I have been having alot of trouble getting a decent loaf so far and thought I may do better with a scale, should I get one? Is this really necessary or a waste of money?
and have seen a remarkable difference in my bread making since I purchased one. I don't use it for every baking experience, but simply as a honing and new recipe tool. I purchased mine through KAF for about $26, if I remember correctly, however, I have since seen similar scales in local discount stores. Shop around, but eventually, consider how serious you are with your baking and then take the plunge if this is more than a passing fancy.
Honestly, forget about accuracy (though a scale *will* help you bake bread more consistently), a scale just makes things so much *easier*. Not having to use measuring cups for water and flour makes the entire process of bread baking so much more pleasurable, IMHO. I always found having to scoop out and level off cups of flour to be exceedingly tedious... thanks to my scale, those days are long gone. :) And, as an added bonus, less dishes to clean up!
All that said, you can create a fine loaf of bread without a scale, and as such, I'd be interested to hear what problems you're having, as I'm reluctant to chalk them up to not using a scale. IME, most problems with first-time-bakers have a lot more to do with being unable to accurately judge hydration levels by feel, resulting in dough that's too dry, inexperience kneeding producing insufficient gluten development, foreshortening rise times due to impatience and incorrect judgment regarding when the dough has doubled (this was my big problem!), etc.
My bread always comes out crappy, it never looks right, and is too heavy, even when it was somewhat edible to only me it still wasn't right, I was trying out wheat gluten, diastatic malt powder, potato flakes instead of potato flour, I would add a bit of all this in each loaf, I was told by someone to add this stuff and it would help, it did not. Then I tried a recipe for the pain de mei pan, it looked so good,but it was so heavy I could have used it as a weapon, too bad I didn't make this one when I was still married, anyway it looked really nice, I took a tiny bite and quickly spit it out, it was just so awful, so I ended up feeding the birds, they will get fat with me making my own bread, I haven't seen any dead birds yet. I tried the pizza dough last week and we ate the pizza, it was good enough, so I thought, it was gone, a few days later my 13 yr. old asked me I would just buy pizza from now on. I do use the Zo machine for the dough and making bread. And I don't know what the heck I am doing.
Do you have an example recipe you could post that we could look at? I'd be interested to see the level of hydration in the dough, whether it's enriched or not, etc.
Meanwhile, a few other questions:
0. Have you tried making the dough by hand? Try just taking the bread maker out of the equation and see what you can achieve!
1. What kind of yeast are you using? If it's active dry, are you activating it first?
2. Are you doing a window pane test on the dough before setting it up for it's first fermentation, to ensure the gluten is sufficiently developed?
3. How long is your first fermentation? Is the dough rising sufficiently? And are you rising in a vessel that allows you to measure how much it's increased in volume, so you can ensure you're not foreshortening the rise?
4. How long do you proof the dough after shaping?
Finally, my advice, forget about wheat gluten, diastatic malt powder, and all that other fancy stuff and go back to a very basic sandwich bread, such as this Amish Bread Recipe, which I've found to be very forgiving (though I'd strongly suggest cutting the sugar down to about 2 Tbsp or so), and very tasty. That way, you can master the basic techniques before moving on to something more advanced. This is certainly how I decided to approach bread after failing miserably at it for some time, and I'm very happy I did, as, IMHO, baking bread is all about mastering basic fundamentals (the most important of which is patience :).
I have been making bread from a Barm I started Nov 2001 and refresh on a regular basis.
May 2nd my 96y.o. mother in law gave me the book "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. "I" having made this Barm and over the years might have used 500 pounds of flour to keep it alive all but turned my nose up at the concept of mixing all the flour, water, salt, and yeast together at one time letting it rise THEN put it in the refrigerator over night. Now when you want to BAKE some bread you take out a pound or two depending on how muche you want to make. You stretch the dough fold it under rotate stretch it again fold it under form a ball and set it on your peel. THATS IT! You don't knead it pray for it or beg it to turn into bread. After it comes to room temp in about 40 min you bake it AND EAT IT!.
CAUTION! Here I have to give some caution. Starting with "The Master Recipe" make sure the container that you put it in is 8qts or more in size. Thinking that "I" knew the volume for flour, water and yeast expansion put "my" first batch in a 4qt container. Well let me just say that it was NOT big enough.
The bread came out great each time I baked a loaf. To get the crust that "I" wanted I increased the oven temp to 500*.
I still have and feed my Barm but along side that in a much larger container I have the makings of some very good bread.
Having tried a couple of measuring methods (without a scale) when I first started baking, I quickly found the key to getting measurements correct, which is key to producing good end results, is accurately scaling/weighing your ingredients. When you buy a scale make sure it measures in both grams and ounces. I have an Acu-Weigh professional scale, which I bought for my restaurnant. You don't need one that's as expensive as Acu-Weigh for home baking. Just make sure you buy a good quality digital scale that will weigh 1-2 lbs. (higher weighing capacity (2 lbs.) is better if you can afford it). You'll be amazed at how much better and more consistent your bread turns out when you scale the ingredients. Water, yeast and salt you can measure using measuring spoons or cups but flour is another matter. You need a scale for flour if you want to consistenly produce good loaves. Professional bakers scale everything, which is why they can easily increase and/or decrease the volume of recipes, using bakers percentages, and come out with consistent results. There are numerous problems you will encounter when measuring flour using measuring cups; type of flour, humidity in the flour, the way you scoop the flour into the measuring cup (tightly packed or loosley spooned into the measuring cup, as some English bakers recommend, etc.) Next to your oven I think you'll find a scale to be your second best friend in the kitchen and if you're serous about baking you really should make the investment.
One additional thought. King Arthur sells DVDs on their web site. The one I would recommend is called THE BAKERS FORUM - ARTISAN BREADS (Volume I) with Michael Jubinsky. He is an excellent instructor and demonstrates various techniques that will help you understand the systematic process of baking. Also, if you don't have a good baking book buy one. Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart is the one that started me on my journey into the world of Artisan Breads. Anyway, for sure the DVD can be a big help, especially if you're just starting out. Can't remember the cost but it wasn't that expensive. Check out K.A.s website for prices.
Good luck with your baking adventures.
Howard - St. Augustine, FL
I let the machine do the work and I will try to do it myself to see how that works, following your advice.
I am using Fleischmann's bread machine yeast, I put on top of flour like the machine instructions say.
When I have had to let it rise outside the machine, I make sure the container is big enough.
I do what the particular recipe says, I think. I think maybe my eyes could be skipping over something.
Thanks so much for all your advice.
I would end up with bricks regularly and after a few of those I went and added more water, assuming that the flour was much dryer than expected (in winter with the heat on). It also didn't help they were in volume, not weight, so what the recipe book considered a cup and what I considered a cup could have been drastically different.
I've since made a few very nice loaves with commercial yeast without using either the machine or the machine recipes. I've also made a point of using only weight based recipes.
So I guess to answer your original question, I'd strongly suggest you get a good kitchen scale that weighs in single grams. As has been said, this isn't the magical part that creates perfect loaves but it does take the volume variable out of the equation. It also means you can repeat any recipe (or modify) very precisely. There's no reason to NOT get a decent scale.
Note you probably don't want to go too cheap on the new digital scale as it's been pointed out the really inexpensive ones are not as accurate as you'd want. $30 and up and you're probably in the clear to steer away form the too cheaply built.
Oh and, of course, try to use recipes that list in grams.
A recurring theme I've seen in emails is people trying numbers of different recipes with the same outcome - poor results. Expecting that changing the reciipe will change the outcome is, after some point, spinning your wheels.
Baking bread is like most other human activities in that they improve with practice. However, changing recipes before you get the mechanics down just increases frustration.
I've put together some web pages that are a (hopefully) painless introduction to baking that I suggest to beginning bakers before they start with sourdough. I've gotten lots of good feedback on it. You might check it out at http://www.sourdoughhome.com/bakingintro.html
I think it can help you get past some of the beginning bugaboos.
Drop me a note if you need more help,
OK. I baked bread for decades. Decades. I had no trouble with it. It was good bread.
"Weigh your ingredients" I was told. I scoffed (Ha!)
Then for some reason, I bought a scale.
I will never - ever - go back. I can use bakers math to tweak my formulas. I am translating all of my treasured recipes to weights. I am a true believer.
It is a good investment for any baker.
That being said - I continuedto bring the care and attention to detail of all those decades to my baking. I just got a (much) better tool.
Here's my guess. You're scooping the flour into the measuring cup and thus getting too much flour. Baking in the machine, you're not getting the chance to feel the dough for adjustments.
Here are my suggestions.
1. Skip the extras. Go for a more basic loaf. Extras come when you master the basics.
2. Use a scale, at least for the flour.
3. Try making the bread by hand so that you can get the feel of the dough. If it's too dense and dry, you can add water.
Thanks so much to all, I did order a scale yesterday. When I get that I will give it another go, today I made some pizza dough, Wolfgang Puck recipe, in my kitchenaide mixer, after following directions, it looked pretty good, I put in fridge for tomorrow. I am planning 2 small pizzas and 2 calzones with my 13 yr. old working with me, it will be fun to do this together as long as he leaves the attitude in his room.
I think you'll be very happy you bought the scale. I'm certainly no expert but from my perspective a good analogy (re: learning this baking craft) is that it's sort of like learning to ride a bicycle...at first you take a few falls, but the more you practice the less falls you take---and before long it will be fairly smooth riding and very rewarding. Don't get discouraged. Have fun and enjoy. Looking forward to your future postings. One final thought, Mike Avery has offered to help you. Mike is extremely knowledgable and an excellent source for information and assistance.
I followed the directions in the Bread machine book exactly and my bread turned out good, still hard on the sides but it was so good my daughter in law and son told me they were taking it home, they didn't ask just told me, she sliced it up for me and they sampled it, I was surprised. I will make another loaf in the morning, I gave them a lock and lock container to take it home, they like that stuff too. I am now cooking calzones from the pizza dough I made yesterday, my son and I did this together, I hope they turn out. I am happy now, I did stay away from the Zo when it was doing its thing, usually I peek in a bit too much.
Congrats! There really is nothing quite so satisfying or encouraging as that first, successful bread. Keep it up!