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The Break Baker's Flunkee?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Greetings all,

I've been struggling with several formulas from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". Everything I've tried so far has resulted in a VERY stiff dough that barely rises. Other recipes I've used from other sources seem to turn out wonderfully every time, so I'm pretty sure my ingredients (i.e. my yeast) and my technique is all right.

Has any one else encountered such inexplicable failure? I will admit, I'm no genius when it comes to breads, so perhaps it is the artesian nature of this particular source that is getting the better of me...

Thanks for any input you may have!

post #2 of 7
Reinhart's recipes are meant to be flexible, depending on the baker's actual ingredients and conditions. In other words, he suggests adding more or less flour or more or less liquid in order to achieve the desired texture. I agree that many of his doughs would be quite stiff if you used only the quantities listed; but a few are very soft.

If you're kneading by hand I suggest adjusting the recipe to make it a little on the wet side, then kneading more flour in until you reach the desired ratio of wet to dry. If you kneading with a stand mixer, I suggest adding enough liquid so the dough barely sticks to the bottom, then adding a tbs of flour at a time until the dough just clears the bowl. These techniques are very basic bread making and for some reason aren't always covered in baking books. I gave away my copy of the Bread Maker's Apprentice and don't remember if the advice is there. Remember -- you're always mixing towards a texture and not trying to use up some specific amount of ingredients. You're a baker not a grocer.

What type of yeast are you using? Active dry? Or Instant? Which brand? IIRC, Reinhart expects you to use commercial type instants like those from SAF and Fermipan. Also, Reinhard goes scant on yeast on the proven premise that less yeast doing more work tastes better.

How long do you allow the dough to rise? To proof? How many rises? IIRC, Reinhart is not a clock watcher. If you're getting slow rises wait until you've got the volume before punching down. Don't worry about the clock, the bread is on its own schedule. Thankfully it works by the piece and not the hour. Reinhard wants you to use three rises (counting the proof) -- with the third rise retarded.

How do you punch down? IIRC Reinhart does not believe in handling the dough too roughly. Lately, when baking bread in pans, I've allowed the bread to rise, then formed the loaves and put them in the pan seam side up. For the last deflation, instead of pressing them down, I've turned them over and let the weight of the dough and the minimal handling do the work. I not only get good texture this way, I avoid "flying" crust.

Have you tried the Struan bread yet? Great toast!

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the advice, boar_d_laze. there's certainly a lot to chew on there

I've been trying to knead by hand, if for no other reason than I am just too lazy to take out (read: clean) my stand mixer. sad, isn't it? :blush:
I'm using Fleishman's instant quick rise yeast. It's served me well thus far, even made a real nice focaccia with it over the weekend.
Today I think I gave my loaves-in-progress about an hour and change in proofing. I was trying to make some light rye based on the light half of the marble rye formula in the book. While there was some rising, but not enough to come anywhere close to the 'doubled' ballpark. The dough was so stiff to begin with, I can't imagine the yeast could have had much play to work with anyways. Punching down for me is something of flirtatious press with the fingertips: a few prods here and there to get a bit of deflation going before I start shaping (or whatever the next step happens to be...).

I've also tried to build the sourdough seed culture in this book. I made it a few days into the process, then threw in the towel when I was supposed to have something 'soft and spongelike', but in fact was the proud owner of a lovely beige hockey puck.

thanks again for your help!
post #4 of 7
Stazz, I'm thinking it's either the type or amount of flour you're using. I've used both BBA and the new Whole Grain Breads extensively, and have never had those problems. Just the oppostie, in fact, as Reinhart's formulae tend towards the wet side. He's a big believer in high hydration.

I'm assuming you weigh the flour rather than measure it? If not, that could be your problem right there, as volume measuring can be all over the lot, with a cup of flour weighing anywhere from four to seven ounces.

From your comments, you obviously know what dough is supposed to feel like. My recommendation is that you cut back on the flour to produce a wet dough, then start adding some back in until the dough tells you it's ready.

Then, as BDL says, ignore the clock. It's irrelevent. Let the dough tell you when it has risen enough. In addition to atmospheric conditions, even the flour you choose can effect proofing and rising times. For instance, although they are both bread flours, King Arthur flour reacts differently then the flour I get from Weisinberger Mills.

Hope this helps.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #5 of 7
try using bottled water heated in the microwave.. someone once said that the tap water from your house may have too many minerals and will kill your yeast. i dont use tap water in my bread and now it works.
post #6 of 7
I have the solution to that one. My stand mixer is always out, and i rarely clean it. It works well anyway. I wash the bowl and beaters of course, but that's it.

You may be too young to remember the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" - in one scene he's doing a match trick in the barracks when he was a soldier - he lights the match and watches as it burns down to his fingers, and goes out.
The other guys watch and try to do it too, but they burn their fingers and drop the match.
He continues, unperturbed, and they keep asking him, "How do you do that? what's the trick?"
He lights several more matches and and lets them burn down down that way.
"The trick," he says "is not to mind."

This is very useful advice. You can force yourself not to mind that the kitchen gets full of flour - it's a kitchen for heaven's sake. Just cook and let the flour fly - even all over the wonderful stand mixer - the mixer is there to work for you, not you for your mixer. If you love your mixer, let it do it's job. Don't be too fussy with making it stay neat.

(P.S. no matter how messy my kitchen is, you can bet nobody ever refused to eat there!)
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
post #7 of 7
The trick is to let your body weight do the kneading rather than your hands and arms. Form the dough into a ball, and put the heels of both palms against it. Then lean forward and push the ball forward flattening it as it rolls. Then rotate the ball a quarter turn and repeat until it's kneaded. It occurred to me that your BBA breads might not be getting enough kneading. Make sure you always take bread to the "windowpane" stage.

Instant quick rise yeasts are not all the same. If you have something like a restaurant supply grocer near you try and get a professional instant yeast. They're slightly faster, more consistent (which is your issue) and a LOT cheaper. You're probably using close to 40 cents of yeast a loaf, while I'm using 10.

I like the "and change." But better would have been "I let the loaves go almost two hours before they got enough rise during the proof."

I have a recipe on the board for pumpernickel that you'll love. Try that and let me know what you think. Link below.

You're too flirtatious. For baking in pans: After the first rise, punch the ball down until it's an easy size to handle. Dump it out on the board and "pull it down" until it's symmetrical. "Pulling down" means to hold the ball in one hand and pull dough from the top towards the bottom -- rotating after every turn. It's a form of kneading. Divide the dough, form the loaves taking care to close all the seams, place them in their loaf pans, and use your knuckles and fingers to force the bread into the pan so that it fully covers the bottom. Allow to rise, and when the dough has doubled in volume -- which for most recipe amounts means it will crest above the top of a standard loaf pan -- then press it down in the pan. You want to take away almost but not quite all of the rise. Use your finger tips to form a slight trench down the center of the bread so the edges are higher than the center; and allow to rise. Again, allow the bread to rise -- no matter how long it takes. If it doesn't rise, it's not worth baking.

Sourdough starters are beyond quirky. Wild yeast cultures do not thrive everywhere, and depending on where you live you might find it necessary to buy a culture and take it from there. Sourdough is an interesting aspect of baking but keeping a culture is a lot like keeping a messy, untamable pet.

You might find using a poolish, a poolish/altus or a biga does what you like for most all breads -- and in spades for rye. That pumpernickel I was telling you about... It's good recipe both for learning to use a poolish or a poolish plus altus, and for learning to adapt the technique to make it even closer to sourdough.


Do try it,
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