The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

HELP! Newbie Baker ... with ONLY her hands

Cioccolata16's picture

HELP! Newbie Baker ... with ONLY her hands

Help! I am having very little success with my current baking attempts. All products have been edible, but none have turned out how I planned.


My dough usually rises really, but then when I go to bake them, they either fall or don't rise to their full potential.

My whole wheat sandwich bread came out with a hard crust...I had just baked a loaf with a crunchy exterior about 5 minutes prior, could any leftover steam have caused this hardening? 

 I cannot for the life of me score an unbaked loaf!

Potential Issues:

I am working with just my hands as I have no machine. Because my dough has been pretty sticky and hard to work with, I don't knead it a lot. 

 I've been using single packet yeast, because I don't want to invest in a whole jar or bag when I'm moving in a month.

 I am so disheartened when I see these beautifully risen loaves, and I just can't seem to succeed. 
Any thoughts or suggestions?

Zalbar's picture


I'm also a new baker and this is the first time I'm trying the method in the 2 videos above. No real kneading as most people call it, but wow did I work up a sweat banging and rolling the dough 850 times.

Will post pictures as soon as they're done baking in a few hours. I still have 30 minutes to go on the first rise/fermentation.



Ok here they are. I know why the crust didn't come out like I wanted, I tossed the water into a drip pan which is sort of an inverted bowl, so the half cup of water pooled there instead of evaporating into steam. I'm still not getting the large air pockets I want, but it's a lot better than the tough breadstick like consistency from previous batches. Getting better. I'm sure it's just a matter of practice, practice, practice...

These pice kinda like what you're having problems with?




PaddyL's picture

It could be that you're letting your dough rise too much before you put it into the oven.

fancypantalons's picture

Well, a couple of suggestions.

1) If your dough is fairly wet, introduce an autolyze step.  Bring the flour and water together into a rough ball, let is sit for 20-30 minutes, then kneed.  This will get the gluten going, and will mean less kneeding is necessary.

2) Let the dough rest between 4-5 minute bouts of kneeding.  This gives the dough a chance to relax a bit, and allows further gluten development.

3) If your dough is really wet, try doing stretch-and-folds, instead of traditional kneeding (you can search this site for references).

By the way, I can't emphasize enough the importance of kneeding in bread baking.  Well-developed gluten is, quite literally, one of the key characteristics of properly made flour-based breads.   It's not something you can skimp on if you want to bake great bread.

Incidentally, how wet is your dough?  My sandwich breads are usually %65-70 hydration (using ~75% whole wheat), and the dough comes together in a nice ball that's tacky, but not sticky.  I do need a fair bit of flour on the work surface to kneed, but it's by no means unhandleable (as compared to, say, an 85% ciabatta dough).

Anyway, moving on:

3) In order to achieve a "proper" autolyze, you should incorporate the yeast after the autolyze step is done.  This is most easily done using instant yeast, which can be directly incorporated into the dough after the autolyze is finished, during the kneeding process.

4) Don't worry about buying a lot of yeast.  Throw it in the freezer and it will last virtually forever.

5) Don't let your dough overproof!  During the first fermentation, let the dough rise to double (I use a large, graduated pyrex measuring bowl so I can properly judge this).  Then shape (be gentle and avoid degassing if you want an open crumb), and let rise to just 1 1/2 times (a little more is still safe... play around until you get something that works).  See, during the initial bake, the yeast start going nuts, eating everything they can while creating CO2.  This, and steam, produces oven spring.  But if the yeast have gone and eaten all the food in their vicinity, they won't have anything to chow down on during the baking phase.  Additionally, given enough time, the yeast activity can actually break the gluten down.  This is bad news for good spring.

6) On the topic of scoring, go by yourself a pack of razor blades.  You'll be thankful that you did.  They're a cheap, indispensable tool for scoring loaves, and make it dead simple (just be gentle... allow the blade to cut through the dough, and don't be afraid to make multiple passes.  Just don't force it).

7) Regarding the hard crust, just throw the loaf in a plastic bag once it's cooled.  The crust will soften right up.


Cioccolata16's picture

Wow! I have a lot to work on! I think the kneading is my biggest problem, because my dough was sticky and did not form a ball...therefore I haven't been kneading it very vigorously. It think it's also overproofing, because it gets huge during the rising period. Thank you so much!

fancypantalons's picture

Incidentally, on the topic of autolyzing, I mentioned that you could use that technique if your dough is wet.  But that really was an unnecessary qualifier.  I autolyze all my doughs, simply because I'm friggin' lazy. :)  I also find it makes kneeding easier, as the dough has already started developing by the time I start working with it, and so it transitions from lumpy and shaggy to smooth and elastic that much quicker.

One interesting thing that beginner bakers probably aren't aware of is the amazing transformation that dough goes through during the kneeding process.  At the beginning, it'll be sloppy, sticky, lumpy, and messy.  But just five minutes of kneeding can transform that ball into a cohesive, elastic piece of beautiful dough.  It really is quite remarkable, and one of the reasons I enjoy working the dough by hand.  So don't be afraid to get a little messy!  And if you aren't certain about how to properly kneed dough, there are some fantastic links to technique videos, both here and at (in particular, the videos here are excellent: