has about 3/4 cups of starter, 3/4 cups of  water and 2 1/2 cups of flour. I have been mixing flours lately and I also add 1/4 cup of steelcut oats, 2 tspns. kosher salt and a good "glug" of oil. I mix this all together with my Danish dough whisk and leave it to rest while I refresh my starter, maybe 30 minutes. I take this shaggy mass and do a one handed slap and fold on a wet counter, just a few slaps until the dough becomes smooth. Then back to the bowl for 30 minutes in the oven with the light on, then start the turning. I use my wet hand but you can use a bowl scraper, and keep turning the bowl and folding the dough over on itself until it begins to resist, then another 30 minute rest. Each time the dough will seem softer but the turns make it firm up. Usually 4 sessions are enough and then I proof the dough in an oiled straight sided container until it doubles, then I shape a boule and put it in a linen lined banneton. This goes into a large zip lock plastic bag and into the fridge overnight, and next morning I usually let it warm up before baking - on a stone and under a large stainless steel bowl for 20 minutes then another 15 minutes uncovered. The stone is heated at 500* for an hour then the heat is turned down to 450* after the bread is loaded. I hope this helps but please ask if you have more questions. I have a "baby" Bosch mixer but always make my sourdough by hand. I am not at all strong and couldn't do the Bertinet method but this is easy enough on my arthritic hands. Oh, you were close when you found the Sourdough Ruchbrot, just scroll down to find the soft white bread. Probably Ryan will give better directions and I love his bread, A.

Gene New's picture
Gene New


Sorry forgot to add how is it some bakers manage to get white bread that looks white mine is always rather yellow-  is that something else I am doing wrong?

many thanks Jean