The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough consistency

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

Dough consistency

Hi, first post on the forum. 

I started making bread at home a few weeks ago, using Eric Kayser's book. It's a blast, no matter what you do, you end up with really tasty bread.

I've been trying different recipes to see how they turn out and, most times, my bread doesn't have enough air holes inside after baking and they don't really spring that much in the oven (I have this idea that the bread needs to spring a lot as key to air pockets).

For instance, I've now tried the recipe for a "Boule" about 5 times, and only once it came out perfectly inside.

The recipe:

500g wheat flour T65

350g water 20C

100g liquid levain

2g fresh baker's yeast

10g salt

- Mix everything and knead using as little flour as possible on counter and hands. Knead using a stretch and fold technique for around 10 minutes, until dough is stretchy and strong but still somewhat sticky. Make some final folds into the inside of dough, turn upside down, you get a nice even ball, regular surface up, seam down.

- Cover the dough with a damp cloth for 1h30m for a first proof (the dough has been growing fine for me)

- Shape the dough into a ball by, again, folding its edges inside, use your hands to cup the dough into a round shape, turn it over, regular top, seam down, nice ball shape

- Place ball in floured proofing basket covered with damp cloth, seam up, for 2h

- Pre-heat oven to 230C

- Tip dough ball into floured baking tray, regular side up, seam down. Slash surface in polka pattern (at this stage I usually find the dough too soft and runny, as soon as you slash it, it tends to spread quite a bit, this leads me to thing the problem is here, something to do with how it was kneaded/shaped)

- Pour 5cl water into oven for steam, place tray inside, cook for 40/45 minutes

 

Anyone can see what is going wrong? I feel it might be that the dough is not kneaded properly or too moist, that it doesn't have that gluten springiness, but after I knead I also feel that the dough is sufficiently kneaded, that I didn't beat it up too much, that it's not hard and rubbery, that it is at a point where it's springy, elastic, alive, and still a bit sticky.

I'd appreciate any advice. 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

your second rise. I find it odd that your first proof is shorter than your second but that might be just me and the way I make bread. Anyhow, I still think your second rise is too long. Put your boule in the oven once it has reached 90% rise. There are posts on TFL that explain how to use a small straight sided container to let you know when your dough is at 90%. 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Reduce your water to 325g from 350g to get the hydration down somewhat - at least until you get some more experience.

Without a mechanical mixer, I suspect that 10 minutes of manual mixing is way short of what you need.  Look up "window pane test" and make sure you get to that stage before you stop mixing.

And reduce the final proof.  Bake when  a finger pressed lightly into the dough leaves a permanent mark. With 1:30 of bulk fermentation, I would expect the final proof to be about 1:30 depending on the dough temperature.

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

Ok, next time I'll try kneading (by hand) a bit more, until I get that gluten translucency going on. I was afraid to over knead, to make the dough to hard and dense. 

Also, I'll monitor the second proofing a bit better (I'll do the finger test, so the idea is the mark stays, meaning the dough is not very springy, right?)

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

In reality, I would challenge anybody to over-knead bread dough by hand. It is just too much work. If you want to try, take a small bit of dough (200g) and see if you can work it until it become irretrievably sticky.  Actually that is a good exercise in finding the limits of your flour and your tolerance for abuse.

Yes on the finger test. It will start out stiff and springy, transition to soft and springy, and eventually become soft enough to not rebound much when you press your finger into it.  It is a hard skill to develop and I often wind up taking it to the oven before it is perfectly proofed, but as I said, better under-proofed than over proofed.

Another good experiment is to divide a batch into three parts when you shape it, then bake the first one when you think it is ready, the second one when the first one comes out of the oven, and the last one when the second one comes out.  You will be surprised by the results.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I will only add that T65 flour is slightly coarser and might enjoy a little soaking...  That is mix up the dough until no dry flour is to be found, then let it sit for 30 minutes before kneading.  This recipe is pretty standard but contains two types of rising power, sd starter and 2g... a tiny amount of fresh yeast.  I would also extend the first proof as mentioned.  

What are your dough and room temperatures?

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

Room, water, and dough all at 24C

 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Mini - I was wondering about T65 flour.  When I looked it up, the match was against a French designation for a flour with 0.65% ash and ~11.5% protein, but it is not a flour with which I have any direct experience.

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

The T65 flour is a very common flour here in Portugal and France, it should translate to a Strong Flour/Bread Flour in english speaking countries.

Carti946's picture
Carti946

I have been following FWYSs recipes and having the same problem. I started searching the forums for ideas on optimising dough strength. If you do the same, you'll find a wealth of information. There is a particular detailed newsletter from the SFBI posted somewhere, which is helpful, not only with a lot of information but also because it states  that judging and managing dough strength is the hardest skill to learn for a baker. 

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

So I had another go at the same recipe.

This time I did knead a bit more, and started taking golf ball pieces out, stretching them between my fingers to test the gluten. I did get a wonderfully stretchy but strong translucent membrane. At start it would tear a bit, but with more kneading it got to the point where it wouldn't tear. Very happy with it.

For the second proof I reduced time to around 1h40m. Poking the dough I would get a clear indentation, that would slowly, very slowly, reset. The dough felt overall more cohesive, but when scaring, it did open up a bit more than what I was expecting. It's like there is only a very thin "skin" on the dough. As soon as you cut, the inside is a bit runny. I was expecting a harder "shell" and a sturdier inside.

So, as you can see by the photos, the cross pattern did open a bit, but didn't really "explode". I was expecting a bigger oven spring. It was a bit disappointing in that respect (maybe my expectation is incorrect).

The crumb has some interesting air pockets but to my dismay is somewhat chewy and rubbery.

 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

It looks pretty good. You might try increasing the yeast somewhat (maybe double) and see what you get.  The oven spring reflects the total amount of gas trapped in the dough and it looks like you are a little short. The other way to get there is to use a more active levain (I am assuming that the levain is a 100% hydration sourdough culture but you didn't say what the growth specifics were). It sounds like you got to where you need to be on gluten development, but if the dough seems to be too soft when you score it, you may be either over-proofing or still be a bit high on the hydration (though if you are at 66% or lower that is not the problem).

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

I'll definitely try again with a bit more yeast. The levain I'm using is 100% hydration. But really, it feels like there's not enough power there to fight gravity.

Another thing I noticed is that the upper crust is not as thick and crunchy as the bottom one. Maybe what I'm doing with the steam is not enough, the recipe tells me to drop 5cl of water into the hot bottom tray the moment you place the bread into the oven. I feel it didn't produce enough steam for enough time (many recipes/methods ask for steam during the first 5/10 minutes of baking). I'll try placing a tray with water in the oven to get loads of steam at start, and remove it after 5/10 minutes, next time maybe.

Again, thanks for your feedback

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

If the levain seems inactive, take a look at this video to see if your levain behavior is close:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wAChzSC96o

and read the notes. Over a minute or so you should see 5-10 bubbles pop on a bowl of levain that weighs ~450g.

An alternate way to bake a boule of the size you are making is to use the Tartine method in which you preheat a dutch oven to super hot and just drop the dough in and put the top on (which traps the natural steam from the dough), then take it off some time later to let the top dry out and brown.  There are lots of posts on this site that can guide you on that method.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

After re-reading your post -

The crust color is good so oven temperature seems to be fine and baking time has to be close.  The tight crumb and high protein flour will give the bread some tooth; and a tight crumb will also need a little more baking time to get the internal temperature up to around 95°C.  You will come to know when it is done by thumping the bottom crust.  There is a distinctive hollow sound.

I agree that you may be a little short on steam. Do you perhaps have a gas oven? They don't hold steam well at all since the gas combustion products need to have a flue open and all of your steam escapes via the same path.  That has driven a lot of gas oven owners to use the Tartine method.  There are other ways to address it as well.

If you have an electric oven, be cautious about how much water you put into the oven. The heating element has to boil it all to get rid of it (or you have to take it out) and the heat required to boil the water detracts from the heat that can keep the oven walls hot so you have to balance how you do it.  A pan of hot rocks (lava rock is preferred since it won't explode on you) can store some heat (though not a lot) and give you a burst of steam.  A few ice cubes can delay the steam by a few seconds but you have to expend the energy to melt the ice in addition to heating it up to boiling then converting it to steam. A small foil pan with a few small holes in the bottom will also delay the puff of steam and distilled water is good for that because it doesn't plug the holes with mineral deposits in the process.

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

So I gave it another try but couldn't really improve on previous attempts.

I placed the bread inside the oven and dropped water in a tray I had at the bottom to make steam. But my gas oven is a bit temperamental and turned of as soon as I closed the door (gently).  So I had to reopen the door, fire it up again, and most of the heat just came out and the temperature was not optimal at start. I think that's why the bread failed to "crack open" form the scars, and burst open from the side. So, it did spring quite a bit in the oven, just not the way I wanted.

That issue apart, the bread crumb is too closed for my taste. I was going for much larger and irregular air pockets, but it really didn't happen. I think the overall kneading and proofing was good, maybe when I took the dough from the proofing basket and placed it in the tray I touched it too much, or too little. Not sure what effect manual operations had in the air pocket situation.

Anyway, the bread is just delicious. I'll just keep at it.

 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

First, with a gas oven you have to completely change the way you go about generating steam.  Either you switch over and bake in a cast iron  pot with a lid (ala Tartine), or you figure out how to close off the oven vent with a cover or a plug and turn the oven off for five minutes so that the steam actually stays in the oven, after which you remove the plug/cover before again turning the oven on.  For this you need to store as much heat in the oven as possible by adding mass inside and preheating to the highest possible temperature.

Second, if you want a very open crumb structure, you have to go to the other end of the hydration spectrum and try to get up to between 75% and 80%.  Dough with that much water in it is hard to handle and hard to develop the gluten as well (especially by hand).  It is fragile and it will collapse if you sneeze or look at it wrong. Above about 73% I generally don't even try to slash as the dough is very extensible so it doesn't need it.  In extremis, if you are under-proofed and have to bake because of timing constraints, a very shallow slash can help, but until you really know your dough and your process it is quite risky.

I would suggest sticking with a 68% hydration dough, and see if you can find a cast iron pot with a lid that you can use to simulate the Tartine method.  That is almost no-fail.

If that is not in the cards, see if you can plug the oven vent with a wad of foil for five minutes just after you put the bread in the oven, add some water to your pan of hot rocks, and turn off the gas. Pre-heat time should probably be around 90 min and if you can do it, the tiles should read 550°F with an IR thermometer.  If it is not that hot, waiting is not going to help as the oven is as hot as it is going to get by that time.

The photos are telling. The blowout on the side says that it was like there was no slash at all and thus no man-made place to break open.  That is most likely because there is no steam in the oven and with it under-proofed  the crumb is dense and it takes a long time to get the oven spring started so that the surface is fully cooked before the loaf starts to expand. You might run a test case with three loaves that are each 1/3 the size of your current loaf. Then bake them sequentially at 30 - 45 minute intervals. That will give you a local demonstration of enforced patience. You eventually have to learn when you are close to the upper limit on proof time and what happens if you wait too long.  If the last one doesn't collapse when you slash it, you didn't wait long enough.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

I just looked back at your photos and noticed that the bottom crust doesn't seem to be very brown (at least judging from the color compared to the top crust). What would explain that?  Steam pan right under the loaf cooling off the bottom? Tile not pre-heated long enough to get up to at least 450°F? Cooking on an insulated baking sheet?  Cooking on a bright aluminum baking sheet? Cooking on parchment on a relatively new (shiny) pan of any kind?

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

First, in terms of oven and steam, because it's a gas oven, I've been trying just two methods for steam: dropping some water in a hot tray the moment you put the bread in; placing a tray with water in the oven from the moment you turn it on. Tbh, I have no idea if any of the steam produced by these methods is actually producing the desired effect in terms of rise/crust properties. Probably not so much, since I'm not covering the oven holes at all. The water boiling in tray method is probably the best one, since at least the steam from the boil is constant and travels from the bottom to the vents. I tried spraying the bread/oven with water but don't really like the way it washes away the flour from the bread surface. Also, I monitor temperature with an oven thermometer (that you place inside).

Second, haven't gone for the Dutch Oven method for two reasons. My oven is not that large, it would be tricky to work with a big iron pan inside, and on other hand I'd like my method to work for any type of bread (I've also been baking baguettes, pistolets, and other type of bread shapes).

Third, what you mention in terms of crust is absolutely right. The first bread for which I posted photos was baked on a thin, non-stick tray. This resulted in a very cooked bottom and a relatively thin top crust. So, for this last bake, I placed the dough on a Pyrex glass dish, as a way to shield the heat that hits the bottom. It did work, but the result was also uneven. The bottom crust is indeed not as thick as I wanted. However, the top crust is just fantastic.

Fourth, I did cut a deep cross pattern on top that got no "explosion" effect at all, just ended up with a massive bottom/lateral burst. I think, just like you said, this had to do with 2 main reasons: the little to no steam issue that resulted in the top getting solid early on; and the thick glass baking dish I used, that might have resulted in a cooler bottom where the burst found literally a softer spot to occur.

Fifth, I still don't understand the impact handling the dough with my hands has in terms of internal air pocket structure and overall bread density. After bulk fermentation, as per recipe, I flattened the dough gently, and did some gentle folds to form a regular ball. Then placed it in proofing bowl with floured towel, seam up, monitored the proofing. When the growth was good, I flipped the bowl into the glass baking dish. After tipping, I did get some hissing from air escaping the dough (minor I would say). I tucked the dough a bit at the bottom to correct into a round shape (with the tipping it got a bit lob sided) and that was it. Then scared top with sharpest knife I have. Into the oven. Just minor, gentle handling of the dough. Is this in any way affecting the outcome? 

Anyway, I really appreciate all your input. I'll have another go soon, with maybe a different baking tray, and going back to a "tray with boiling water at the bottom" steam method, to see how it goes.

 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

See if you can find some unglazed tile to put on the oven shelf. Thickness should be 5 to 7 mm.  At that thickness it will preheat in 30 min and deliver immediate heat to the bottom after which it acts as an insulator to keep additional heat from burning the crust. I think your Pyrex dish (which I am assuming is a room temperature when you put the bread on it) is preventing oven heat from reaching the bottom crust as it takes the entire baking time to come up to a temperature that will contribute to browning.

Your description of "hissing" when you invert the dough onto the Pyrex is a perfect description of a very over-proofed loaf deflating as you handle it.  There is almost nothing you can do at that point to recover. The dough should be supple and resilient to handling but soft to the touch (the classic description is "like a baby's bottom" after shaping). You should be able to pick it up and turn it over and place it on the hot tiles either directly or using a peel (wooden, metal, or corrugated cardboard, dusted with a little cornmeal or semolina or even some bread flour as a dry lubricant).

I would like to see a photo of your levain just before you incorporate it into the dough so that I can judge the level of activity that you are getting before the mix. Another shot of the dough after shaping and just before it goes in the oven will provide insight into how well developed and proofed it is. Slashing an over-proofed loaf is not productive. Your post-bake photos look like you are shaping well, and you are getting good browning so we know that the oven is hot enough, and with a little more bottom heat it will be brown all over.  The lack of oven spring is evidence of either over-proofing (my current thought) or insufficient yeast activity. If the yeast is actively working for you, then bulk fermentation may be too long which depletes the sugars that the yeast need to support final proof.

As for steam, a pan of boiling water will limit the oven temperature quite a bit since it acts like a thermal damper by absorbing heat that should be stored in the walls and top of the oven. You can put a dry pan in the oven to pre-heat it on the bottom shelf or even on the bottom of the oven and then toss some water in after you have loaded the bread on the hot tile above it (50ml should be enough for a small oven).  Then shut the oven, turn the gas off and leave it off for 5 min and let the stored heat in the oven do the work. Take a look at that the 5 minute point to see if there is any residual water still in the steam pan - there should not be any. The dough is cool at oven entry and you want the steam to cook the surface starch before the heat penetrates the loaf and begins to expand the trapped CO2 and develop oven spring.

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

Tomorrow I'll try again and I'll take as much photos of the whole process as possible.

In terms of levain/starter, I'm using it a bit after it has peaked after feeding. After it has reached that bulging top, and started receding and left a mark in the container walls, quite foamy and frothy.

I really have noticed that placing the tray with water in the oven for steam does mess up a lot the temperature. If I don't use steam, the oven gets to 230C in around 15 to 20 minutes. When I use the tray, I put it in after maybe 10 minutes. Around 20 minutes time of oven pre-heating the temperature is now around 200C, because the tray with water was put inside and doesn't allow for such a high temperature. 

rsergio007's picture
rsergio007

I photographed the whole process. (photos have comments under Info)

Very happy with the result. Not sure why the oven spring got so lob sided, but to me that is a minor issue considering the final result.

The major factor for the great crumb might have been the correct proofing when compared to other attempts. Today the air temperature was noticeably cooler. I think that was crucial to slow down proofing and caused the dough to reach the oven with still some gas to go. 

Thanks a lot for your help. What started as a question about dough consistency turned into a full fledged trouble shooting.

https://goo.gl/photos/9xWhmgFAbP2U74XK7

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Looking good. The photos really do help understand what is going on.

The levain looks active but seems thin. What is the hydration and how long do you let it mature?  I am assuming that it sits at 24°C room temperature.

Small oven indeed! And with that big pan forcing the hot gas combustion products to go around it, your have a very hot spot at the top of the oven (as you can deduce from the charred tip that sat up in it for a while).  I would suggest that you look around for some 5-7mm thick unglazed tile, enough to make a ~300mm square (just big enough to support the loaf as it bakes). Preheat the oven with the tiles centered on the shelf for at least 45 min. The tiles will deliver heat to the bottom of the loaf early in the bake and then act as insulation to keep it from burning. At some point you should probably try baking with the rack dropped down one level. The temperature may be more even in the lower 2/3 of the oven.

You are still short on steam though there was enough early heat to allow one corner to open up nicely.  The oven is hot, and if you get some tiles to bake on they will help to keep the temperature up. And even before then I think you should try shutting off the gas for five minutes just after loading the dough. With luck that will retain enough steam to get the effect you want.

The crumb looks pretty good.  My sense is that you still need to mix a little longer.  The shaped but unproofed loaf could have a tighter skin and that demands a little more work before bulk fermentation.

You would have an easier time handling the proofed loaf if you would rub flour into the proofing cloth fabric. You may need to use a finer flour (all purpose) for that but the cloth should be completely saturated with flour (not loose, but embedded in the fabric).  You also have a fairly rough cloth surface which probably wants to stick to any dough that is offered. A piece of heavier fabric - cotton (or best of all - hemp) canvas will work better. 

Make yourself a peel from an appropriately sized piece of double wall corrugated paperboard (look for three sheets of flat paper separated by two layers of corrugated stock with the corrugations running in the same direction). 250mm x 600mm is a nice size. And your bread flour is coarse enough to use as a dry lubricant for transferring the boule to the tiles.

You have come a long way in just three iterations. Which positions you well for further exploration --