The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Where did I go wrong?

AbbyL's picture

Where did I go wrong?

My first foray into artisan bread baking was a miserable failure! I tried to make pain de campagne (BBA, p. 195). I thought I was slavishly following the instructions in every detail,  but the result was two dense, stunted, sad little boules with a small crumb, except for a flat hole near the top of the loaf, and a tough crust. What the heck happened to that oven spring I was expecting? 
I had high hopes for the dough after combining all the ingredients-- it passed the windowpane test with flying colors.
On the other hand, my kitchen was pretty cold, in the low 60's. I also tried to prepare the oven for hearth baking, with a stone preheated to 500 (I thought), and a cake pan filled with simmering water. I spritzed the oven walls at 30-second intervals as soon as I got the loaves into the oven, which was not the smooth operation I had envisioned. I couldn't slide the boules from the baking sheet that I had dutifully lined with parchment and coated with cornmeal, according to the instructions, so I ended up shoving them off the sheet with my hand.
Any diagnoses? What should I correct next time?
I'm not accustomed to culinary failure. I suppose this is character-forming.

tattooedtonka's picture

Your post has me wondering a bunch of things.

To start, what kind of flour were you using?  Was it a AP flour or a higher protein bread flour.

How was your pate fermentee? Did it grow like it should when you made it, to the 1 1/2 times its starting size? 

If it did, then the next thing I wonder is, after you made up your final dough, did you let it ferment on the counter for 2 hours, or until it doubled in size?  If you went by time alone, based on your kitchen temp.  it probably could have sat a little longer to get to that size.

Now the part that gets me quite a bit, how gentle were you with degassing?  Sometimes I'm a little too rough, I got big mitts, and if I get a little too rough I end up degassing too much which results in me getting a tighter loaf.

Next step would be that 1 hour proof after shaping, again did you go by time or by size?

Now on to the oven and baking transfer part.

First I would like to just ask you to be careful when dealing with water and a 500' oven, especially around the door.  If you have a glass window in front, and get a little too much water onto it by accident you can shatter your door glass.  Just be careful. 

I use water quite a bit, but Im always watching to make sure Im not dripping any onto the glass, and I try to avoid spraying around the inside oven light as well.  For the spraying I just use a little plastic plant mister.

As for transferring the bread from pan to stone.  May I suggest turning your pan upside down and place your parchment paper on the back side and place your dough on the paper,this way when you transfer to stone you can slide right off, and not get caught up on the side lip of the pan.

I dont know if any of this helps, but it might be something to think about on your next run.

Have a great day,


AbbyL's picture

So far, it's a mystery to me. I used the flours prescribed by the recipe, i.e. bread flour, all-purpose flour, and a bit of whole wheat, carefully weighed and measured. I thought I was letting the fermentation go to the size the recipe said. The final rise was for 1 1/2 the original size. I was eyeballing it, but I thought it had grown enough.
I also thought I was treating my dough gently at the degassing phase.
I've never shaped dough according to the BBA instructions. Once again, I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do, but maybe I wasn't.
To transfer the dough to the stone, I used the reverse side of a rimless baking sheet. Then I put some parchment on, sprayed it with oil, and sprinkled it with cornmeal. I'm pretty sure the instructions said to do that, but I think the oil spray made the cornmeal stick both to the dough and to the parchment. I would have baked right on the parchment, but didn't Peter Reinhart say something about the silicone treatment on the parchment having some not-so-great effect on the transfer of heat to the dough? Or did I hallucinate that? (Maybe I did hallucinate that. Floydm tells me I could have put the parchment onto the stone and baked successfully.)
My suspicion is that I was wrong about how much my dough had risen. My house does get pretty cold in the winter. Also, I probably ought to verify the oven temperature with a new oven thermometer.
Kind of depressing that the New York Times no-knead bread formula works so much better for me than this turned out.
Thanks for your thoughts, TT.

mkelly27's picture

I have been baking for years, and occaisionally I lose my "mojo" and no matter what I do I can't turn out a decent loaf  (my decent loaves are pretty nice).  I step back from the books , re-evaluate, and mix my doughs as I know how. But most importantly.... I don't rush the dough.  Take your time let the dough rise.  Unless you are very good, the dough will control the baking moment not the other way around. 


Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

tattooedtonka's picture

I use parchment quite a bit for breads, I cut a piece out the size of the loaf, and let the loaf do its final rise on it, and then slide the whole thing onto the stone. I only use cornmeal for bagels and real wet bread dough on the paper.  As for the Reinhart statement, he probly did say something like that.  The only thing I can say for certain is that I once purchased "parchment paper" from a supply house, only to find it smoke like the dickens when in the oven, and the paper had a glossy substance that ended up sticking right to the bread.  Since that time I have only bought brand name parchment paper from the grocery store and have not had one bad issue.  Sure a little around the sides of the loaf will brown up a bit.  But all you have to do is open your oven about half way through the bake and slide that paper right on out from under the bread.  The bread can then finish its bake directly on the stone.

Good luck,


subfuscpersona's picture

Shaping loaves properly is one skill that takes time to learn. You need to shape them to develop "surface tension" (not my phrase - that's what the bakers call it) so that the loaf will hold escaping steam during the initial baking yet not so roughly that you degass them in the process.

Take a look at the post eye-opening-techniques by ehanner in Highest Rated Stories on the home page (scroll down a bit), especially the video links posted in that thread. I found it to be very helpful.

If your library has a copy of Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman, check it out. It has a section on shaping loaves (with illustrations and detailed instructions) that is also very good.