The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A damn good knead

Rupert's picture

A damn good knead

After reading a lot about baking bread it can start to sound more like science than baking:
The overwhelming amount of equipment used: cloches, stone baking sheets, banetons, lames, couches, pump sprays, peels, scrapers etc;
The numerous varieties of flours & yeasts, starter recipes, and kneading techniques.
All this and more but having come from a technical background I can handle that, just.

But then, when you start in, the science goes out of the window and bad magic enters. You follow a recipe to the letter, you go as far as using a thermometer to check for correct conditions, you follow all the advice you can find (there’s a lot & it’s often conflicting) and then what comes out of the oven? A concrete cow-pat!

So, thinking you must have missed a trick, you start over and go through the whole process again. You follow the exact procedures again and this time the result is OK.
What changed? The direction of the wind? Thw waxing of the moon? There is no precise answer.

For the beginner there’s certainly great scope for confusion from reading too many books & articles on the subject.
To start off with, quantity measurements for ingredients can trip you up. Units range from cups, teaspoon/tablespoons, fluid ounces, millilitres, grams, dashes, drops, pinches and drizzles & of course US & Imperial weight systems.

Then there’s yeast: There are currently 3 kinds available here in the UK.

Easy-blend/Fast-action/Instant/Bread Machine/Rapid Rise. Depending on the recipe it can be called any of these names. Helpfully, this comes in standard 7gm sachets. I weighed the contents of one today: 5gms!
Dried/Regular/Granulated/Active dry. Apparently this has to be dissolved or proofed before use but I’ve seen recipes where either this isn’t mentioned or it’s stated that it’s not necessary. Proofing directions also differ in that it either has to froth madly or that just a few bubbles will do. Some say just add water, others say add sugar too.
Fresh/Cake/Compressed. Not easily obtainable in the UK. Some say dissolve it, others not.

Recipes use either of these yeasts but to convert from one to the other by weight is not always straightforward. It depends on how much flower is in the recipe apparently.

Here are a few nuggets of advice I found:

  • “Fresh yeast is commonly sold in .6 ounce ‘cakes’ which are equivalent to one 7 gram package of active yeast”.
  • “The size of a block of fresh yeast can vary depending on the supplier”.
  • “If you encounter a recipe that calls for fresh cake yeast you can easily substitute instant yeast by dividing the weight of the cake yeast by 3”.
  • “2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast = 1 pkg. active dry or RapidRise Yeast = 1 cake fresh yeast”.
  • “1 teaspoon instant aka instant active dry = 1-1/4 teaspoons active dry or 1-1/2 teaspoons fresh cake yeast”.
  • “For 1 packed tablespoon/0.75 ounce of cake yeast use 2 teaspoons instant yeast or 2-1/2 teaspoons active dry”.
  • “10g of fresh yeast = 1 teaspoon of dry yeast”.
  • “1 ounce of active dry yeast equals: 10 teaspoons (tsp) in active dry yeast”.
  • “Active dry can be used at 50% of the weight of fresh yeast and instant dry can be used at 40% of the weight of fresh”.

Oh, I forgot to add an essential piece of equipment to the list: a calculator!

Personally, I much prefer to stick to grams, partly because my scales don’t cater for spoons and it’s kinda neat that that 100ml of water weighs 100gm.
However, none of the above helps me to bake a decent loaf so I’ll just keep practicing until I can casually toss about 500gm of flour, some water, a pinch or two of salt and roughly enough yeast into a bowl and start mixing & kneading, because that’s what I like most about this bread malarkey: a damn good knead.

richkaimd's picture

Shorten your learning process by working your way through a text book.  Think of it as having your own professional bread baker at home with you.  Read it through from beginning to end.  Pretty much all will be revealed therein.  While everything you'll ever want to know about bread baking is available on this website, it's scattered about and mixed with lots of well-meaning advice which professionals might disagree with, and, with a novice's knowledge base, how're you going to tell the difference?  And who'd you prefer to get advice from?

Here are two quite different texts:  DiMuzio's Bread Baking and Hamelman's Bread.  Your library might have them both.  Look them over, and then choose one and work your way through it.  You'll learn more in less time than you will by reading this website.  Even if it takes a year for you to work through DiMuzio, doing all the exercises, you'll be way ahead of trying to reinvent the wheel everytime you start to make a loaf.

And watch all the videos from the link at the top of the Fresh Loaf page.

Practice, practice, and practice some more.



Rupert's picture

Thanks for the suggestions & encouragement.

I've read a lot of books on bread baking in the last few weeks (perhaps too many) and one I find very useful is 'How to make bread' by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. It's good for a beginner as it has lots of photos of each stage of a recipe. I've made 3 - 4 of his recipes and they have all worked.

Another book I'm using is Paul Hollywood's 'Bread'. I just made some mini baguettes from his book (I'm sticking to the simple stuff) and they are amazing although probably nothing like he intended.
He strongly suggests that it should be mixed & kneaded in a mixer as the dough is very wet. Well, I haven't got a stand mixer and since I enjoy kneading I decided to do it by hand. It took about 40 minutes to get it anywhere near dough & then I got a ten minute phone call.

When I got back to the dough it was really sticky again and I had to almost scrape it into a bowl. I let it rise for about 2 1/2 hours. Although it had easily doubled in size it was still really sticky. Undeterred I proceeded to carefully scrape it from the bowl, fold & flatten it a few times and shape it into 2 baguette shapes. Actually, this was almost impossible as it stuck to my hands so much.

Anyhow, I baked it and it's really good. It's very light and the crumb is as soft as duck's down but doesn't form dough when squeezed. The crust is beautifully crunchy and my wife is now making some lamb & apple burgers to go with it.

So, although I’ve suffered from a lot of confusion and a few disasters (mainly in the sourdough department) I’m actually knocking up some tasty loaves and would never go back to commercial bread.

pmccool's picture

can't it?  

Not to make your life any more frustrating than it already is, but the baguette is one of the most difficult breads to master.  It looks like simplicity itself but that apparent simplicity means that the baker must do every step, every process, perfectly.  Other breads allow for some on-the-fly adjustments; the baguette is most unforgiving of trifling lapses.

The suggestion to work with a textbook is a good one.  Another suggestion is to stay with one bread until you can routinely bake it with good results before trying another bread.  That can be a bit boring but it does allow one to to really grasp the "If I do this, I know that the bread will do that" type of understanding which only comes with a depth of experience.

You sound as though you are making good progress.  If there is anyone in your acquaintance who bakes bread, arrange some time with them to get some tutelage.  That will boost your skills and understanding even more.


Rupert's picture

I obviously had a lucky fluke with the baguette then. Just what I needed to boost my confidence. I'll certainly be trying it again. 

One thing about starting to bake bread is that having spent years eating commercial bread I didn't know what 'proper' bread could taste like. Take sourdough for example - I baked a few 'bricks' before I'd tasted sourdough. I knew mine were a disaster but I had no benchmark to go by. Then I discovered a local baker, tried his SD, loved it and had something to aim for. Same with baguettes - I was amazed how good it could be compared with what I'd been used to.

But what I need is more practice to gain familiarity with the processes.

So far I feel lucky - I've baked a few good loaves, found something I really enjoy doing & discovered TFL - a great community, oozing with encouragement & advice. What could be better!



dabrownman's picture

working though TFL tutorial bakes would be good first step.

Happy baking