Bungles in Bread Baking

So one of my resolutions each year is to pick a new skill, something I know very little about, and learn to do it as well as I can. I've been learning to cook over the last five or so years (after my daughters kindly informed me that alternating spaghetti noodles with Ragusa poured on it and overcooked chicken breasts with microwaved veggies were no longer satisfactory), but I've always been fascinated by baking bread. I can do the basic bread recipes, albeit badly, but I wanted to learn the technique from starter to loaf. I picked up a few books (Flour Water Salt Yeast, and Tartine Bread), and began a starter on New Years Day.

At first, the blisteringly cold winter here led to a sluggish start for my burgeoning yeast colony, but the discovery of a warm spot in a closet solved that issue, and in a week, I had a enthusiastic starter bubbling away. Once it passed the float test, I came up with a schedule for a recipe from one of my books, and whipped up my first two loaves of bread!

They were a total disaster. The good news is, I know what I did wrong. The bad news is, it was pretty much everything.

- Worrying that the preferment was taking too long in my cooler kitchen, I put it in our oven on the proof setting. It was supposed to rise 15% to 20% in two hours. It tripled in volume in one.

- On the folding steps, I was way too rough with the dough, and tore large chunks. I now realize I was tearing the gluten before it could form.

- I slashed the dough way too deeply, which I realized when one boule collapsed into a flat pancake instantly after the first cut.

- I miscalculated the temperature, forgot to lower it down after putting in the bread, and burned it fairly badly.

The end result were two dense, lumpy, flat loaves of bread with a black exterior.

With all that said, I'm actually kind of thrilled. It's pretty cool that I managed to make dough rise using microorganisms I pulled out of the air. I'm going to keep trying, and figured I could share my findings and results here. Any advice would be lovely.

No pictures.

I give the story a dry toast out of panini

You are way more ambitious than I am! I started with this no-knead recipe and years later have still never attempted to make a starter from scratch.

mudbunny wrote:

No pictures.

I give the story a dry toast out of panini

Apparently, taking pictures was on the same to do list as not burning the bread. I shall correct this in the future.

This is great. I find everything about bread making to be satisfying.

You have the right of it in regards to temperature. During the spring/fall I can get an excellent rise and in the winter I typically need to be extremely cautious about where I put my rise, then also generally wait longer. I haven't had any success in the technique of heating up the oven for a bit, waiting a while, then putting it in - but I also tend to bake very crumbly loaves that should rise slowly in lower temperatures. That said, anything from like 55-95 deg Fahrenheit should do the trick. Humidity is also a big factor but I haven't experimented with it much.

No-knead recipes are going to have different results than kneaded recipes. I would recommend keeping at kneading so you can know the techniques and consistency with your hands before you try the no-knead. Especially if you are approaching it like a hobby, that's half the fun. I find hand kneading to be very satisfying. The technique itself can be as simple as folding it over again and again, so no need for any tearing or fancy maneuvers. I got into baking because of Paul Hollywood on GBBO, so I did a youtube binge on his stuff one night and learned a lot more about gluten and getting consistent results from a knead. Eventually you'll feel in your hands when it's been kneaded, it'll be light and airy.

Keep at it, I find the hobby as a whole rewarding and delicious!

I love to bake, and hate my RV gas oven with the fire of a thousand suns (to borrow from Billy Shakes). This thread will be both pleasing and annoying to participate in.

Baking is a science - down to the point where it's advisable to use a good kitchen scale for measuring ingredients rather than crude volume measurements. However, it seems like you've got a good bit of the science part down. You even have a damn natural starter going on your first try, which is impressive!

The rest, as you've said, is technique. That's something which will take trial and error. The errors are where you learn, and you've learned a LOT from your first try. The main bit I'd add (besides what wonderful goodjers have already shared) is that everything needs more attention during those times when there's something new. A new oven, a new proving method (in a new place, appliance, or even summer vs. winter), new ingredients, new recipe, etc. all are reasons to monitor what's going on very carefully and be ready to adjust things as needed. Even with recipes I've made for more than a decade I'm like a hawk in a new kitchen - watching everything.

The key with baking is to do it at least once a week. You'll zero in on a sequence that works for you, through reading and thinking and trial and error. Then it will be meditative. And you'll find yourself backing enough to give away.

The big secret I have? Potato water, left over from boiling potatoes in a pot. Store it in a plastic container in the fridge until you use it. Use it instead of regular water and it will give your bread a nice, soft texture inside with no additional effort.

Robear wrote:

The key with baking is to do it at least once a week. You'll zero in on a sequence that works for you, through reading and thinking and trial and error. Then it will be meditative. And you'll find yourself backing enough to give away.

The big secret I have? Potato water, left over from boiling potatoes in a pot. Store it in a plastic container in the fridge until you use it. Use it instead of regular water and it will give your bread a nice, soft texture inside with no additional effort.

I've heard that pasta water does the same thing!

I'm aiming for twice a week, once during the week, and once on the weekend. I want to figure out a timing schedule that works for a 9 to 5 job, but the weekend bake will let me relax and focus on the details.

Instant mashed potatoes will also work. It doesn't take much. Among other things I use them as part of the base for my Moravian Sugar Cake recipe, which is a yeast cake.

As far as rising in the winter, one trick I've learned that I use all the time is to use the oven. You start the oven and let it warm up for like a minute, just enough to get it warmer, then turn off the oven and insert your covered dough to rise.

As a couple of people have asked about my starter, I thought I'd post some pictures. This was taken last night, right before feeding.
IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/Mm76mte.jpg)
I'm doing daily feedings right now. A few places encourage several feedings a day, but mine is so active that I don't think I really need to be doing more than the one. I discarded all but 75 grams of the starter, and added 100 grams of AP flour (I'm using Bob's Red Mill organic) and 100 grams of water, going for a 100% hydrated starter. That's what Flour Water Salt Yeast recommended. Once I'd mixed the whole shebang up, I had this:

IMAGE(https://imgur.com/cty1la2.jpg)

Kind of tough to see with the residue on the side of the jar, but it's perfectly level with the "wide mouth" lettering. I have a spot in our utility closet that's near a heat vent, and it keeps a perfectly steady 75 degrees. It's the perfect spot for the starter to rest. I put it up at about 9:30 last night, and checked on it when I got up this morning at 7:00 a.m.

IMAGE(https://imgur.com/4skRPy6.jpg)

As you can see, my yeasty little buddies are HUNGRY. This starter's been consistently this active for about five days now. I initially used a 50/50 blend of AP flour and rye flour to kickstart the process (apparently, yeast REALLY loves rye flour), but once it was active, I went to 100% AP flour. It seems to be working well.

Going to try again this weekend. I'll start my levian tonight, let it go overnight, and kick things off Saturday morning with the preferment.

While I find bread making fascinating, and I would absolutely love to make sour dough bread, I just don't have the time. When I was in Alaska about 8 ish years ago, I picked up a book on baking sourdough that included a starter. Now I don't know where the book is, and not sure if that starter is still any good.

An interesting article on central Italy where they do not use salt in their bread.

You got the right book with "Flour Water Salt Yeast" which is what I started with about 6 months ago. I got a half dozen other books but found that is the best. I absolutely love bread making (more than brewing).

My suggestion if this doesn't work - try some of the non-starter breads first because that will tell you what you need to look out for and the results are awesome. I also found that using a 6 quart food grade tub works wonders, I put a plate over it and it is easy to cover and uncover (I have the starter stored in a jar like yours), I made the full recipe from the book and keep ~200 grams, I use 100 grams when reactivating it then measure it back to ~200 grams after activation.

My kitchen is cold at 67 F, but the times in the book seem to work just fine. I ran into a problem on day four where fermentation seemed to stop - but I just let it sit for about another day and it turned out great. Also note that the method in "FWSY" takes five days but most of the methods in other books and that friends use takes eight or nine. One other thing that is discussed in "The Breadmaker's Apprentice" is the use of pineapple juice in the initial days - there is a bacteria that simulates fermentation that makes it look like everything is going good, they recommend using some pineapple juice during the first days to prevent this. I did not have that problem but after talking with people it is a common enough occurrence that you should know about it.

I bake bread all the time, but I do it with a machine. I have a specific recipe, I dump it into the machine, I press go, and four hours later I get a very nice loaf of bread.

I really like doing it this way because I know exactly what's in the bread... flour, water, butter, sugar, and yeast. If it's not going to get eaten right away, I like to slice it and freeze it. Without preservatives, it doesn't last long in a breadbox, but it'll last months in the freezer. And I'll usually just toast it, right out of the freezer; it takes a little longer, but it works fine, and I don't have to fuss with defrosting it. If I want sandwiches, I can go ahead and defrost, put some slices in the fridge awhile ahead of time, or just make them frozen if I'm taking them somewhere.

With Costco flour, I figure it costs me about 85 cents to make a 2lb loaf. Flour is $17 for 50lbs, and the various other ingredients and the power to cook it cost pennies. It takes a couple minutes to load the machine, and a few minutes to slice it on the other end, but it's not exactly hard work.

So I don't get any of the satisfaction of beating flour into submission, but I get excellent bread with simple ingredients on the cheap. I've been very happy with the setup.

I know using store bought yeast and/or a breadmaker is going to definitely be easier. I've done both, and I can make passable bread with each technique. I've become fascinated lately with the idea of learning to bake bread with effectively the same techniques and technology that people used a few hundred years ago.

Attempt number two has begun! The levian came to life after five hours in the warm spot, and I've just begun the autolyse process with the flour and the bulk of the water. I'm going for a 70% hydration formula with mostly AP flour this time. That's a bit lower hydration than my first attempt, and I'm hoping that it makes the shaping step a bit more approachable. In an hour, I'll add the levian to the autolysed flour/water mixture, add the salt, and start the preferment.

Okay, attempt number 2 (with pictures!)

The levain came together nicely, but I started getting a bit worried with the preferment. After the autolyse step, I added the levian and the salt, and mixed it by hand per direction. I gave the preferment a five hour rest at 78 degrees, with three dull sets of folds. I was much more gentle this time, and could feel the dough stretching rather than tearing. However, after five hours, the preferment hadn't really risen all that much.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/z7Ot7GS.jpg)

I gave it another two hours. There was definite doming at the top, and lots of bubbles on the sides, but no significant rise (the recipe called for a 20% to 50% rise at this point). After my first attempt, I was worried about letting it go too long before shaping, so I went ahead and shaped the loaves for proofing.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/VVP8AdN.gif)

I'm using the long cold proofing method to build flavor, so the boules each got 19 hours in the fridge. I pulled them out tonight, and was really worried. They didn't feel right. Although they passed the dimple test (press a fingertip on and it should slowly pop back out if ready for baking), they felt dense, almost like clay. I popped the first one in the Dutch oven, and baked it up. While the recipe states that there's no need to wait for the dough to warm to room temperature, I gave the second boule an hour in the warm spot to see if that made the difference.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/iFBClY6.jpg)

Definitely better than the first attempt. The one that I let rest for an hour is on the right, and definitely had more oven spring. I cut them after allowing them to cool for two hours. Here's the one that went straight from the fridge to the oven:

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/Ou286TD.jpg)

And here's the one that had the hour rest between fridge and oven:

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/N7AMvZ7.jpg)

The second definitely has better crumb, but it's not consistent on either. The center is much more dense than the edges. Any thoughts as to why?

On the plus side, the flavor was great. Good crust, chewy crumb, and toasted nicely.

trichy wrote:

The second definitely has better crumb, but it's not consistent on either. The center is much more dense than the edges. Any thoughts as to why?

On the plus side, the flavor was great. Good crust, chewy crumb, and toasted nicely.

The center is a different temperature than the outside which means it cooked slower than the outside making it more dense. Even after an hour the center of the dough will be cold even if the outside is room temp. When you take it from the fridge to the oven straight away everything is the same temp and cooks evenly as a result even though it is all cold.

It would take another hour, maybe a little more, to get a consistent room temperature to the core.

Flintheart Glomgold wrote:
trichy wrote:

The second definitely has better crumb, but it's not consistent on either. The center is much more dense than the edges. Any thoughts as to why?

On the plus side, the flavor was great. Good crust, chewy crumb, and toasted nicely.

The center is a different temperature than the outside which means it cooked slower than the outside making it more dense. Even after an hour the center of the dough will be cold even if the outside is room temp. When you take it from the fridge to the oven straight away everything is the same temp and cooks evenly as a result even though it is all cold.

It would take another hour, maybe a little more, to get a consistent room temperature to the core.

Hmmm. The majority of recipes I've found have you going right from the fridge to the oven, which would keep everything at a consistent temperature, but I'm worried that my fridge is so cold that I'm not getting any rise at all. Maybe next batch, I'll try a two hour bench rest before going in the oven?

trichy wrote:
Flintheart Glomgold wrote:
trichy wrote:

The second definitely has better crumb, but it's not consistent on either. The center is much more dense than the edges. Any thoughts as to why?

On the plus side, the flavor was great. Good crust, chewy crumb, and toasted nicely.

The center is a different temperature than the outside which means it cooked slower than the outside making it more dense. Even after an hour the center of the dough will be cold even if the outside is room temp. When you take it from the fridge to the oven straight away everything is the same temp and cooks evenly as a result even though it is all cold.

It would take another hour, maybe a little more, to get a consistent room temperature to the core.

Hmmm. The majority of recipes I've found have you going right from the fridge to the oven, which would keep everything at a consistent temperature, but I'm worried that my fridge is so cold that I'm not getting any rise at all. Maybe next batch, I'll try a two hour bench rest before going in the oven?

Looking at the two of them the one from the fridge to the oven looks good but you say the crumb was better in the hour sit right? If that is the case try to give your option number one above a few more minutes to bake as another experiment along with the two hours bench rest and see what works best. I would not worry about your fridge being too cold unless your are freezing the dough.

Bread can be weird sometimes; once you get something going just try to change little things to see the result. Both of those loaves above look great BTW.

Trichy, I gotta ask... Did you by chance read the novel "Sourdough" before starting this? If not, you should.

Robear wrote:

Trichy, I gotta ask... Did you by chance read the novel "Sourdough" before starting this? If not, you should. :-)

I just finished that. It was... kind of buck wild. I loved his other book, but "Sourdough" was a bit strange for my tastes.

Well, this weekend's bread was kind of a flop.

After last week's issue with the cold proof taking way too long in the refrigerator, I decided to try something else. I learned that the idea cold proofing temperature was 50 F to 54 F. As it so happened, that was the average temperature here in Nashville last night. So after the preferment and shaping, I decided to put the shaped loaves in the back seat of my car to slowly proof...

You know, as I'm saying it, it sounds really dumb.

Anyway, I left them there overnight, then moved them to the fridge at about 8:00 this morning. After four hours, I checked it, and they were nearly overspilling the bowl, and incredibly loose. I did the poke test, and it was completely overproofed. Not to be deterred, I threw them in the Dutch oven and baked them, and... well, yeah.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/MJDPUhz.jpg)

The first out (on the left) looks pretty good, but the second barely had any oven spring at all. It was worse when I cut them open.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/Xk4IXLn.jpg)
IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/m0Htj9B.jpg)

Dense, tiny crumb, and swirls of gummy bread throughout. It was done (temperature test proved that), but the crumb is pretty bad.

There was one upside. The flavor on last week's loaf (95% AP flour, 5% rye/whole wheat blend) was a bit bland for my taste. This week, I went with more wheat (80% AP flour, 20% whole wheat), and let the levain sit for about two more hours to develop the sour flavor I'm looking for. While the texture was not what I wanted, the flavor is awesome. Nutty, rich, and with a sour tang that really works. My daughters have eaten half a loaf already.

I'm not sure what adjustments to make. I'm going to try to switch the AP flour to bread flour (higher protein content is supposed to help gluten strength and rise), and I raised the temp of our fridge to about 40 degrees. I'll try the standard technique of cold proofing in the fridge after the preferment, and see if the higher temp allows for the rise I was missing in week two.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/ijEKCQN.jpg)

MUCH happier with this one. More consistent, open crumb, and the flavor is really good.

That looks really excellent, trichy.

IMAGE(https://i.imgur.com/nQXQc4a.jpg)

I'm really pleased with this batch. I even got the gloss on the crumb that I've been looking for.

I am gonna have to come over sometime, since I am pretty sure your house smells like it's made of toasty semolina!