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Sagging artisan breads

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
While my wife does most of the baking, she resists doing the artisan breads or even a good crusty french bread.  I've tried and although the flavor is good, the loaves seem like they are way too wet, but what do I know?  I've followed the recipes slavishly, measuring temps, weighing ingredients, and so on and yet when I form the final loaves they tend to sag down until they resemble an elongated cookie.  Almost as bad is having a loaf that looks good until I give it the final slashing with the lame and the whole thing deflates like a tire.

I could add more flour to make a firmer dough but my understanding is that the dough is supposed to be wet.  If I add too much flour I suspect the loaf will be dense and tough.  Any suggestions as to what I'm doing wrong or what to do differently?

Crustless in Florida,

Rich
post #2 of 7
Rich, 

You've probably got a couple of things going on.  Under-kneading and poor loaf formation technique.

Formation:


You're not getting enough "surface tension" on the dough for it to hold its shape.  The easiest way to solve it is to use the pull down technique until you have a real tight skin, before going on to actual shaping; then, shaping in such a way as to keep the skin tight and outside; all the while, careful not to lose too much lift.  It's not that difficult once you've practiced enough to develop some touch.  It might help to read this.

Kneading:


Kneading precedes formation.  Different "artisanal" breads have different levels of hydration.  That they ALL feel slack to you screams under-kneading.  Whatever kneading technique you use, you're just going to have to keep kneading until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky.  Except with the slackest doughs, that usually happens at about the same time the dough passes the window pane test -- for the same reasons. 

You simply have to be sure the dough passes both tests before going on to the first rise.

You can also do something towards stiffening up the feel (and behavior!) the dough (without actually making it stiffer) by doing an autolysis with a few "French folds" in it. 

The whole autolysis plus French fold thing is fairly new to artisanal baking, but seems to be one of those few, new things destined to become "traditional."  I now do it with nearly all of my breads.

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 3/28/10 at 11:06am
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Thanks BDL,

You've given me plenty to think about.  The link you so thoughtfully provided will take several readings to assimilate.  As to the kneading, I've been using the dough hook on the stand mixer and I thought that I was kneading and passing the windowpane test.  However, the dough was still sticky, so perhaps not.  The kneading until the dough was no longer sticky is a point I was unaware of.  I also had to look up autolysis. 

Since I do love a crusty slice of bread, I'll persist along the path you've suggested and see what develops.  Perhaps, I'll mix up a poolish this afternoon for use tomorrow.


Thanks,

Rich
post #4 of 7
Rich, something else to consider. Baguette doughs do tend to be slack, and are not the easiest doughs for a beginner to handle. So you might try a few other types first to develop a feel for what you're doing and consistent work habits. Perhaps a pane de champagne?

It is harder to judge a dough in the stand mixer than kneading by hand. As a general rule (and there are numerous exceptions), if you use the #2 setting on your KA, you should knead half the time recommended in the formula. That is, if it says "knead ten minutes,...." then you want to run the machine at least five.

In addition to everything else, the final dough should be tacky but not sticky. Then, if you fold and autolyse as BDL suggests, you'll soon get the feel for how things should be.
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 #5 of 7
 Cabo - Are you using bread or AP flour? If bread, are you kneading it my hand? The high protein level in bread flour makes it very difficult to develop the proper gluten structure by hand. If your gluten isn't being developed your loaves will be flat.
"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 #6 of 7
Thread Starter 
KyleW,

I have tried using both bread and AP flour.  No I'm not kneading by hand but using a stand mixer with the dough hook.  I would machine knead until I thought I was passing the window pane test but apparently it kneaded   a bit more time to get past the sticky phase.  Amongst other things.
post #7 of 7
With the medium to high hydration breads, you want to take a twenty minute "autolysis" rest between mixing and kneading.  With the really slack doughs you want several autolyses with "French folds" between them.  For whatever reasons, that tends to stiffen up the doughs enough so that they handle better.  

With most of them you've got to expect that the dough will never end up feeling tacky throughout the process, although it shouldn't actually stick to the bench from the final stage of kneading forward. 

BDL
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