The Fresh Loaf

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Am I The Bread Baker's Flunkee?

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staceass's picture
staceass

Am I The Bread Baker's Flunkee?

Greetings all, I've been struggling with several formulas from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" (or BBA, as I've seen several of you refer to it as). Everything I've tried so far has resulted in a VERY stiff dough that barely rises. Other recipes I've used from other sources seem to turn out wonderfully every time, so I'm pretty sure my ingredients (i.e. my yeast) and my technique is all right. Has any one else encountered such inexplicable failure? I will admit, I'm no genius when it comes to breads, so perhaps it is the artesian nature of this particular source that is getting the better of me... Thanks for any input you may have! Stacey

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

Have you tried simply adjusting the water content to get the level of pliability you expect from the dough?  Because flours/ingredients vary pretty widely, and I know I find I often have to add extra water to a recipe in order to get the dough consistency I expect (I suspect this comes down to, among other things, living in an extremely low humidity locale).

In short, trust your instincts.  If a dough feels too stiff/dry, adjust it!  And use Reinhart's descriptions of the desired results as your guide (though, I must admit, trying to tell the difference between "tacky" and "sticky" is... challenging for me :).

As a sidebar, this is actually one of the interesting things that I find divides folks in the kitchen.  Some follow recipes to the absolute letter, while others tend to veer a little where it suits them and to approach the recipe as more of a guideline.  I used to be very much in the former camp, but bread baking has forced me to completely change my approach, as that simply doesn't work for most recipes I've encountered.

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

I have BBA and haven't had any problems with the hydration of the dough. I have learned to go by feel and agree that you adjust accordingly. Let me caution though that 1 T of water can make a huge difference. Be judicious when adding flour or water.

Another thing to consider is what type and kind of flour you are using and of course how you measure, by volume of by weight.

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Stacy:

 

How are you measuring your flour? Are you weighing it, scooping it wih a measuring cup, or . . .?

Mary 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Which formuals have you tried, Stacey? Have you baked the Pain a l'Ancienne (p 191)? I find it's the easiest bread to bake from the BBA's offerings and is certainly a good introduction to handling wet doughs.

Are you scaling your ingredients? Using a good quality flour?

Henry's picture
Henry

 

Stacey:

I’m not familiar with the apprentice, having only glanced

at the book but I do agree with fancy pants:

Keep adding water until you’re happy with the dough.

Once you’ve established your flour weight, the two most important

ingredients that you should be accurate with are:

Salt and yeast.

After that, generally speaking, you have a certain amount of creative freedom.

I spent a few days at a hugely expensive baking and pastry school filling in for

an instructor.

When he had taught the bread class, water for the baguette dough had to be at

sixty percent.

Why?

Because he was from France.

We happened to be in Canada…way higher protein flour, which meant water content had to be increased quite a bit.

The students fought every step of the way.

“No No No, Water can’t be more than 60%.

That’s what we’ve been told”.

So I had half the class bake at 60%, the other half at 70 – 72% water content

The sixty percent group had bread that baked like a brick.

Stacey: it sounds like you’re comfortable with the flour, salt and yeast end

of it.

I would add more water.

Why not post a snap of the loaf you're happiest with?

H

  
JIP's picture
JIP

I say if you are getting frustrated with the book put it down for a while.  Go to another book try some differet recipes have some success then go back.  The only way you are going to get a recipe right is try try again.  I have been making the same baguett recipe over and over again and I still get flops but I get a little better every time as you will if you are persistent.  I would not at all worry about "artisian" breads they should be no harder than any other bread.

staceass's picture
staceass

Thanks for all the quick help! 

 

Lets see...

 

RE: Adding water

I've tried adding as much as a cup of water (about a tbsp at a time, of course) to my most recent attempt (the white rye portion of the marble rye recipe). It was still more hockey puck then supple.  After a full cup, I figured it best to proceed with what I had and hope for some form of magic en route to the finished product. I'm in Toronto, Ontario, on a particularly humid day, so I can't claim a dry climate.

RE: Measuring method

For breads, I'm a weight kinda gal. Stovetop is the only place where I feel comfy enough to wing it on quantities.

 

I think what's really missing as an ingredient is experience. Most of my successes have been with really simple recipes, and I haven't even done too many of those. Many times, I'm not 100% on what a dough is supposed to LOOK like, much less feel like.

I'll probably give the Pain a l'ancienne a go next, as rumour has it (here and elsewhere) it's a good starting point.

 

Thanks again, everyone, for your thoughts. Looks like I'm just gonna have to get one of those Gimungous bags of bread flour and throw myself whole hog at the problem and see what bounces.  

Cheers! 

  

nougat's picture
nougat

Stacay-

What kind of flour are you using? I find King Arthur flours absorb more water than any other flours and need a bit of recipe massage to get the right dough consistency.I find this for both their AP flours and the bread flour the most.

 

 

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

 I have been looking for a new rustic bread recipe to try, and have picked the Pain de Campagne from BBA. I'm starting it tonight. If you are interested in "baking along with me" we could do a few of these recipes on the same day, and compare results. Then any problems would be fresh in our minds.

I'm not interested in the very wet bagette recipe right now, however. There, you are on your own. But do let me know if you want to try some of the other recipes in the book with a baking partner.

Mary 

staceass's picture
staceass

Nougat: I am using a bulk rye flour from my neighborhood organics shop, and Robin Hood's bread flour. I don't know that I've ever even seen King Arthur flour before... But I suppose either way, the best way to go is to adjust the recipe to gain the 'feel' you're after, right?

 

Mary: Thanks so much for the invitation! I'll keep the idea in the back of my head for when I get out of the basics (and when my 7 month old allows ) I'd love to try that out. Hopefully, I'll be talking to you soon :)

 

stacey 

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

That's fine, Stacey. Whenever you want to parallel bake, let me know, and we can work something out.

 

Mary 

AbbyL's picture
AbbyL

Mary, I've made BBA's pain de campagne several times. It tastes great, but I've never been able to get anything resembling an open crumb. I'd love to know if it's because that's how the recipe is or because my technique is deficient. If you could post a picture of your results, or just describe your results, I would be very interested. 

 

AbbyL

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Hi, Abby:

I got sidetracked today and ended up baking something else and making jam instead. I do have that recipe on my list of things to try soon -- maybe next week. However . . .

I am not a good guide for comparing crumb; mine is rarely as open as I would like. Try as I may, and careful as I may be, apparently I have a heavy hand. I think it is 55 or so years of baking where you rolled out the dough and squished all the air out of it; "punched" it down, too. Abused the heck out of it. It a difficult habit to lose, though I am improving slowly and I am conscious of how I handle it now.

This is one reason I have stayed away from bagettes. no point in really disappointing myself.

At any rate, I'll give it a shot soon and take pictures. Maybe someone else can chime in here and give us both some results on this bread that we can try to emulate.

Mary

 

AbbyL's picture
AbbyL

Mary, I'll see if I can try the p. de c. recipe again during the week. I've got a digital camera that I acquired specifically for the purpose of posting brag-worthy photos on this website. But I've never had brag-worthy results so I never got around to learning how to post the photos. Maybe this attempt will be the charm that results in my producing a really pretty pain de campagne as well as learning how to use my digital camera. 

AbbyL

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Hi, Abby:

I will be baking it on Wednesday -- starting Tuesday with the pate fermentee. Care to join me?

Posting pictures here is not difficult, but there is a definite necessary sequence of steps. It's do-able. I'd suggest practicing with the camera on something else until you get the hang of it; some are complicated, some are not so much. Again, do-able when not trying to perform.

Mary

AbbyL's picture
AbbyL

I think I'm going to take Tuesday off from work, so I ought to be able to bake it then. My daughter will be with me, so maybe she can help me figure out the photo-posting. 

 

AbbyL

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Fine. Good luck. I will stick to my schedule, and we can compare notes then.

However -- let's start a new thread when we do get together to compare notes; we have somewhat highjacked this thread. No big deal, but since we are going off on our own it would be  good time to switch.

Mary