The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Brand New - Help!

baking_baking_baked's picture
baking_baking_baked

Brand New - Help!

Hi! I'm new - currently in Michigan (US) but usually in DC/MD area. I baked perhaps my fourth loaf of bread today, and, as always, had trouble with the crumb. Like any good American, I've been watching the Great British Bake-off, which has fueled my desire to make beautiful loaves, but now, I'd settle for a good, chewy texture. I am pretty sure I under-proofed my loaves, but am not certain what errors I could be making other than that (I tried steam and no-steam, different mixes of flours, etc.) My loaves always turn out sort of ugly, lumpy, and doughy (although the flavor isn't terrible). 

Does anyone have a good beginner baking book I can read? I want something I can read and work my way through, and that explains the science of good bread. If anyone is in my area and is open to baking with me on a Sunday morning or two , that would be lovely as well. 

Thanks! 

kendalm's picture
kendalm

Welcome to tfl and also welcome to the deceptive task of baking a loaf of bread - its not uncommon to hear questions about why cant I bake that beautiful loaf I saw on pinterest ? Its my (insert number less than 10)th try ! - well the answer is that its easy to mix and cook dough but really quite challenging to bake amazing bread due to many factors but just to drive the point home as an examlple I recently posted a benchmark having kept rough count of the number of baguettes I have baked and that about 1,000 and still not totally satisfied with result .... Buuut, gettin' there ! As for vread, generally speaking, it is something that is in a constant state of flux. Every minute its something it wasnt just 60 seconds ago and so timing matters immensly. When it comes to crumb it depends on what type of bread you are baking and general concensus says that high hydration doughs like ciabatta are good starting points for those who seek open crumb. That said, of seeking advice on tgis particular effort, might help to describe what kind of bread, your ingredients and oven setup including temperature, times for proofing and baking. My 'book' is the internet and youtube but many members have book recomendations so hopefully someone can chime in on that !

baking_baking_baked's picture
baking_baking_baked

Haha, I'm okay with ugly loaves for now, the texture is what I'm really trying to fix first! My ingredients were just salt, water, yeast, and white whole wheat flour - I kneaded the dough for about twenty minutes by hand, and it was never quite at the "windowpane" stage, but it was fairly elastic, and quite smooth. 

I used a random recipe off the internet, and actually decreased the amount of flour by about 1 cup, hoping that would help create a more open structure, but that didn't help, unfortunately! 

Thanks :)

pmccool's picture
pmccool

One, work your way through the lessons here on TFL.  Repeat each one until you can produce consistently good results, then move to the next.

Two, get a copy of Dan Dimuzio's Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective.  It is a textbook that aims to teach you how to bake, not just a book of recipes. 

Three, find a local provider for baking classes.  If you are in southern Michigan, you might sign up for classes from Zingerman's bakery.  Or perhaps there's something closer to your location.  

baking_baking_baked's picture
baking_baking_baked

Thanks for the suggestions - I started doing the first TFL tutorial this morning (fingers crossed)! Unfortunately I'm only in MI through the holidays, but I found another discussion for courses in Baltimore/DC, and I'll try to take one when I get back. I'm also going to order this book - I tend to feel more comfortable with something if I've read about it, even if, as with bread, experience is really the only way to produce consistent and good results. 

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

Now you know why bakers are so free with their formulas. While the ingredients are important it is the times, temperatures and techniques that develop that wonderful loaf of artisan bread. As others have mentioned here, read and practice.

I recommend that you visit Trevor J. Wilson's web page www.breadwerx.com . Start with his earliest videos, read his textual comments, and watch a master at work. This should fill in a lot of the blanks early on and you will make strides in your next few bakes. Once the seed is planted you might then search the TFL archives which are very rich in our own personal experiences.

Buy a scale that weighs in grams and start researching Baker's Math. Concentrate on formulas that are presented in grams and not in cups and teaspoons. Measure accurately, follow directions and mind your times and temperatures. They make a big difference in the end result.

Best of luck to you but be warned - artisan bread baking is addictive!

 

baking_baking_baked's picture
baking_baking_baked

I've never heard of breadwerx - thanks for the tip! I have a kitchen scale that I never use, so I'm going to dust it off and start using it. I love the smell of yeast, and bread baking, so I have a feeling I'm going to get VERY into artisan bread baking. I also love that it's such an affordable past-time, and you wind up with a product you can eat (one of my personal favorite things). 

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

Wait until you build your first sourdough starter! I was going to point you to BreadBabies recent postings and videos but it might be a little disheartening. She's having a rough time and really just laying it out there.

Once you back away from commercial yeast and start using mothers, starters and levains, a whole new world will open for you.

And your point is well-taken and often shared. The downside of baking bread is that you have too much bread that cost you nearly nothing. Eventually your neighbors will become bread junkies because you need to get rid of the stuff and they cannot stop eating it.

We must crawl before we can walk.

baking_baking_baked's picture
baking_baking_baked

So this whole thing actually started because of my interest in fermentation, especially when applied to bread rather than vegetables or yoghurt - I would like to build a sourdough starter eventually, but want to understand bread before I make one. I may check out breadbabies anyway - it might be nice to know I'm not the only one going through doughy struggles!

Janna3921's picture
Janna3921

As a total newbie to bread making I understand how you feel and what you are going through.  I don't remember which one was the first thing I made, the plain ole white bread, or the Casatiello bread, yeast rolls, cinnamon buns, pretzels or what, but none so far have come out great.  The best has been the Norwegian Christmas Bread that is somewhat light, but I don't think it is supposed to be airy.   

I digress, it is a learning experience.  I bought the Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and it has been helpful.  The science behind bread making, recipes, tips, what to use, and I love the photos to help in knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it.   I also bought the King Arthur's Flour Baker's Companion and it has a lot of info on baking bread and many other dough recipes and some nice photos and best of all images that show steps in what to do and how to do it.  

Measuring is very important as I have learned, I had some scales that I use for the ounces/grams, not the cup sizes.  Steaming the bread is important also as I have learned. The first bread I didn't know to steam and it was dense, and we ate a few slices, but tossed the rest out.  My last loaf, the Christmas bread, I preheated the oven for 30 minutes, then put a foil pan in the oven with two small towels that were soaking wet to create steam.  Then put the bread in, don't remember now how much time in-between them all, but it helped a lot I think in having a much better looking and tasting bread.  I hadn't received a lame in the mail yet, it arrived the next day, but I took a serrated knife took the tip and turning it slightly took it down the length of the bread, I think that helped also.  

I just ordered some stoneware to bake my bread in so I am hoping that will help in getting a better bread.  There is a lot to learn, but it is fun to make breads, to create something from scratch and know that you are giving your family something that is healthier for them.

Called my daughter and her new hubby was in the room so I asked him what type of meat and cheese did he want in the Casatiello bread and he kept saying, "she is going to make that bread for me?" in the background.  Which I still can't understand why he was so confused at it.  He is from Italy and I thought it would nice to make something for him.  

There is so much joy in making something for someone.  In taking bland ingredients and mixing them together and having something that others can enjoy eating, seeing the smiles on their faces.    

Forgot to add, this site has a lot of great info, the search is a help also in learning tips.

baking_baking_baked's picture
baking_baking_baked

Thanks everyone for comments and help! I made a fresh loaf today, which remains close-textured and fairly tasty. I added ajwain seeds today, which are pretty delicious. 

Today, I allowed it to rise for nearly twice as long, and it prevented it splitting along the sides, but the bread was not more open textured - still trying to figure out how to make an airier bread with whole wheat! 

carlosnyb's picture
carlosnyb

Whole wheat can be a challenge.  Any time I've worked with whole wheat or other grains, it was mixed with a good bit of all-purpose flour or soaked or something.  You may want to try a non-whole wheat recipe, or one with 1/3 to 1/2 of the flour being whole-wheat, easier to get it to rise nice and have good consistency.  Happy baking/experimenting!

baking_baking_baked's picture
baking_baking_baked

I baked fresh loaves! I used half all-purpose flour in the new loaves, and also let it rest for a little bit longer prior to kneading. I also increased my proving time by almost triple - I did some research and realized the temperature of my house (67 F) was not allowing for speedy rising at all! I'm planning to try an overnight rise next, while it's still cold out, to see if that improves texture. 

I was also baking the loaves at too low a temperature, so I ratcheted the oven up a bit. After all of this I received a loaf that was tasty and springy - not quite open crumb, certainly not "my ideal loaf." But progress! Now I'm off to read Dan T. DiMuzio's Bread Baking cover to cover :)