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How can I get good at baking bread?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
How can I get good at baking bread?

I've made it a handfull of times but usually the crust is too hard, or the inside is to heavy.

Got any tips?

TIA
post #2 of 8
Like anything else, you get good at it by doing it, paying attention to each step and learning from any mistakes.

Bread making is a tactile exercise. The dough talks to you through your fingers, and nose, and eyes. Once you learn what a good dough is like you then have a benchmark to use for other loaves. What this means is that you should prepare your dough by hand, at least for awhile. Later on you can move on to a stand mixer and other such aids. But if you don't know what a good dough looks and feels like you cannot create one with a machine.

That aside, the first step, IMO, is to read a few good books on the subject (this is assuming there isn't a knowledgeable baker around to help you); books that not only provide forumlae, but which help you understand the science behind bread making.

Among those I recommend:

The Bread Baker's Apprentice. This is Peter Reinhart's seminal work on the subject, and should be on every baker's bookshelf. His earlier Crust & Crumb is a great book, too. But BBA builds and expands on it.

Beard On Bread. An oldie but goodie. Somebody needs to reissue this classic, because it's still one of the fundamental guides for home bread makers.

Ultimate Bread. Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno's book on bread making as it's taught at their Books For Cooks cooking school in London.

Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective. A relatively new book by artisan baker Daniel T. DiMuzio. Provides some insights and slightly different points of view from BBA, and is valuable for that reason alone.

Plus just about any of Dan Leader's books.

In addition, I would recommend that if you don't already have one, run, don't walk, to the nearest houseware supply store and get a good scale. While you can make good bread without one, it makes the process much more precise and replicatable.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #3 of 8
+ 1 to everything KY said -- except for the scale.

You have specific issues about crumb and crust, besides the more general question in your thread's title.

CRUMB:

Your crumb is too dense because you don't knead enough or knead too much; and/or don't allow enough rise; and/or degas too vigorously on punchdowns; and/or degas to vigorously during loaf formation.

CRUST:

Your crust is too thick because you bake at too low a temperature; and/or bake too long; and/or lose too much heat from trying to humidify your bread; and/or don't employ enough humidity; and/or never got enough "surface tension" on the unbaked loaf; and/or screwed up the oven spring by allowing the bread to proof too long or not long enough before baking.

GENERAL TECHNIQUE:

Mix your dough fairly thoroughly, without overmixing. That is, mix until the dough mass barely cleans the bowl -- if there's a little flour left over, that's fine. Don't overhydrate.

Let it rest for about twenty minutes before kneading. The rest period allows the dough to "autolyse," which makes kneading go more easily.

Knead almost every type of bread dough to the "window pane" stage then a minute or two of extra kneading, before pulling down and letting your dough do its first proof.

Allow your bread to double in volume before "punching down." Don't take your recipe too seriously when it comes to rise time. Think of it as a guide to how long you should wait before you look, but not as a substitute for looking.

When you do punch down, don't actually "punch down." Use the "french fold" technique. That is, gently stretch the dough into an approximatel 15" square, fold it in thirds one way (letter fold), then turn 90* and fold in thirds again. Handle the dough gently, so as to keep as much air as possible in the dough.

After the second rise (again, let the dough mass double in volume), remove the dough from the proofing bowl, and cut it loaf portions.

For each portion, use the "pull down" technique before doing any loaf formation in order to get as much "surface tension" as possible. This is true for bread pan loaves as well as free-forms. While you pull-down, degas as little as possible.

During loaf formation, try and keep as much tension on the loaf skin as possible. Try to lose as little air as possible.

Make sure your oven is well preheated. However long you think is long enough to preheat, add another ten minutes to that.

If you humidify, add a water pan to the oven as well as a spritzer. If you use a water pan, make sure you allow it enough time in the oven so the oven can come to temp. If you spritz, sprtiz in such a way that the door is open as little as possible and for as short a time as possible. Holding heat is more important than thorough humidification.

If you have anything you can use as a heat ballast -- a pizza stone for instance -- use it in your oven, even if you're not going to put your loaf directly on it.

Hope this helps,
BDL

PS. IIRC, I wrote most of this to you already but can't recall if it was before or after the few months I was away from CT. Did you try my suggestions? What worked? What didn't?
post #4 of 8
Be prepared for mistakes.

A good book that's really intended for 'advanced' or sourdough bread bakers is written by Jeffrey Hamelman and is entitled BREAD, a Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes.

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

Brot und Wein
(1 photos)
 
Reply
post #5 of 8
agree with everything BDL said, except I would definately reccommend the scale! Cooking is only sustainable when its more science than art.
post #6 of 8
Get a scale. It's very difficult to learn to bake bread without one. Once you're good at it, you can get away without it, but it adds a tremendous amount of consistency to the process.

As a bonus, it's easier, faster, and there's less to clean. If you weigh everything, you don't need nearly as many measuring tools.
post #7 of 8
I would add that under hydration is another chronic cause of dense crumb. Wetter is better! I was dealthly afraid of handling dough that was not smooth and dry. Hen someone told me that wetter was better. She said that when I thought the dough was hydrated enough, add a little more water :) The nth case for this is ciabatta which starts out more batter than dough. The finished bread is as open as any I've ever seen.

Just one man's opinion.
Kyle

"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." D. Barry
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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." D. Barry
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post #8 of 8
Reminds me of what my neighbors in FL use to say when I was learning to bake bread. "Don't worry, we eat mistakes!" and did they ever!
If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that ACME stuff, why didn't he just buy dinner?
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If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that ACME stuff, why didn't he just buy dinner?
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