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I need help baking bread. Mine is too dense

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I want to make New Orleans style French bread since I can't get it where I live now (Alois J Binder is my favorite, BTW). I searched the Internet and found a recipe that many folks said is very close to the real thing. In fact, I found the same recipe on many web sites and it received good reviews on most all of them. Here it is New Orleans French Bread Recipe Anyhow, I made it on four occassions. Each time, it comes out with a crust that is far too thick and the inside is way, way too dense. In case you are unaware, New Orleans style French bread has a thin, flakey crust and and is very airy inside. So after four tries with similar results, I gave up on that style of bread. I figured I would go try some other kinds and learn a bit. Granted, I am an inexperienced baker (aka I suck at it). I am, however, persistent. So I figure I will try a rustic style bread since in my mind, rustic equals "hard to mess up."

I scour the Internet for hours but find a rustic bread recipe that many reviewers say is really good. I make the recipe as stated...same result as the Frech bread. In fact, they were indistinguishable. While I know rustic bread should be a bit heavy, the inside is as dense as bread could possibly be. I try another recipe, same result. Chewy like leather, flat, extremely heavy. They are all tasty but not what I am trying to make. What in God's name am I doing wrong? Am I overworking the dough? Someone even suggested that the chlorine in my tap water was killing the yeast. I now have an RO system but still the same result. Last time I tried, I even changed brands of bread flour. It sounds crazy. Where have I gone wrong?
post #2 of 9
"Simple French Bread," whether New Orleans, San Francisco, La Brea Bakery or whatever, is one of the most difficult types of breads to bake. Here are some thoughts about what went wrong with yours.

Unless you use the windowpane test, you're far more likely to be under-kneading than "overworking." Do you windowpane?

After mixing you're probably not allowing an "autolyse" rest.

You're most likely "punching down" too vigorously. Assuming three rises, you should be "folding" after the autolyse and the first rise; pulling down after the second; then pulling down and forming after the third. All the while attempting to keep as many intact cells and as much air in the dough as possible.

If you're forming baguette or batard, you're probably forming them wrong. Tricky to do it gently. Again, all the while attempting to keep as many intact cells and as much air in the dough as possible.

You are almost certainly not getting enough "surface tension" on the skin of the loaf -- whether boule, miche, batard, baguette or whatnot. You need to pull it down so the skin is tight, tight, tight, before formation -- all the while, attempting to keep as many intact cells and as much air in the dough as possible. (Sensing a theme?)

You're probably not controlling your oven temperature properly.

There's no problem with your water. It's unlikely there's any problem with your flour choice either -- although all-purpose (aka AP) flour is a slightly better candidate for this type of bread than most "Better for Bread" flours, unless you're using a BIG mixer to make dough for lots of loaves at a time.

Finally, you will almost certainly receive a bunch of advice about alternative methods of baking which are represented to be both simpler and foolproof -- such as "no-knead." Some of these alternatives are actually very good.

When you're ready to learn how to do traditional baking, we'll take these things one by one. You'll not only end up baking successfully but will understand the process.

BDL
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post #3 of 9
I too have had many frustrating, yet tasty, bread making sessions. Dense, heavy bread being the result.

BDL, I dont savvy window planing, or autolyse. Is that the first proving? You seem to know a great deal on the subject. I look forward to following and learning on this thread.

I prefer to use fresh yeast, as i'm confusd by the dried stuff. Instant, dried, fast acting??
"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
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"If we're not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?" Jo Brand
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post #4 of 9
Take a look at: Lesson Five: Ten Tips for Better French Bread | The Fresh Loaf and see if that answers some of your questions?
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Chef,
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post #5 of 9
When making my loaves (6 C batards approx 2 1/2 pounds baked) I do 3 French folds, each one followed by a 40 minute rest, covered. Following the third rest period, the dough is shaped into a boule where I do a pull down during rotation. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes before final shaping into a batard and placing into a banneton for the final proofing/rise. Then bake.

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

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Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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post #6 of 9
Bug,

1. "Autolyse" means "self mixing," and it's become a very fashionable technique. Start by mixing your dough normally, but a bit less than thoroughly. That is, if some of the flour is not quite fully incoroporated into the mass, fine. Then cover the dough and let it sit on the counter for about twenty minutes before kneading.

During the rest, diffusion spreads the moisture through the dough, promoting even, thorough hydration.

The dough is then kneaded normally. Although, because the mass is so evenly hydrated kneading almost always takes less time and effort.

2. A baker performs the "Window Pane Test" to determine whether the bread is fully kneaded. She takes a very small piece of dough from the mass and gently stretches it until it's as thin as can be before tearing. The dough is fully kneaded only when the stretched dough is translucent.

3. I write all my bread recipes for "instant" yeast. It's so reliable it can be used dry. That is, it can be mixed into the dry ingredients without proofing it first. This makes getting good distribution throughout the dough mass sure and simple without the extra time taken to proof, the risk of bad yeast, or the risk of throwing out good yeast because your proofing liquid was too hot or too oold.

On the other hand, you can proof the yeast in warm water if that's the way you do. Here in the States, instant yeast dominates professional and good home baking not only because it's so useful but because it's relatively economic compared to other dried yeasts, and it's a lot easier to find than fresh yeast.

Yours,
BDL
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post #7 of 9
Should you like to learn more about breadbaking, here's some suggested reading :

Bread by Hamelman
Bread Baker's Apprentice by Reinhart
Crust and Crumb by Reinhart

Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

Brot und Wein
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Best and I'm a foodie.   I know very little but the little that I know I want to know very well.

 

-T

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post #8 of 9
Amen Brother! :)
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At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals.
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post #9 of 9
Thread Starter 

UPDATE:  Five Years Later...

 

For all of you who struggle with bread making, I wanted to post an update.  After making literally thousands of baguettes, loaves, and boules since the original post, BDL was right on the money.  Thanks, BDL.

 

The three biggest issues were under-kneading, thoroughly killing the dough by abusively punching down after the first rise, and extremely poor shaping techniques resulting in little to no surface tension.  If you want to handle the dough roughly, do it during the mixing and kneading stages.  After that, it's "gentle hands" time.  On the first degassing, I was way too rough.  Pushing moderately with a closed fist a few times is all that is needed, although I now use the stretch and fold method instead of a punch down.  Lastly, shaping takes some skill and for me was the hardest step to master.  While I am still no expert, the loaves that I produce now are miles ahead of where I was.

 

There are some great references out there for those interested in bread making.  Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice is excellent, detailing bread making from start to finish.  Youtube is full of great shaping videos.  Search for Jeffrey Hamelman's (of King Arthur flour) and Richard Bertinet's shaping videos if you want precise yet thorough instructional videos.  Good luck.

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