Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Troubleshooting Guide For Baking Bread

When I wrote about my bread recipe I claimed that it was THE easiest recipe for artisan bread. I stand by that claim. A lot of people have had good success with it. But for someone who has never baked before, a few more tips would have been helpful in that article.

So here is a little troubleshooting guide in case you need it.

1. What if the dough doesn't rise ?
Without properly risen dough, the bread is not going to be successful. In this recipe, the dough rises nearly 3 times. If the dough doesn't rise after 4-5 hours, it's not going to rise at all. Most likely the yeast that you used was old and dead. You can test your yeast very easily. Just dissolve some sugar in lukewarm water and sprinkle some yeast. If you don't see any foam/bubbles in 10-15 minutes, the yeast is dead and unusable. I buy dry active yeast and store it in the refrigerator. It stays alive for really long time.

If the yeast was fine, them most likely there was not enough water. Yeast needs water to activate and then thrive. See below on for tips on how to properly measure the ingredients.

2. How to measure ?
The best part of my recipe is that it doesn't demand absolute perfection in measurements and time and all the parameters that are generally part of any bread recipe. But the measurements still need to be at least approximately correct ! Not having the correct ratio of flour to water is the most common problem in bread baking. If the water is off by a teaspoon, it's probably going to be OK. But a tablespoon of water makes a big difference in the final result. So you cannot eye ball the amount of flour/water and you have to use a measuring cup.

For measuring flour, scoop it out and level it with a table knife, or just your fingers. Don't press the flour to tightly pack the measuring cup. When you need 1/2 cup of flour, use a scoop that is of size 1/2-cup. Don't use the scoop that's 1-cup size and try to guesstimate 1/2 cup by filling it only half. It doesn't work that way.

If you are using a big glass cup with markings to measure the water, then fill the cup, put it on the counter and bend down so that your eyes are at the same horizontal level of the marking. You cannot judge the water while looking from above.

Measuring ingredients if often considered a sign of lack of skill by many - especially Indian cooks. Because baking is not all that common in India. Baking is a bit of science, not just art. You don't get to make any adjustments once it's in the oven. So get over it, and measure your ingredients :-)

3. What if the bread didn't rise a lot in the oven ?
First the oven has to be pre-heated before you start baking. Secondly this recipe will NOT produce a tall loaf. This is not sandwich bread. After rising, the dough is almost batter like and will spread over the cookie sheet. The looser it is, more it will spread. The bread will still be fine, will have nice big holes in the crumb. If you want you can try reducing the water by a teaspoon the next time. But remember, this is a no-knead recipe. The dough has to have enough hydration. So err on the side of more water, not less. The dough has to be very sticky, not dry.

Even if it looks flat on the cookie sheet, you will get a nice oven spring. The bread will be about a couple of inches tall, not more.

4. How to do more tweaking ?
You should start with the measurements in the original recipe, oven temperature and make only minor adjustments. A regular oven is better, but I have successfully used toaster oven as well. In any oven, you shouldn't need temperature over 450. Underbaking is rarely a problem for beginning bakers, most end up overbaking their bread, because it takes time to develop the visual judgment. Take out the bread from oven and tap it's bottom. If you hear hollow sound, then baking is done. It shouldn't take more than 25 minutes for this recipe.

Do not try to change the water temperature till you get more experience. Just use room temperature water.

The flour is naturally the most important ingredient and will have the most impact on taste and texture. Bread flour will obviously give the best result. All-purpose flour has lower gluten content and hence will result in slightly shorter loaf, but the bread will still be good. Indian Roti flour results have been just about OK, as it’s mostly from Durum wheat more suitable for pasta. Whole Wheat flour (generally of Red Winter Wheat) gives dense bread that I really like. You can use this same recipe idea for other flours as well, for example Rye bread. My favorite variation is by mixing some blue corn flour with whole wheat flour.

5. Don't give up.
There is nothing like a fresh baked homemade bread made by using just simple ingredients. It's healthy and tasty. If you need more advice, just ask me. I am passionate about bread, and will be more than happy to help you.

1 comment:

  1. I tried your recipe. Did not come out as beautiful as yours. Probably not patient enough, but will not give up. :)


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