The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello and HELP!!!

woefulbaker's picture

Hello and HELP!!!

Hi there!

I need help!

Perhaps I should qualify that statement... 

 Allow me to introduce myself.  My situation can be summarised by one word:  novice

I write this as I finish yet another unsuccessful session attempting to bake something that approximates what we know as 'bread'.  It's the latest in a 5 month string of failures which have resulted in multiple skin burns, one broken oven and an assortment of burnt/broken/cracked equipment (not to mention countless bags of flour, bottles of water etc. etc.)

 To give some background - I have been following Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's  Apprentice as well as  a wealth of other information on this website and many others.  All fantastic information and instruction but apparently completely useless in the hands of a novice such as myself.

Whether I'm following a recipe to the letter or attempting to apply a principle which I have learned - the result is always the same.  Tasteless bread which is usually too dense and doughy (with the occasional air bubble) or burnt or a combination of the two.  Crusts completely evade me and if I do manage a sembalnce of a crust, it is there for all of 5 minutes before it softens to leathery soft pap. 

I have tried varying everything from baking temperature, rise time (and temperature), baking time, baking surface, flour (many different brands, strengths etc.), kneading times (or no knead recipes), baking stones, water sprays etc. etc. etc.  - again with no success. 

I think I need help (and possibly of the psychiatric kind).  I understand and respect that it takes a life time to master the skills of great bread but I feel like I am not progressing or learning at all (although I hope I have absorbed at least some of the theory and science of breadmaking - gluten, autolyse, enzymes, protease etc.)

Would love to hear suggestions, opinions, therapists you could recommend....


Many Thanks




woefulbaker's picture

An addendum to my post.

 In the course of my (rather dismal) experimentation in breadmaking I have, quite by accident, cultivated a pretty healthy sourdough starter (fed with unbleached white bread flour twice daily at a ratio of 1:4:4).

Really hoping someone can help me with some of the basics (I just want a decent loaf!!!) so that I can eventually put this sourdough to good use.

 Please help or the lactos and yeasties get it!.... :)



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

There must be something you baked in the last 5 months worth eating. Give me a recipe and how you followed it, with details. I want to understand exactly what your routine is like. Oh, and tell me what temperature you're baking, use an extra oven thermometer please. If you have any pictures, please let me see them. With your help, we will figure this out.. not to worry... And don't take too long, your starter is waiting...

Hang in there, Mini O

woefulbaker's picture

Thanks for the reply Mini Oven - I assure you it really is that bad!

I haven't taken any pictures (just plain embarrassing!) or kept a log.  Perhaps I really should keep a catalogue of my failures in future. :P

One of the recipes I did try to follow was the poolish ciabatta in Reinhart.  I followed pretty much to the letter (except I didn't handle the dough with the same equipment he shows in the book - simply because I don't have couche's/cloths etc. for proofing)The one thing I found was such high hydration doughs are very difficult to handle. The result was a bread with extremely uneven browning on top (soft crust) - the bread just 'swelled' like a balloon (lifting off the baking stone)...and ultimately an unsatisfactory crumb structure  - there were some big holes but mostly just mush.

Perhaps ciabatta was a case of trying to run before I can walk...? 

If anyone has any tips about an easy to use (and fairly inexpensive) proofing set-up...I would be very grateful. 

 Shaping/Preshaping completely phases me. My dough never retains any shape - is this indicative of poor gluten structure?  It usually just reverts to a puddle.  On other bakes (different hydrations ranging from 50% - 80%) - I can't even shape a basic boule, much less batard, baguette or any other classic shape.

 The other major issue I seem to be having is with crust.  Not only does the crust turn soft very quickly (usually 5 to 10 minutes after pulling from the oven) but when the bread is cut - it becomes clear that the crust is incredibly thin and poorly formed (not nearly as thick as those I see in books, this website etc.)  I've tried to use steam (typically 3 'injections' in the first 5 minutes of baking) but to little improvement. I'm curious:- how important is 'slashing technique' (slashing the loaf) to the development of thick crust?  The oven temperature is usually 500 degrees to start with, which I try to take down to about 400 to 450 during the course of the bake.

Of note: I am mixing by hand in all instances.  Perhaps this is a problem? (I'm thinking gluten again...)   However with high-hydration, I assumed (perhaps incorrectly) that kneading is not such a crucial factor...?

Regarding oven thermometer is one of the things that has broken (recently) as a result of attempting to steam.  Hopefully, I'lll get a replacement(s) next week. 

Whew.  Anyway that's a whole load of my problems in one post. Thanks again for the reply. Hope in the coming weeks, with help I can get a handle on some simple loaves to restore some confidence.








jonkertb's picture

well Toby, I've lurked and learned here for quite might try going with a simple loaf as in the lessons on this site and I'd recommend not trying to change too many variables at one sure have learned the language of puting together a good loaf!!!!!

Another idea the Floyd might think about for this site is something that I've enjoyed on another "learning" site is a map page were folks plug in their locations with regard to either wanting a mentor or willing to be a mentor....that being said if you let the group know where abouts you are someone might pipe up and come along side....


the previous response too of documenting what you have done and also posting a picture so folks can see would be a big step to getting help...just don't post it on you tube..they aren't so kind over there LOL


woefulbaker's picture

Henry - it's funny you should mention courses. I've been thinking along those lines recently. There is just such a place near where I live run by a baker who teaches courses ranging from one day to five.  The courses are rather pricey and currently fully booked (at least into februrary/march)...but definitely something I will keep in mind.

Tom - yes I agree - I definitely think a 'back to basics' approach is called for in my case. I have discovered the 'lessons' section of this site and a simple loaf is on the cards.  

One of the main problems I have with following recipes precisely, is oven temperatures. I am using the top part of a dual fan-assisted oven (the bottom section broke - or at least seems to have a thermostat problem)  Having baked cakes and pastries (with which I seem to have far fewer problems) I discovered that I often need to make alterations to the recipe's stated cooking temperature in order to produce satisfactory results.

Thanks again for the words of advice and information.  I'll be baring all in the next baking session - full frontal bakery (avert your eyes!)






Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

are you using?  Next Q, what is the protein content?  Taste the flour, tell me about it.

tattooedtonka's picture

If you dont mind me jumpin in here. I would like to add a couple things for you, while Mini Oven is getting to the root of your problem with you.

First, dont mind the mixing by hand part as being a problem.  Every bread I make is by hand. 

As for - I'm curious:- how important is 'slashing technique' (slashing the loaf) to the development of thick crust?  You can get a nice crust with or without slashing your loaf. 

As for the couches, they are nice but again, you can still make a nice ciabatta without them.  Look here at this link.  This is how I couche bread with just parchment paper and dish towels.

Sorry Mini, wasnt trying to step on your toes here with Toby.  Just adding my two cents, for what its worth.

Good luck Toby,


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

very good points.  2 cents always welcome!  It's good to let Toby (and others) know that one doesn't need all the fancy gadgets to bake a good loaf of bread.  I suspect most of the problems hang with the oven, we will soon see.  Another might be the flour if it is low gluten, that might explain the dough "reverts to a puddle"  phenomenon.  Tasting the flour can tell me what condition it is in.

Toby, one more Q, What do you expect the ideal crumb to be in the bread that you invision as "ideal?"?   Then maybe we can pair you up with a good recipe to continue your persuits.  I don't think you're a ciabatta fan, am I right?

Mini O

spsq's picture

Hi!  From a true amateur, here are the 2 major mistakes I ALWAYS made when I was younger (had tried baking bread here and there in my lifetime - abysmal failures - "caught on" in my late thirties - love it now!)

 1.  I way overemphasized temperature - meaning I thought the yeast and bread mixture HAD to be warm when mixing, and let the dough rise in a really warm oven.  Cool and room temperature are fine for yeast - I thought it was a killer.

 2.  I figured "more is better" when it came to rising times.

 Theory one was based on all those old recipes - you know, where they told you to proof the yeast in warm water - they even gave a temp range, can't remember what it is anymore.  Not necessary, usually not even a good idea.  I also warmed the oven before letting the loaves rise - it was probably over 30C in there! 

 Theory two seemed logical, but too much rise (in a very warm oven) caused the dough to puff too much before it was strong, and collapse later.  Also resulted in a terrible crust, I recall now, but that was the least of my worries in those bricks!   If you follow "modern" recipes exactly, they give a fairly precise time for the final rise.  An oven with the light on will usually give you the perfect proofing chamber for these recipes, and takes the guesswork out of rising times, until you get a better sense of when dough is "ready" and can let it have a cool rise.  Learn to trust in oven spring!

 It's taken me two years, but I've become very good at sandwich loaves of many types, and only now am experimenting more with freestanding and artisan loaves.  I have turned out one deadly good batch of ciabatta and a couple of baguettes with nice crumbs, but still am "failing" more than I'm succeeding! 


You're probably way beyond these mistakes, but I'm giving you them just in case they're far too amateur for most people on this site to consider!

woefulbaker's picture

Wow thanks again for all the helpful info/comments.

Regarding flour - I'm currently using allinson white strong flour as well as allinson 'baker's grade' strong flour (extra strong I believe...?) It's the only flour I can get easily from supermarkets other than supermarket-own brand.

The protein content is 12g...I think.  I'll check again as well as taste.

<edit> 12.1% protein - and um tastes like very little at all...but then it's raw flour right?? 

 As for ideal crumb - eventually I *would* like to be able to make those open texture 'rustic' breads a la ciabatta. I saw this yesterday -and was mighty impressed!’s-rustic-light-rye-leader

A true feast for the eyes.  I'm sure it tasted every bit as good!.

Some of the breads I've seen on susan's wildyeast blog have also piqued my interest (especially in sourdoughs).  

There is so much variety and I wouldn't like to limit myself to any one bread but as has been suggested, mastering a basic white loaf might definitely be in order.

Spsq - I know what you mean. I have definitely been guilty of the first 'mistake' you mention although in the last 5 months I've been trying to get the hang of the 'chilled ferment' which is heavily featured in BBA.  As for longer rise times - most of my doughs/ferments don't seem to create anywhere near enough volume to be 'overproofed'.

TT - Thanks for confirming that hand mixing is OK.  The 'towel and parchment' couche you showed is ingenious!   

Right now I'm mostly using a baking sheet in lieu of a peel.  It seems to work, most days - I'm using polenta to ease transfer of dough but I would rather have something finer (where can I find semolina - I've not seen it at the supermarket...or am I looking in the wrong section??) 

Thanks again for all the comments.  



susanfnp's picture

Toby, you've gotten some great advice from others, hope you don't mind me jumping in as well.

First, you need to change your name. "Woefulbaker" may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I suggest "damnfinebaker" instead.

From what you said about your bread not holding a shape, I suspect your problem may be that the gluten is not developed well enough. Even with high-hydration doughs (and in fact especially with high-hydration doughs) the gluten needs to be strong enough to support those gas bubbles. As the bread proofs, it does help to have some support in the form of a couche, basket, but this is so the loaves rise upwards instead of outwards, not to compensate for weak dough. If you are seeing puddles even while the dough is resting between shaping and preshaping, I'd bet anything the dough is underdeveloped.

Do you use the windowpane test? Some others here don't, and get great results, but I have always found it to be quite useful.


woefulbaker's picture

Hi Susan

Heh - yes might be right about the nick (although it does accurately represent my current baking situation).  Think I may need to re-register to change the nick though.

 Yes the gluten structure has been one of my main concerns.  I'm not sure how much more I can develop it without breaking my wrists/arms (hand mixing)...20 minutes is about all I can manage (yes I'm a wimp! :P )  The stretch and fold method does works with higher hydration but if I use it, I end up losing what little volume I have developed (if I understand correctly - one should stretch and fold during fermentation rather than before??)

I've tried the windowpane test and usually the dough does not pass immediately after the first mixing/kneading...although I've tested after bulk fermentation and it sometimes passes...weird...I assume this has something to do with resting the dough (much like autolyze)

When should one apply the windowpane test?



PS Great blog! Your 'new favourite sourdough' inspired me to keep my sourdough starter going. Something to aspire to :)


I am starting to have doubts about the health of my starter though.  It is bubbling fine but there is no increase in volume like I have seen in pictures of other people's starters....I'm using 100% hydration and 1:4:4 (12.5% injection?) feed every 12 hours.




susanfnp's picture

Dough does develop strength as it ferments (the principle behind "No-Knead" bread) but assuming you do not want to make a bread that requires 18 hours for fermentation, you should be able to develop the dough at least minimally during mixing (kneading). I.e., a windowpane that does not tear but has quite a lot of opaqueness/thickness to it. Then the dough should be further developed during fermentation with a series of folds. This is not just for high hydration doughs but any dough that has not achieved a desirable level of development during mixing. Don't worry about degassing, this is in fact one of the purposes of folding. Developing the final gas bubbles is what the proofing step is for. Jeff Hamelman says "If the excess of carbon dioxide that is generated by the yeast is not periodically expelled, fermentation can be impaired" (Bread, p. 16).

I usually use a stand mixer and mix the gluten to a medium development (windowpane with a few opaque areas), then often do not fold unless the dough will be fermenting for an extended period of time (say > 1.5 hours) or if the dough has very high hydration. When I mix by hand I need to fold more often because it's hard to initially acheieve more than minimal development.

As far as your starter goes, you should be seeing in increase in volume as well as bubbling. I assume that just after feeding the starter has a thick and pasty consistency. What is its consistency after the 12 hours? If it is thin (almost runny) you are probably underfeeeding your starter (i.e., it is maturing sooner than the 12 hours, probably does increase in volume and then fall back down) so need to feed it more, or more often, or keep it in a cooler place. If it is still thick,  you're overfeeding so feed less, less often, or keep it in a warmer place. When the starter is mature (on a 12-hour feeding shcedule this should happen around 8 hours and hold there for a few more) it should not only be increased in volume but when you lift a spoonful of it up you it shouod feel light and you should see the gluten strands stretching. I think it has the consistency of the inside of a perfectly-toasted marshmallow, a subjective description of course.


woefulbaker's picture

Strange, the consistency and description you give of the ideal mature starter is exactly what I have after 12 hours (minus the volume)....Perhaps I need to knead/vigorously mix the starter when I feed it to develop more gluten?
I've checked periodically over a 12 hour period and at no point does the starter increase volume (ie it's not collapsing back on itself after a large rise). I've also noticed that feeding more / less (in the beginning I was feeding much less) - makes absolutely no difference to either consistency or activity in my just keeps bubbling reaching a max at about 12 hours same as always - is my starter completely wrecked?? Perhaps I should switch to a different feeding diet? Rye perhaps? (although that would contain no gluten at all??) <edit> I'll post pictures when I feed it next (last fed a few hours ago) and start a new topic in the sourdough/starter forum. 

woefulbaker's picture

Scratch that - I've just tried to make a biga from 50g of the starter.

After 5 1/2 hours at room temperature (plenty of mixing action - it passed the windowpane test) - not even 1mm of rise.

I'm dumping the starter.  There's something alive (it's bubbly as hell) but it ain't yeast.

 I tried to make a basic yeast dough (instant) a couple of days ago.  Virtually no rise at all after 3 hours at room temperature.  I'm talking seriously basic - something I know I could do a year ago.  Not only am I not progessing - I'm getting worse!

Right now I'm pretty much disillusioned and ready to give it up. Nothing I do seems to be right: gluten, yeast, starter, preferment, oven, mixing, kneading, folding.  I feel like an idiot and a sucker for wasting so much time, effort (and some financial cost too). I know when I'm beat and this is it.

None of which is to be ungrateful for the help I've received as a newcomer to this site.  I just think that whatever bad juju is happening in my kitchen has got more to do with me than of the environmental or ingredient factors.  So seriously - thanks for the help - I genuinely appreciated the many encouraging words of wisdom and information.




SourdoLady's picture

There has to be a reason for your problems, and eventually someone will figure it out. I have one question for you--what is your water like? Do you use bottled water for your starter? Many areas have heavily chlorinated water and it can literally kill the yeast spores. This is especially true if your water treatment plant uses chloramines because they don't dissipate upon standing like chlorine does. If you haven't already tried it, switch to bottled spring water for your starter and your dough and see if it makes any difference.

I once sent some dried starter to a person living in Canada and she had the same sorts of problems you are having. I kept sending her new, fresh dried starter and finally with the third batch I convinced her to try bottled spring water. Voila! Instant success.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

So we better get out of your way!  (How do you like that twist?)  Sounds like the flour is in order.  I'm not keen on kneading 20 minutes either so when my dough is still soupy and I haven't added all the flour, I wisk it a lot and let it stand 20 to 30 min before I add more flour and get into kneading.  This saves me lots of work.  I still enjoy kneading and all my breads are hand mixed.  I love getting my fingers into dough.  

Be patient with us, we will figure this out, together, so don't give up yet.  Change the water, and get back to us.  If you're afraid of wasting ingedients, just make tiny little dough balls to test theory, no need to knead up a big loaf.  

Some of us live in different time zones, like me, I have to wait about 8 hours for the USA to wake up and sometimes it takes longer for me to reply and here it comes, "...all good things take time."  A time honored quote.  With all the experience here at this site, your problems will soon be remedied.

Mini O

Thegreenbaker's picture

Ok. Have you tried to wake up your yeast?

Maybe it is dead?

 Put a teaspoon in some warm water with a teaspoon or two of sugar. Dissolve by stirring for a bit and then cover and leave for 10-15 mins.

If it doesnt bubble it is dead and you should buy some new stuff.


I found two things wrong with my bread.

Gluten content. Buy some gluten flour and add 1-2 table spoons per cup of flour.

Try that and then try purchase the best type of flour in your area and make bread minus the gluten flour. Gluten flour was my crutch for months until I found good quality flour here in England (In Australia I used gluten flour all the time)

Also, knead, dont stir. Knead for 15 mins if you have to.

Another thing.  I am beginning to wonder if your oven is the culprit.  I had to bake in an oven once that was pretty bread took an extra half hour to bake (and they were ROLLS!) Turns out the oven was shotty and the thermostat didnt work well. It couldnt go as high as I needed for my bread.

I think you should call in an oven repainr man before you go making anything else :S

One last piece of advice.

Stick to Floyds lesson one recipe, OR his rustic loaf recipe on here.

Work with them until you have success. THEN, move outward.

I make great sandwhich loaves now, and half decent rustic loaves but my ciabatta still leaves alot of room for improvement. I dont have a mixer, and mixing my hand is just REDICULOUS! So, forget it for now and start small, in small batches and get that oven checked!



AbbyL's picture

Toby, I'm still on the receiving end of wisdom rather than being one of the happy creatures who dispense it, and as such I've been following your travails with concern and empathy. I know how frustrating less-than-optimal results are, but you are not experiencing them alone, and your comrades out in the ether are sharing your experiences and learning from them. Please keep trying and reporting back on the results.


Maybe some time when you're visiting a friend for a few days, you could experiment with the environmental variables by trying to make a batch of bread there. That could give you some insight into whether your water or oven are a factor in your results. As for technique, classes sound like an excellent idea. I'm going to check into classes for myself. And I'd like to second the suggestion someone made on this site that perhaps there could be some kind of matchmaking service between mentors and novices in the same geographical area.



woefulbaker's picture

I just got brand new yeast today and mixed up a batch of dough (a la 'lesson 1')

Regarding the water: I've been using still mineral water (not tap water) all this time.

I let the ingredients autolyse (minus salt) for half hour before kneading for 10 minutes until it approached 'medium' windowpane.

After leaving it to ferment (it's been fermenting over an hour now) there have been isolated pockets of gas forming (like all the times before) but no noticeable overall increase in volume.  Seriously what the hell is going on?  What am I doing wrong?? 

I've just applied stretch and fold about 10 times to further strengthen gluten and put it back to proof.  I'm scrapping it if I see no noticeable increase volume in 2 hours (besides which I need sleep!)  This is completely nuts...I feel like I have the 'hands of death' or something....

Thanks for sticking with this guys - I appreciate it - but it really feels like something fundamentally wrong is happening which has nothing to do with ingredients....







AnnieT's picture

Woefulbaker, something from your post puzzled me - what is "still mineral water"? I wonder whether it has something to do with your problem? I use the water sold in the grocery store as "spring water", costs 99cents for a gallon. Or you can leave tap water in an open container to let the chlorine dissipate. Don't despair, somebody here will come up with the solution, A.

woefulbaker's picture

Yes spring water - that's exactly what it is.  Supposedly full of natural minerals etc.

The dough is still looking fairly lifeless but slightly less so than before (it smells yeasty at any rate) I'll give it another hour.   

woefulbaker's picture

Nope.  As predicted:- bread was uber dense, crust was negligible.  

There is no hope. I'm really at the last straw with this. I can't make a basic loaf

(btw the lesson no. 1 dough was almost impossible to shape and impossible to slash - is this my complete ineptitude again?)

I just don't understand.  




SourdoLady's picture

It would be very helpful if you could post pictures of your dough, starter, and finished bread. We aren't going to let you give up!

woefulbaker's picture

I just tried to upload a picture but it didn't work.  I'll try again later.  My camera doesn't take good close ups (no macro/zoom that stays in focus).  

Didn't take a picture of the dough before baking..sorry. It didn't look a million miles away from those shown in lesson no. 1  

PaddyL's picture

Here's a really good, foolproof recipe for white bread which you can put into bread pans or shape into rounds and bake freeform.  It's adapted from The Great Canadian Bread Book by Janice Murray Gill, and I have permission from the author to post this recipe anywhere.

Acadian "Double Crusty" Bread

2 cups warm water

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tbsp. active dry yeast

1-1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 tsp. vinegar

1 tbsp. salt

1 egg

5 to 6 cups all-purpose or bread flour

Put the warm water into a large bowl with the tbsp. of sugar and add the yeast.  Let it sit till it has bubbled up nicely.  Mix the egg, vinegar, and oil in a cup and add to the yeast; stir in well.  Add the flour and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.  Turn out and knead about 8 minutes, adding enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface.  Wash out and grease your bowl.  Put the dough into the greased bowl, turn to coat all over, cover with plastic wrap and let rise about an hour to an hour and a half.  Then punch it down and let it rise again.  Punch down, turn out, and shape into rounds for free-form, or into loaves for bread pans.  Put into greased pans, or onto greased baking sheets.  Cover and let rise till double.  Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350 deg. F.  Bake the bread for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.  Cool on wire racks.

It's a simple bread to make, it has beautiful oven spring and a lovely crust; it's also light.  When you've mastered something like this, you can then experiment with different flours, and go on to the more challenging breads like baguettes, ciabatta, etc.  But first, you have to make yourself some really good bread to prove to yourself that you can do it.  And you can.

Good luck, and relax.

woefulbaker's picture

Thanks paddyL!

re: photos - I'm still having trouble getting it up here.

It's at 

for anyone who wants to see.

I only got a picture of the crust. No crumb or starter pics (would have been no good as you can tell, my camera doesn't exactly do close-ups too well).

But to give some idea, the crumb was dense. Not solid but v. dense.  I tried to eat some and it was like eating a lump of dough (only slightly less gross in flavour)

Thegreenbaker's picture

ok. well ?I see the pic. It doesnt look too bad.

Seriously. did you think about getting extra gluten flour and ading some to each loaf recipe?  It could be your flour. that ohoto is similar to my first few months of baking :)

What brand of flour do you use?

I used to use homebrand (the supermarkets own crappy brand cause it was cheap) and I needed to add gluten flour to it to get some action. 

So, checklist.


  • New yeast (tick)
  • Try a different brand of water perhaps. Just normal water. (I use tap water straight from the tap but its all different in different countries)
  • New flour or buying gluten flour for the addition of gluten.
  • Recipe. Something simple and lean. I would suggest if the primer loaf didnt work, then maybe you didnt have enough flour. you said it was sticky....that says to me add more flour. just bit by bit while you knead it. keep flourng the surface until it becomes elastic. If you add estra gluten, you should get an elastic dough. If not, it makes me wonder what flour you are using! Is it wheat at all? Or is it buckwheat or soy flour! lol!

Take photos of each step you do and post them up. that way we can see more and try to decipher what is going on. Even take photos of the ingredient packets if you have to. :)

Good luck!



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

a little out of focus but I can see you had oven spring and there's good color there. Are you still up? When cutting fresh hot bread, the crumb can be dense and gooey because it is still hasn't set yet. Let it cool first and then cut with a serrated knife. Then take a picture.

You mentioned some problems in shaping, "the dough almost impossible to handle - sticky and too soft to shape into anything approaching a loaf" That's it! Not enough Flour! You've got to work some more flour into it. Soft Ciabatta bread... too soft dough..cannot handle...yes, YES. MORE FLOUR. Stiffen it up a bit more. If it puddles, add more flour!

Flours absorb at different rates and all you need to do is increase your flour in your recipes. Then let the dough sit to double.  We didn't think of it sooner because novices tend to add too much flour when they start out.   Well you're someone special, you've now got plenty of experience with high hydration doughs, now lets decrease the hydration by adding more flour and get going!

Mini O

tattooedtonka's picture

There are a bunch of things everyone can go over, and it might get a little frustrating for you so lets start back at the beginning. 

We know you have tried different flours, and yeasts, and waters, and temps.  and so on.  So here is another attempt.

1st- Do you have scales?  Scales for me are my No.1 tool used for bread.  If you are using measure instead of weight something as simple as flour in a recipe can be way off, depending on how you put it into a measuring cup.  Some say spoon it in, some say scoop, ahh hogwash.  I want the same results every time, I do not want to wonder if Im putting in the right amount.  Scales give me the same amount everytime.  Most digital scales will give you onces as well as grams.  I use grams, not for any other reason than I feel it is very precise, and very small.  For example 3 grams = 0.105821972168 ounce.  Thats silly, 3 grams it is.  So Scales #1, dont break the bank.  My scales I got from walmart for about $15.00 its made by Sunbeam I think, not the best.  But it tells me grams.

2nd- Yeast.  As you have seen in stores and books there are a bunch of types.  Yeast that is fresh, yeast that has to be dissolved in warm water (whats their definition of warm?) and so on.  Hog wash, Instant yeast.  Open package, measure out amount, dump it in the bowl with the flour, done.  Just measure and dump.  Very easy.

3rd- Flour. Good grief, how many different types are there, oodles.  I still havent seen all of them, and I have used at least a dozen different types myself.  Just pick a good brand flour that is unbleached, unbromated.  A bread type flour, dont have to break the bank.

4th- Water. Spring water from a bottle, well water (in country), tap water (in urban areas) will be fine for bread.  Not the greatest for SD Starter, but for bread, just fine.

5th- Salt.  Again, oodles of types and prices.  If you go by measure this will foul you up as well.  Because 1 teaspoon of Sea Salt is different in weight than 1 teaspoon of Kosher Salt, and different than table salt.  So here again is where weight is the way to go.  10 grams of salt is 10 grams of salt, it doesnt matter how course or fine it is. I use Kosher salt for most breads, but thats just me.

With all that being said, here is Floyds #1 modified in weight to give me 2 loafs of bread..I really think you should go with this because it is the bare bones version of good bread.  4 ingredients, done!

  • 908 Grams Flour
  • 29 Grams Salt
  • 14 Grams Instant yeast
  • 517 Grams Water

Weigh and dump flour into bowl, dump yeast in bowl on flour and stir, then dump salt in bowl,and stir all.

Weigh out water and dump in bowl.  Dig your hands right in and start squishing the ingredients in your hands, like grabbing a handful and closing your fist.  Your hands will get quite messy, but it will mix it all together.

Once you have a shaggy mass, dump it out onto the counter and knead.  Now here is another topic of variety.  I knead by just having my ball of mass in front of me and using the palm of my hand and flattening it towards the counter pushing into the dough.  Once I have a somewhat round and flat mass, I either roll it up, or fold it over onto itself, from each side towards the middle.  A doughscraper,. or bench knife works great for getting it up off the counter in the beginning when everything is still gooey.  A flat spatula or putty knife will work in a pinch, if you do not have a bench knife.  Do this routine for about 5 minutes.  By the end of this your shaggy mass should start looking like dough. At this point give your hands a little break if needed for a couple minutes, then start again.  Maybe for another five or so.

This is a another big confusion in my opinion.  10 minutes, I can bet that the way I knead for 10 minutes, with the energy I put into it, is very different than the way that say a young female would.  For goodness sake.  What you want here is results more than a specific time.  You are looking for your dough to have all come together, no big clumps of unmixed flour and such.  Just a smoothish ball.  No, it will not be completely smooth.  Mine never is, maybe with a mixer, but not with my mitts it isnt.

Now put the ball back in the bowl, and let it sit until it looks like it has nearly doubled in size.  This could take you an hour and a half, or maybe two hours.  Depends on kitchen temps.  So go by the way it looks. 

After it has grown in size to about double, put it back out of the bowl and onto the counter.  It should feel like it has a bunch of air in it.  Gently, press down on the dough to degas it.  Dont "punch it down"  as books describe.  I think that is a bad choice of words.  When I think of punching something, I think damage.  If I punched down my dough, it would look like a pizza.  So just press down lightly with opened hands and lightly degas.  Then gently fold it up on itself, top to middle, then bottom to middle, then pick it up and tuck under the sides so you have a rough ball shape, then back in the bowl.

Let it rise again, just like before, and degas again like before, but before you put it back in the bowl, divide it in two and shape.  Round loaf, batard, pan, doesnt matter.  Just take care not to be too rough with it.  It will have gas in it, and you do not want to deflate it all.  Then once shaped let it do its final rest.  Maybe 45 minutes, it will rise again but probly not double.  Preheat your oven to about 375'F or as close to it as you can, and put you bread in for about 40 to 45 minutes.  Again temps vary so keep an eye on it.  If you have a glass front window on your oven, use it to look, do not keep opening your oven door, you will throw your temps all wacky up and down.  So try to keep it closed if you can.

If you try this, you should not fail.  Should is the key word.  With this you have kept your ingredient list to a minimal, you have kept a precise amount of ingredients.  And you go by looks more than a preset amount of times, which really depend on specific temps. anyways. 

Once your bread has baked and has been removed from the oven, let it sit until it has cooled so that your bread will be developed.  Just like meat taken from the oven keeps cooking even though it is out.  The inside of your bread needs to cool and complete its cycle as well.  So dont rush it, and I know at times its hard not to, but try your best.  It should cool completely in about an hour or so.

Then cut into it and see what you have.

Let me know if this helps you at all. I too want to see you succeed, and wish you the best.


woefulbaker's picture

Greenbaker - I might try switching to the extra strong flour to see if the extra gluten makes a difference although the flour I'm using at the moment is supposed to be 'strong' enough for bread.  I saw Dan Lepard approved spelt flour in the supermarket today but at the price - I think I'll wait on that one.

MO - wow!  ok so I can add flour! Cool! The reason I resisted was because I thought that recipes success or failure were entirely based on the baker's percentage formulas. I realise with something like a ciabatta - the dough is always going to be more sticky than the dough in lesson #1, for example.

When I made basic yeast rolls in the past (ie not these last 5 months), I would start off usually adding less flour than I knew I needed and working in the last bit gradually until I got a non-sticky dough - of course I wasn't really working to a recipe then. 

Big Thanks TT! - having each step explained in detail really helps a lot.  I'm giving it another go soon (probably not today).

I've been reviewing what I've been doing in the last 5 months and how it differs from how i made simple rolls in the past (which always rose beautifully - just lacked depth of flavour and crust because of the way I baked and the quick single proofing I used).

I figured that the difference between then and now is the way I've been using the yeast.  The yeast I use is called 'active yeast' which specifically states that it is not suitable for bread machines.  In the past I have always 'activated' the yeast first by putting it in water with a tsp or so of sugar (perhaps a few tbsp flour) and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes until it started frothing.  I stopped doing this because of all that I had read about slow fermentation etc. in BBA and online resources.  However, just to experiment - I'm going back to this method to activate the yeast and then follow through the rest of the bread as per recipes given.

Let's hope it works.

Thanks again.  Really appreciate the efforts you guys are going to. There's one loaf left in me yet I think!




Thegreenbaker's picture

good on you.

Start small.

 Extra strong flour. (just to get a leg up in this 5 month long journey of yours (although it took me about that to get it right :)  even long I think!)

Wake up your yeast in some water with sugar.

Make the dough not so sticky, do as you did for the rolls. Add all but 1 cup of flour and knead, then add the cup whilst kneading.

I find, a little less yeast, (eg. recipe calls for 2 teaspoons, I add 1 1/2) a little longer rise, perhaps even a second rise, then shape and proof.

Thats as basic as I can put my usual way of doing things.

I really hope it works for you


good luck!


woefulbaker's picture

OK I tried to 'get back to basics' (again) and carefully documented the results.

You can find it on this thread:

Please do leave some feedback.  I especially want to know what went wrong with the slashing (and any tips you might have) - as well as advice re: crust.  Flavour was a problem (tasted yeasty)...was the starch fully cooked?