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Problems with bread being too dense

post #1 of 43
Thread Starter 
I've been attempting various bread baking endeavors for about two months now, and I've come across a problem that's really been the absolute thorn in my side of baking. No matter what I do, the bread always comes out dense and heavy. I've tried kneading the dough less, kneading it more, adding less/more water/flour, less rising time, more rising time, hotter oven, cooler oven. Instant yeast, active yeast, fresh yeast. All the same results; dense, heavy bread. I'm really at my wits' end with this.
 
Today I attempted a simple french bread using commercial instant yeast (a recipie my baker-fiend aunt highly recommended), and while the bread tastes great - just like french bread - it's as dense as molasses bread. The crusts are great - golden brown and crunchy, not too thick, not too thin. The taste is always good - the breads always taste like they should, but the quality of the meat of the bread is just horribly heavy and dense. Any suggestions from the pro's on what I can possibly try to get my french breads to be lighter? Thanks so much!
post #2 of 43
Welcome to the forum Nadine.

I wonder, does your bread rise properly in the oven? Perhaps you could post a sample recipe so it may be analysed.
post #3 of 43
There are a lot of possibilities which fit within your description, but the one that seems most likely to me is that you're having problems with loaf formation -- probably exacerbated by your punch down technique.  

Like Jock, I'd like to see a fuller description of your methods. 

A couple of additonal thoughts: 

Kneading time isn't controlled by how long, sometimes it takes longer to knead than others -- and you can't always control the paramters that change that.  However, the "windowpane" test is good for almost every loaf.

Rising time also isn't so much clock dependent as volume dependent.  You want to let the bread rise enough but not too much, as opposed to any particular time.  Use your clock to as a reminder to go into the kitchen to look at your loaf, rather than as the determinative factor.

Finally, French country loaves are not easy.  Even though they have very few ingredients, the technical aspects -- especially formation -- can take a lot of "touch."

Anyway, get back to us soon, and we'll get into it. 

BDL
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post #4 of 43
Thread Starter 
Thank you both so much for the responses! I really appreciate them.

Jock, here's the recipe I used for the french bread:

4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant/rapid-rise yeast
about 1 cup of water

Combine flour, salt, and yeast in food processor. Pulse until processed. Turn processor ON, add water - pour, don't drizzle. Process until dough forms into a shaggy ball. If dough is too wet, add flour 1/4 c at a time and process until smooth. If dough is too dry, add water 1 tbsp at a time and process until smooth. Remove from processor onto a lightly floured surface. Using bare minimum of flour, shape gently into a smooth ball. Set dough in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Remove from bowl onto lightly floured surface. Punch down gently and shape into loaf, baguette, etc. as desired. Use only enough flour to handle dough. Let rest for 30 minutes. Heat oven with bread stone to 400 F.

Slash loaves, brush with egg yolk and water mixture for crust, and bake for 25 min, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped and is golden brown. Remove and cool on wire rack.


Boar, can you clarify what you mean about rising too much? I never considered I could be letting the dough rise too much. I know I do let it get more than doubled in size sometimes. I thought it might be too much kneading and working the dough too much, so I try to have a very light touch and not handle the dough too roughly, or too often, and I let it rest in between any handling.
post #5 of 43
Looking at your recipe, I'd say increase the water to 1 1/3 - 1 1/2 Cups and I bake my 6C loaf at 550F for 14 minutes and reduce the heat to  495F for the remaining 17 minutes or so.  Imho your dough seems not only underproofed but underhydrated as well.

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post #6 of 43
A dough can never be "overhydrated" but it can certainly be "underhydrated".

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post #7 of 43
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the advice, Koko. If I add more water, then the dough gets very wet and sticky and I can't work with it unless I add more flour, thus drying it out again. What ratio of flour to water do I need to use to get that smooth dough, rather than a wet, sticky blob? My food processor is sadly only able to handle about 4 cups of flour max, so maybe I need cut the recipe in order to get the correct ratio?
post #8 of 43
I was going to add that a food processor isn't the best choice for mixing bread dough. You might be better off either working by hand, or with a stand mixer.

Making bread by hand, btw, is the fastest way to learn because the dough talks to you through your fingers.

I agree with Kokopuffs that this dough is definately underhydrated. And underleavened as well. Try upping your yeast to two teaspoons.

Just guessing, but I'd say about 1/3 cup more water. Add it as you mix the dough. Then let the dough rest for about 10 minutes before kneading. Then add more flour, as you knead, to reach the finished dough.

One thing I've noticed is that inexperienced bakers think they're adding more flour then the are during the kneading process. Try actually using a measure---say a half cup. Sprinkle a little flour from it as you work the dough. Most of the time you'll have flour left over in the cup.

A dough can never be "overhydrated" but it can certainly be "underhydrated".

I understand your point, Kokopuffs. But don't agree with how you phrased it. What is pancake batter, other than an overhydrated dough?
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #9 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by NadineC View Post

Thanks for the advice, Koko. If I add more water, then the dough gets very wet and sticky and I can't work with it unless I add more flour, thus drying it out again....



Dough should be sticky when kneaded and will dissappear after the initial rise followed by a couple of french folds that alternate with a rest/rise period.  Over all this time the excess water will be absorbed with the dough.
 

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post #10 of 43
I had this same problem when I was attempting to do my yeast breads in my Cuisinart food processor, I tried it using both the dough blade and the metal blade but the bread was always dense.

My solution was to use the bread machine on its dough setting and that has fixed the problem for me. I also started blooming my yeast regardless of what the bread machine instructions said.

I don't understand why there would be a difference, but maybe a food processor dries out the dough some way or makes it tougher.
post #11 of 43
One of the problems with using a food processor---even with the so-called dough blade--is that there isn't enough power to properly handle the density of bread dough. As a result, the flour and liquid doesn't get combined; resulting in an underhydrated (well, technically, poorly hydrated) dough.

One of the reasons I recommended a ten-minute rest before kneading is to autolyse the dough. Kokopuffs' suggestion to fold the dough, in addition to other benefits, also helps the dough autolyse.

But the long and the short of it is that a food processor is not the right tool for the job.

I also started blooming my yeast regardless of what the bread machine instructions said.

If you're using instant yeast (as you should with a bread machine) there is no benefit to blooming it. Doesn't hurt anything, certainly. But an unnecessary step.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #12 of 43
 I find french folding easier and less stressful on the hands then regular kneading  . It works best with a wet dough . 
http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/video/2008/03/bertinet_sweetdough

post #13 of 43
Hmmmmmm? It's usually not an either or situation. Folding and kneading serve different functions.

But, if it works for you, that's all that counts.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #14 of 43
 Well  its not just folding since the repetitive  slamming part does serve a function similar to creating gluten structure. Probably not as much pressure compared to normal kneading but you can notice a  nice looking gluten layer starts to develop  around the whole dough. 
post #15 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by NadineC View Post

Thank you both so much for the responses! I really appreciate them.

Jock, here's the recipe I used for the french bread:

4 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant/rapid-rise yeast
about 1 cup of water

Combine flour, salt, and yeast in food processor. Pulse until processed. Turn processor ON, add water - pour, don't drizzle. Process until dough forms into a shaggy ball. If dough is too wet, add flour 1/4 c at a time and process until smooth. If dough is too dry, add water 1 tbsp at a time and process until smooth. Remove from processor onto a lightly floured surface. Using bare minimum of flour, shape gently into a smooth ball. Set dough in a greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Remove from bowl onto lightly floured surface. Punch down gently and shape into loaf, baguette, etc. as desired. Use only enough flour to handle dough. Let rest for 30 minutes. Heat oven with bread stone to 400 F.

Slash loaves, brush with egg yolk and water mixture for crust, and bake for 25 min, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped and is golden brown. Remove and cool on wire rack.


Boar, can you clarify what you mean about rising too much? I never considered I could be letting the dough rise too much. I know I do let it get more than doubled in size sometimes. I thought it might be too much kneading and working the dough too much, so I try to have a very light touch and not handle the dough too roughly, or too often, and I let it rest in between any handling.
 

Nadine, there is some excellent advice in these posts. It all boils down to these essential elements:

Don't use a food processor. It's OK for really wet doughs upwards of 70% hydration but not for stiffer doughs like this one. The best way to learn what the dough feels like is to complete the process by hand.
French bread typically is 65% hydrated and yours is only 40% hydrated. Definately needs more water.
How much to knead? Till it's enough. So, what does that mean? BDL makes refference the "windowpane test. That's where, after about 10 minutes of hand kneading you take a cherry sized piece of dough and tease it gently till it is paper thin and you can almost see through it. If it tears before it gets there, knead some more. I would recommhend using a higher gluten "bread" flour rather than APF. It will give the dough more stucture.
Rising time is something that is not dictated by the clock alone. It too is done when it is done. Ambient temperature will influence the rise time greatly. Try the poke test - gently poke the risen dough with your finger tip. If it bounces back right away, it needs more time. If the indent doesn't bounce back at all it is overproofed. Ideally the dimple should bounce back about 50%.
I'm not overly impressed with the recipe. If you are serious about making really good bread (and it seems you are because you keep trying which is commendable) I would recommend checking out any of Peter Rienharts excellent books and particularly The Breadbaker's Apprentice.
post #16 of 43
Thread Starter 
Thank you all so much for the great advice! I'm definitely going to be looking into the recommended books, and I'm going to take more time to keep working the dough by hand, rather than the food processor.

Thanks again to everyone! Wish me luck this time around! Baking Day is today! :)
post #17 of 43
I am glad to find this forum.  The info in this thread alone is awesome.
post #18 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by gNnairdA View Post

 Well  its not just folding since the repetitive  slamming part does serve a function similar to creating gluten structure. Probably not as much pressure compared to normal kneading but you can notice a  nice looking gluten layer starts to develop  around the whole dough. 

 

...sounds to me as if that's a technique used for creating surface tension on the dough's outer layer.

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post #19 of 43
 I just looked at the video, and it's a form of aggressive kneading.

When I was a kid kneading was done more aggressively than we do today, with lots of slamming the dough on the counter, and stretching, etc. Seems like this is just the ultimate of this. I agree, it's probablyi easier on the hands. But it requires more upper-body use if it's done right.

But it's not folding. At least, not the way you, me, and BDL have been talking about folding.
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post #20 of 43
may i suggest using 'bread flour' instead of all-purpose.

when making the dough, best results will be from a dough that is as moist as possible, but not sticky to touch.

always add the salt LAST to the mixture.


just a few tips that i always follow when making bread, hope this helps.
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post #21 of 43

Upon completion of kneading the dough should be rather tacky.  Following a few french folds, the tackiness will lessen.


Edited by kokopuffs - 3/26/10 at 7:21am

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post #22 of 43
A few thoughts on this.  I agree that a food processor will not help.  I prefer to knead by hand, using the stretch, fold and quarter turn method.  Mainly because I find it very theraputic and it is wonderful to feel the dough come alive in you hands.

For while bread or 50 /50 white and wholemeal I use about 400ml water to about 650 grams of flour.  But also like the sponge method - mix 150g flour with 200ml water and half the usual quantity of yeast (maybe 4 to 5g of active yeast, disolved in the water a few mins before mixing).  Leave out for an hour, then overnight in the fridge. 

Mix rest of flour and the other 200ml water, and a teaspoon or so of salt.  Leave for 10 - 15 mins to autolyse (as suggested above)  then knead for 10 mins ish.  I agree the pane test is a good way of seeing if it is ready.  Then leave covered in a coolish place for 8 to 10 hours to rise.  Knock down gently so as not to lose all the air - more of a stretch really. 

Then form loaf (ball and slash or roll up and slash) and allow to rise for a couple of hours. 

Then bake, 240c for 35 to 40 mins.  I use an aga so it needs checking after half an hour as a bit unpredicatable.

The very long rising and proving time,(24 hrs plus), lowish temperature and relatively small amount of yeast seems to improve the flavour and keeping quality.   I gather this is because it allows the dough to ferment slowly, and for bacteria to break down some of the proteins which cause some bread to be a bit indigestible.  

It works OK for me, but there seem to be as many ways to make bread as there are breadmakers!  Good luck.
post #23 of 43
Nadine,

Assuming you're still following this thread, I've got another question for you.  That is, how well did you loaves hold their shape during baking?  Did they rise a lot?  Or, did they sort of flatten out?

I agree to a great extent with most of the advice you've been given -- but there are a lot of nuances.  For instance, I'm no fan of bread making in a food processor but obviously it can be used successfully if used right.  We can get into that if you want; but frankly (and as everyone else has said) you're probably best off learning to hand mix and knead before moving on.  You'll get a much better sense of what's involved in the process and of problem solving that way. 

A point of more definite agreement is that the recipe as written is severly under-hydrated.  The dough is way too "stiff," and the weight of the top prevents the bottom from getting any sort of good "oven spring."  The "weight of the top prevents..." is true in any case; at a guess your problems are caused by manifold bad techniques complicated by a recipe that's not easy for a noobie to handle.

It's worth noting that simple French bread is not an easy bread to make.  Most beginning bakers are best off learning loaf pan breads first before moving on to any sort of hand-formed artisanal loaves.  Formation is not the easiest thing to learn and poor formation is often responsible for the problems you're suffering. 

You asked about over rising.  If you let dough rise too much during any of its proofs, it becomes flaccid which results in difficulty in getting a tight surface (loaf formation) and inhibits oven spring (rise during baking). 

BDL
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post #24 of 43
Thread Starter 
Hi Boar,

Thanks for the additional thoughts. The loaves always hold their shape and rise very nicely- maybe a little flatter than desired, but they definitely rise and definitely keep their shapes. I'm going to be reading up on many of the suggested texts above, and I'm going to try my hand again later this week. Hopefully, a little more knowledge and a lot more practice will start to yield some better results!
post #25 of 43
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

A point of more definite agreement is that the recipe as written is severly under-hydrated.  

It's worth noting that simple French bread is not an easy bread to make.  Most beginning bakers are best off learning loaf pan breads first before moving on to any sort of hand-formed artisanal loaves.  
BDL

As BDL points out, this recipe is way underhydrated. Baguette dough is on average about 65% hydrated. This recipe is closer to 44%. What these numbers mean is the if the recipe calls for 18 oz. of flour (about 4 cups) then you should be adding 11.5 or 12 oz. of water, 65% of the 18 oz. of flour. This recipe is using 8 oz of water, or about 44 % of the flour weight. 

BDL's second point is the gospel truth. True french bread is one of the most challenging breads to bake for home bakers. The dough is very, very soft and not easy to work with. I was counseled early on to go deep before I went wide. My tutor advised me to find a simple white pan loaf and bake it over and over again. By doing this in different climate conditions (how does high humidity in my kitchen impact the amount of flour I need to use?) using different bags of flour etc, I would train my fingers to know what a proper dough would feel like. Smart fingers are you best tool :) Once I got comfortable with my white pan loaf I was able to more confidently widen my bread horizon!
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post #26 of 43
True french bread is one of the most challenging breads to bake for home bakers.

Truer words were never spoken, Kyle.

Ironically, when people first make the more to "artisan" or hand-formed breads, the first thing they want to make is a baguette or French bread. They don't realize how advanced that is over, say, whipping together a typical recipe and plopping the dough into a loaf pan.

Beginners, IMO, should eschew slack doughs altogether until they get some time-in-grade, and feel confident in being able to manipulate these highly-hydrated doughs.

I do disagree, slightly, with your figures though. 65% is more typical of a standard lean dough French bread, such as a pane de champagne. Baguettes are much slacker, typically running in the 70s, Eric Kastel's baguette with pate fermentee, for instance, runs 74%. And they can be a lot wetter. Peter Reinhart's pane d'acienne, for instance, runs an incredible 79%. Compared to those, a 65% hydrated dough is a cinch to work with.

Something they don't, unfortunately, stress enough is that most modern bread making books usually have the recipes/formulas arrange in order of difficulty. The idea is, if you work your way through them you'll be developing skills that serve you as you move on to more advanced breads.

And, as you so aptly note, if you've only baked a bread one time, then you haven't learned how to bake it.
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post #27 of 43
Nadine, if you could pm to me your regular email addy, I'll send you a copy of my chart for dough.  It lists the "correct" amount of water for doughs ranging from 4C all the way to 8C.

-T

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post #28 of 43
I wouldn't mind taking a look at that chart myself, Kokopuffs. Please send me a copy: brook@cheftalk.com.

Thanks.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #29 of 43
Brook, item sent.  For the 6C loaf, subtract 2 TBS water from the poolish and also 2 TBS water from the "remaining ingredients".

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post #30 of 43
Thanks, Koko.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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