Problems with bread being too dense

Discussion in 'Pastries & Baking' started by nadinec, Mar 23, 2010.

  1. nadinec

    nadinec

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    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!
     
  2. jock

    jock

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    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.
     
  3. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    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
     
  4. nadinec

    nadinec

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    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.
     
  5. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    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.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2010
  6. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    A dough can never be "overhydrated" but it can certainly be "underhydrated".
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2010
  7. nadinec

    nadinec

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    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?
     
  8. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    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?
     
  9. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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    Last edited: Mar 24, 2010
  10. mrsbushaxe

    mrsbushaxe

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    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.
     
  11. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    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.
     
  12. gnnairda

    gnnairda

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  13. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    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.
     
  14. gnnairda

    gnnairda

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     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. 
     
  15. jock

    jock

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    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.
     
  16. nadinec

    nadinec

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    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! :)
     
  17. jproaster

    jproaster

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    I am glad to find this forum.  The info in this thread alone is awesome.
     
    Joseph Scarafone likes this.
  18. kokopuffs

    kokopuffs

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

    kyheirloomer

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     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.
     
  20. coulis-o

    coulis-o

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    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.