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We really need more information, because there are several things that could be causing this. But heavy dough (bread) usually is a result of poor gluten development. That's why it's usually more of a problem with whole-grain breads than white breads.

My first thought is the flour. You're probably using all-purpose? If so, try switching to bread flour and see how that helps. Because of its higher protein level, bread flour develops a better gluten matrix.

Your kneading, proofing, and shaping methods can all affect the final outcome. If you walk us through them, step by step, we might better be able to focus on your problem.

Let me also recommend you read Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I never really understood bread until reading that book.
 

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Kireol,

I know exactly what you're saying. I used to slavishly follow bread recipes, precisely because I had no understanding of what was going on. The past two years I've gotten seriously into bread making, and there's a world of difference.

That's why I recommend the BBA so strongly.

Now then. Your "recipe" is why we don't depend on memory. :D

A couple of problems with it. First off, the recipe no doubt calls for 2 teaspoons of yeast, not two packages. A package is 2.25 teaspoons, roughly. So you'd be doubling the yeast. For those ingredients, a package is ok. Two packages is way too much.

There is never any reason to let yeast bloom for 30 minutes, and, in fact, you could actually lose it that way. Yeast is bloomed, in general, for 3-5 minutes in plain water. Sometimes a sugar is added to provide additional food. As soon as the yeast is frothy and bubbly it's ready to go.

With active dry yeast you bloom it. With instant yeast (aka Bread Machine, Saf, and a couple of others) you can add it directly to the mixture.

As I mentioned originally, switch to bread flour instead of all purpose.

Next, as others have indicated, forget about the clock. Let the dough tell you what it needs. When you first mix the ingredients, two minutes is an ok guide. The dough should form a ball, and leave the sides of the bowl (but not necessarily the bottom.)

After the rest, feel the dough. It should be slightly tacky, but not sticky. If it is, add a little more flour as you knead it. The kneading, with the KA, should be at a faster speed, the #2 setting. Periodically feel the dough, adding more flour if needed, in small amounts. (conversely, if it's too dry, add a little water--no more than a teaspoon at a time).

Seven minutes kneading sounds a bit high for that dough, too, and you may be overkneading. Try cutting it back to four minutes.

After kneading, form the dough into a ball, put it in an oiled bowl, and cover with film or a towel. Let rise until doubled in size (which might take 1 to 2 hours. 3 hours sounds a little excessive).

Next, form your loaves or shapes, degassing the dough as little as possible. This is counter to many recipes that tell you to punch down the dough, but don't.

Put your shaped dough aside to proof until it's again doubled in size. If using loaf pans it should extend about an inch higher than the edge of the pan.

Then bake.

If you decide to use a steaming process, start at 500 degrees, then lower the oven to 450. Otherwise you'll cool things down too quickly.

Hope this helps.
 

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Lisbet, there's nothing wrong with enriching the dough with oils, sugars, milk, and other ingredients. Many of the most famous breads (i.e., brioche, challa, fougasse, Sally Lund, etc.), indeed, all of what we think of as festive breads, are made that way. And even James Beard once published a recipe using sugar and milk to create what he called "American" white bread---which is fluffier and spongier than European types.

However, in terms of total bulk, most of the world's bread is baked with just the four basic ingredients: flour, leavening, salt, and water. That's the real magic of bread, that those same four ingredients, and how they are handled, results in so many forms of great tasting bread.

Potato water is a good addition primarily because it gives the yeast more starch to work on, thus producing more CO2, and thus (assuming the gluten matrix is right) a lighter, fluffier bread.

BDL: I don't think you and I are all that far apart; at least not when it comes to bread baking. I didn't mention the windowpane test because you already had.

Where we do differ in advising Kireol, I think, is that I'm still a lot closer to where he is, and remember how intimidating much of this sounds. So I don't think sophisticated techniques like using preferments and delayed fermentation, etc. is the way for a beginner to go.

Where I most emphatically do agree is in at least finishing the kneading by hand. Hands on is the only way one can really tell what the dough is like. As you know, dough loves to be fondled, and the more you touch it the more it talks to you.

And I also agree that beginners should start with loaf pans, rather than attempting free-standing loaves. Creating the necessary surface tension is something beginners seem to have trouble with (although, for some reason, I never did), and they need a few successes before going that route.

I don't think Kireol meant cut to shape. He probably was talking about scoring the loaf, as we'd do with a baguette. He doesn't know the jargon, yet, as you pointed out. And I have no doubt the recipe said something like "make three shallow diagonal cuts in the dough....."
 

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It works best if you spray everything -- oven door, walls, floor, bread, and get the door closed as quickly as possible.

One exception. If you've got a light inside your oven, do not spray it. Otherwise, BDL is right on.
 
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