The Fresh Loaf

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Unintentional Pancakes

Djehuty's picture

Unintentional Pancakes

The last two loaves of bread I baked have shared a strange problem I hadn't encountered before: they turned into pancakes after proofing.  I'd love to know what I'm doing wrong.

With the first of these loaves, I tried the minimal-kneading technique described in Dan Lepard's The Handmade Loaf.  After mixing, a 30-minute autolyse, then a few brief seconds of light kneading, another half hour, a ten-second knead, two stretch-and-folds during the bulk ferment, then shaping and proofing in a banneton.  When I tipped the banneton over the peel, the bread almost oozed out.  It spread into a thick pancake, and I had a hard time getting it off onto the baking stone.  I tried to put a glass bowl over it to help it rise in the oven, and it wound up climbing the sides of the bowl.  It wound up barely edible, with a too-soft crumb and too little flavor.

The second loaf was my first with my current wild-yeast starter.  I kneaded a bit more this time.  After a 30-minute autolyse, I kneaded for about three minutes, then two stretch-and-folds during bulk ferment.  The dough refused to rise, though.  After about eight hours, I tossed it in the fridge.  The weird thing was that it rose somewhat overnight.  Arctic yeast?  Then this morning I took it out of the fridge, coaxed a tiny bit more rise out of it, shaped it, and proofed it in a banneton.  When I went to bake it, I noticed that the dough was very sticky, and a tad... gooey.  It adhered to the banneton in spite of the flour inside.  When I finally got it out of the banneton, it spread out into an even broader, thinner pancake than the previous loaf.  It did rise somewhat in the oven, but not that much.  It tastes OK, but isn't very sour.

Loaf #1 was Reinhart's French bread recipe from The Bread-Baker's Apprentice, and loaf #2 was his basic sourdough from the same volume.

Any ideas as to what I might be doing wrong?


pmccool's picture


I haven't made the BBA French bread, but here are some thoughts:

1. You may be over-hydrating the dough, particularly if you are measuring by volume rather than by weight.

2. The pair of stretch and folds during bulk fermentation may not be enough to develop the gluten fully, even with the autolyse and light kneading that precede them.

3. You make no mention of time and temperature for the bulk and final fermentations, so I can't say whether the dough may have over-fermented.  It is a possibility.

4. You may need to practice your shaping technique to develop better surface tension in the shaped loaf prior to the final fermentation.

I have made the basic sourdough, albeit not in the last few months.  My recollection is that it is a fairly robust dough.  With an 8-hour room temperature ferment followed by an overnight refrigeration, I would suspect that the gluten was at least partially dissolved by the acids from your starter.  You mention that the starter is a new one; you may want to do some additional feedings to further develop the starter's yeast colony.  There are some excellent materials posted here by Sourdolady, Gaarp and Debra Wink on how to develop and maintain a starter.

I hope some of this helps.


Djehuty's picture

I did wonder about the gluten development in the no-knead bread.  How does one accomplish this without kneading?

I do measure by weight, so hopefully I didn't over-hydrate the dough.

The first loaf fermented for about two hours, and proofed for about 50 minutes.  The second one took so long that I'm sure some gluten did dissolve.

I'll look for those posts, and probably post a related question over in the sourdough forum.  My starter seems to be getting weaker as I feed it, which strikes me as rather strange.  It started by nearly blowing the top off its crock, and now the best I get is a few bubbles.

Thanks for the help! :)


jackie9999's picture

My starter seemed to be getting a little weak as well..I think I wasn't letting it out of the fridge long enough I gave it a few days feeding on the counter last week and it seemed to regain it's bubbly personality. Does yours get out enough?

Djehuty's picture

I had been keeping it on the counter, then I tossed it in the fridge because I'm not sure how much flour I'd waste otherwise.  But the bread was made from unrefrigerated starter, and even before refrigerating it the starter had gone rather limp.


Djehuty's picture

I'm at a complete loss now.

I just made a small boule from this recipe (one quarter of the listed quantities).  I followed the directions carefully, substituting three minutes of kneading for the 3-4 minutes of mixing because I mix by hand.  It only fermented for two and a half hours, and proofed for two and a half hours -- none of the business with the ten-hour ferment and six-hour proofing that supposedly ruined my last sourdough loaf.

When I formed the boule, I was rather proud of it.  It was a firm, tight ball, with excellent surface tension.  It didn't rest limply on the counter; the surface tension pulled it up into a slightly squashed sphere rather than a flat-bottomed dome.

When I removed it from the well-floured banneton, it stuck rather badly.  I finally got it out and onto the peel, and it again turned into a thick pancake!  I scored it and got it into the oven and under a bowl as quickly as I could.  It rose a little bit, but not much.  The crust looks nice, and I'm sure it will taste good, but this is not what I want from my bread!

What in the world am I doing wrong?

LindyD's picture

You didn't mention if you did an autolyse, but three minutes of hand kneading isn't the same as three or four minutes in a planetary mixer.  Did you do the two folds at 50-minute intervals?  If so, that would have helped the gluten development.

I think your problem is because you used a banneton, the dough stuck to it, and then collapsed during your efforts to remove it.  Proofed dough has to be handled gently.

The recipe is around 65 percent hydration (as it is written) and doesn't really need to be placed in a banneton.  You noted in your description of your boule that it had good surface tension.  You could have just placed it on parchment to proof, then moved it to your peel and into the oven, then covered it with your wet bowl.

Try it again, but I'd skip the banneton.  And get it into the oven when it is around 85-90 percent proofed.  If  you wait until it is fully risen, you'll get flat bread.

At least we get to eat our mistakes!


Djehuty's picture

Yes, I did the autolyse and the two folds; the only change I made in the recipe was to substitute kneading for mixing.  How much kneading ought I do?  I've been trying to reduce it, based on the various low-knead and no-knead recipes, but I'm not having much success with it.  I don't object to kneading, but when I knead as long as the more usual recipes suggest, I wind up with very dense-crumbed bread.

I'll try without a banneton and see if that helps.

And what's this about a wet bowl?  The bowl is supposed to be wet?  That might explain the less than extraordinary oven-spring: my bowl was bone dry.


LindyD's picture

The receipe you are using is not a no-knead bread, Djehuty, such as the artisan bread in five and Jim Lahey recipes. 

The purpose of mixing (or kneading)  is to distribute the ingredients and to develop the gluten so that the dough can stretch and hold the carbon dioxide that's produced by the yeast.  Folding helps accomplish that as well.  There's good information on this topic in the TFL Handbook (see tab at top of the screen).

I doubt very much if you are overmixing your bread by hand kneading.  That's nearly impossible to do unless you have lots of time and strong hands.  Increasing the hydration of the dough, stretching and folding, and gentle handling are factors in achieving an open crumb. 

Most certainly placing a dry bowl over the bread did nothing to help it, since there was no steam and steam is crucial for good oven spring.  That's the purpose of what's known as Susan of San Diego's Magic Bowl technique.  The loaf is loaded on the preheated baking stone (I generally give the loaf a quick spray of water), then covered with a large bowl that also has been sprayed with water on the inside.  The bread remains covered for 15 or 20 minutes, then the bowl is removed and the bread continues to bake uncovered.   Use a metal spatula to lift the edge of the bowl and wear a good oven mitt to lift the bowl out of the oven.  You don't want to get burned.

The bowl holds the steam in, keeping the crust soft and enabling the bread to easily rise - or do what's called oven spring.  It works!

I hope you are using a baking stone and that you'll give it another try, but this time with a wet bowl.  Let us know how it turns out - am betting you will be very happy with the oven spring.

Susan's picture

There's plenty of water already inside the dough to facilitate rising, without spraying the loaf or the bowl.  Sometimes I spray and sometimes I don't, and I can't tell that it makes any difference.  Originally, I started rinsing the bowl with hot water to mitigate the temperature difference just a little between the cold Pyrex bowl and a 500F oven.  Now, using a stainless steel(SS) bowl, I can't imagine that warming the SS would make any difference at all.  

I believe using a cover helps the rise twofold:  It keeps the steam emanating from the loaf close to the crust, so that the loaf has time to rise without hardening; and for just a short time the temperature inside the bowl is less than it would be without the bowl, causing better oven spring due to the 500F heat punch from below.  I don't remember articulating that before, so hope it makes sense.


Susan from San Diego


Djehuty's picture

Thank you, I appreciate the assistance.

I know this wasn't a no-knead bread, but I've been trying to reduce the kneading in order to improve the bread, based on posts I've read here.  I tried a no-knead (or almost no-knead) bread once, and it didn't turn out well.  That was what prompted me to start this thread -- it was an oozy dough pancake.

I don't think I'm over-mixing, certainly not enough to destroy the gluten.  But when I knead as much as more traditional recipes suggest, the crumb turns out very dense.  I've been told in another discussion on this forum that this is because kneading organizes the gluten, and organized gluten produces dense crumb.  That's why I've been trying to reduce the amount of kneading.  The funny thing is that these dough pancakes produce a fairly open crumb.  The problem is that it's a nice, open crumb on a slab of bread an inch and a half thick.

Thank you very much for explaining the Magic Bowl method.  Spraying the inside of the bowl was the crucial step I'd been missing.  I am indeed using a baking stone, and I'll try this bread again (possibly in the morning).

Thanks again for the good advice! :)


LindyD's picture

Glad if I helped in some small way, Djehuty.

I've been told in another discussion on this forum that this is because kneading organizes the gluten, and organized gluten produces dense crumb.

I'm not familiar with that discussion, but if that advice was actually given, it's inaccurate.

Here's what Jeffrey Hamelman, master baker, Director of the Bakery and Baking Education Center of King Arthur Flour, and author of "Bread, a Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes" has to say on the subject:

"During mixing, gluten is formed. At first, the gluten molecules in flour are randomly bunched, haphazardly oriented in all directions. During mixing, the molecules are stretched and become aligned in more or less straight lines, and it is this stretching and aligning of the gluten strands that develops the dough’s strength. Mixing the dough so that the gluten is adequately developed enables the dough to stretch well, to resist ripping, and to hold trapped carbon dioxide gases that are produced during yeast fermentation, which in turn enables bread to emerge from the oven with good volume and lightness."

If you're getting an open crumb on your "pancakes," that's good.  The steam during the first crucial moments of the bake are going to make a big difference.

Let us know how that wet magic bowl works.


Djehuty's picture

I made the same loaf again today, and it turned out a bit better, but still not quite perfect.

I decreased the amount of water just a touch, hoping to stop it from sticking to everything in sight.  I kneaded it a tiny bit more.  I proofed it on a couche instead of in a banneton.  And I did the Magic Bowl thing properly this time.

It's still doing that oozing thing that rather disturbs me.  It tightens up a bit by the second stretch-and-fold, but I'm still not accustomed to dealing with dough that droops.  It also stuck to the couche almost as badly as to the banneton.  I was able to get it off with a scraper without deflating it too badly, but it definitely lost a bit of height.  A bit more height, I should say, as it had lost some while proofing.  It had plenty of ovenspring under the bowl, but it still wound up being sort of a dome rather than what I'd hope to see in a boule.

It seems the effects of kneading on the crumb are dramatic, indeed.  This loaf has a fairly open crumb, but it's definitely more regular and a bit more dense than the last attempt.  No big, interesting holes.  And the bread is softer.

I think if I can get the bread not to stick to whatever it's proofing in, we can close the Case of the Unwanted Pancakes.  And I may have the solution.  I've read -- and now I can't remember where -- that one should use rice flour instead of bread flour if one wants things not to stick to bannetons and couches.  I'm going to assume that will work.

Thanks again for the help! :)