The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Beginner questions

RainingTacco's picture

Beginner questions

I like to make boules from cake flour[10% protein]. I encounter few problems. Even at low hydrations like 60% the dough is tacky and won't knead well. I try to knead the dough just after mixing all ingredients -maybe i should let the dough wait a little?. I have to use stretch and folds, but then the dough feels quite stiff and not that extensible i reckon i could add another 5-7% of water. Why is that? I can't really understand what's happening -either it looks like water content is too high, but then it looks like its actually too low. 

Another question. After bulk fermentation i shape my dough and let it for second proofing, and then i bake it. How long should second proofing take and should the dough rise twice its size, just as with bulk fermentation? Since this process usually take place on counter and not in the fridge[i cold ferment] it's pretty hard to time it. In most videos i watched, second proofing is much shorter than first proofing, even if that was also done on the counter. 

Thid question. Assuming same flour, does higher hydration make the bread smaller with less oven spring? Should i always aim for high hydration if i want big loaf, or is high hydration only for making the crumb more open? 

Fourth question. What's the best way to incorporate fresh yeasts after autolyse? I tend to dissolve it in very small amount of water, making a goo and then push it into dough. The problem is that dough has already well developed gluten and the yeasts with water make it a slimy, sometimes a goo if even a little too water is used. And then when i try to knead that yeast with water the dough lose the gluten structure. 

Fifth question. When making boule, bread or pizza dough do i always aim for high strength gluten/dough? I always thought that strong dough with lots of gluten = chewy dough. When i make pizza i sometimes get chewy bottom, like you would get with bread crust. Why is that? I use thin steel plate for pizza and i usually make pizza in a pan, meaning i place the pizza on the plate, and then i put it in oven. 

Six question: Should you preshape your bulk ferment before first proofing? Are there any benefits? And when shaping after first rise, do you degass strongly, or not? One time i had a dough that had problem rising, because i didn't degass it strongly i very gently shaped it, and seems the yeast didn't have enough food source in the vicinity because it didn't rise much when proofed. Now i always strongly degas, since new gas will be created through second rise. I heard that second rising is necessary to minimise the risk of having large pockets in the dough, but i haven't encountered that when baking after just one rise.

Seventh question: I rarely get that jelly consistency with dough, that many people aim for. Maybe because im preshaping in before bulk fermentation and the dough is quite tense already? Should it be slack for first rise/bulk?

Eight question: This one is related to my oven. I only have two settings that could be suitable for baking bread -either top and bottom heating element or bottom element with a fan[convection oven?]. I've used top and bottom element but it seems my bread browns on top too much and too quickly hence it hinders oven spring -i also have to lower temperature after 20 minutes to not burn it. Do you think that baking with bottom element and fan could be better? Im afraid that fan will dry the dough and vent of the steam. Im going to try it tomorrow. I also have a mode where there's a heating element behind fan, but that burns the bread so quick. 

Ninth question: Any way to increase oven spring/open crumb of graham flour bread? I love the taste of graham flour, but the breads turn out pretty dense. 




ciabatta's picture

I'm afraid the answer to most of your questions is going to be "It depends"  

Everything depends what your goal is and what kind of bread you are going to make.  I suggest following a specific recipe and ask questions based on that.

Generally, low protein / cake flour is not suitable for making boules, as there's not enough gluten to make an extensible dough that will double and be open crumb.

In regards to your oven, i'd suggest you bake your loaf inside a dutch oven to shield it from the top heat during the oven spring phase, then remove the lid to the dutch oven and use convection with bottom heat to let the crust set.


mariana's picture


Normally, cake flour is for cakes and soda breads, for something that is not kneaded thoroughly. Normally, cake flour has about 6% protein. 10% protein is bread flour, like flour for baguettes or hundreds of other traditional European breads.

That said, in Canada we actually have "cake and pastry flour" with about 10% protein. What makes it cake flour is that it forms very little gluten immediately after contact with water. It is impossible to knead it immediately like a normal bread dough. But if you wait for 3 hrs, enough gluten will form and it will behave exactly like bread flour and eventually bake into a beautiful loaf or make a perfectly flaky pastry with the thinnest layers of gluten ever.

So I would mix a yeasted bread dough with your 'cake flour' and refrigerate it immediately for 3 hrs. And only after that proceed with kneading and everything else as the bread recipe tells me to do. 

Question #4. If you have a mixer or a bread machine, then it doesn't matter that you blend your fresh yeast with water into a slurry. A machine will incorporate it successfully within minutes or even seconds, if you use food processor to make your dough. 

If you add fresh yeast by hand, then simply crumble it over the surface of your dough and knead it. By the time you finish kneading your dough, giving it 300-800 turns by hand, it will be evenly distributed. Please, see how it is done with an autolyzed piece of plain dough here, starting at 4:30min

The question about oven. #8. You can bake on any setting. Millions of bakers successfully bake in convection ovens, including breads baked in restaurants, bakeries and factories. So, no problem with overdrying. Convection simply evens out the temperature, eliminates cold spots and hot spots in your oven and allows you to bake at lower temperature setting, about 25F lower, than without convection. If you want to trap steam around your loaves in the beginning of baking, cover the loaves during the first 15-30 min of baking. Otherwise, convection or no convection they would become dry right away. Even if you fill your home oven with steam. Even if you spray your loaves with water. 

When top and bottom are heating, in normal ovens it is called roasting setting, designed for roasting (meat, fish, vegetables, etc.), not baking. You can bake using that setting successfully as well. 1) you can preheat the oven to the max, and then introduce your loaves and turn your oven off and let the bread bake on residual heat until the moment you want to brown the surface of the loaves. Then turn the oven on again and brown the crust. 2) or you can place your baking stone or insulated double layered baking sheet as low as possible, right next to the bottom heating element and place your loaves there. They would be far enough from the top heating element and won't burn too quickly. 

Question #9 has no answer, because there is no standard of quality for graham flour. Any miller will call whatever they want graham and sell it as graham. Some millers blend white flour with large bran flakes and call it graham. It will behave just like regular bread flour. Others blend whole wheat and whole rye flour and sell it as graham. And anything in between. I've seen a lot of different 'graham' flours and some bake into tall and fluffy breads, while others need bread improvers - adding vital wheat gluten, or egg whites, etc. 

The remaining questions are impossible to answer, because they are not specific. Depending on the kind of bread you are making the answers would range so much that opposites would be true. What is right for one kind of bread would be totally wrong for another.  It all depends on specific recipe for specific bread. We learn to bake bread by baking a specific kind of bread, one recipe at a time. 

Example. Question #2. How long should second proofing take and should the dough rise twice its size, just as with bulk fermentation? Not all breads have bulk fermentation or second proofing, or both. Very few breads rise twice their size either during bulk or during proof before baking. So you are probably talking about some specific bread that you are making or want to make, but we don't know which specifically. 

Same with question #3. Does higher hydration make the bread smaller with less oven spring? One thing is completely unrelated to another. Panettone (soft dough) or challah (stiff dough) both have very low hydration and huge oven spring. Ciabatta can have hydration level as high as 120% and giant oven spring. And they would be made from the same flour. These are simply different kinds of breads. Should i always aim for high hydration if i want big loaf? If you want a big loaf, find a recipe for a big loaf and follow the recipe. That is the only answer to that question that works for me. 

RainingTacco's picture

Thank you very much for your throughtful answer. Now i see that baking is a constant experimentation and there's no cookie cutter solutions. Seems it's not that easy to master it with just few weeks of baking.