I get a lot of questions from friends and family about bread baking, and lately there has been quite an uptick in questions. There must be some bread baking bug in the air? I hope so! Because bread baking is a really beautiful way to connect with food. There is something soul satisfying in partaking in a process that has been practiced around the world for thousands of years.
With the move toward mass food production bread baking is no longer a necessary part of life for many people; which is sad. There have been times where I have sat with a thick cut piece of toasted challah dripping with butter and honey and thought, ” So many people will never know the glory that toast can be.”
Along with losing the experience of great bread, we’ve lost the knowledge of great bread. The average person doesn’t know where to begin with yeast, flour, and water.
What should it look like? Did I do this right? Why did it deflate? It’s sticking! GAH! NOW IT’S FALLING APART!
Gone are the days of knowledgeable minds and skillful hands in everyday kitchens with children alongside of them covered in flour; learning skills they will pass on to their children.
I’m going to walk you through some common bread making mistakes and hopefully help get those interested out of their mediocre bread baking struggles and moved onto better bread.
And for those of you who have no interest: get interested. You may find a new love.
So let’s get into it…
Problem #1 ” My bread is too dense, did I knead it too long?”
You did not knead it too long.
This is something I hear all. The. Time. ” Did I knead it too long?”
Nope, you didn’t. People are afraid of over kneading, but really it is very difficult to over knead bread. It’s not like making pancake batter, biscuits or pie crust where you are trying to keep the gluten as relaxed as possible. With bread you want a strong network of gluten to help your bread hold it’s shape during baking and give the interior the strength it needs to hold in steam. Your bread dough can easily be left to turn in your kitchen aid with a dough hook for 30 minutes or longer without being over worked. If you are kneading by hand it is nearly impossible to over work it.
So take that idea and throw it out. It’s not happening.
The reason your bread is too dense is you are not kneading the dough enough, and you are adding too much flour.
I use to do this, and I’ve seen other people do it. They add flour until their dough comes together and isn’t sticky at all, then they begin kneading.
This is WRONG.
You need to leave the dough pretty sticky before you begin kneading, or mixing with a dough hook in a mixer. It will feel kind of wrong.
A good rule of thumb is to add flour until your dough looks like a very very thick batter and just pulls away from the sides of the bowl, but still pretty loose.
( These video clips were filmed in my home with my cell phone… where 6 children 10 and under live… so the quality is sub-par and there is noise in the background… and clutter. Alright then, moving on…)
Then knead the sticky mass for about 10-15 minutes until the dough starts to come together. You may need to add some extra flour- that’s okay, just add it a little at a time.
Your dough should look like this when it is ready for the first rise :
If you’re using a machine this is much easier because you can set a timer for 15 minutes and walk away, and not have worry about dealing with sticky dough all over your fingers.
At this stage drizzle a little oil over the dough and your hands, then turn the dough out into an oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap to let it rise.
If you are doing this by hand turn your wet sticky dough out onto a floured surface and using a bench scraper, scoop up the dough and smack it down hard onto the counter. Do this over and over, adding as little extra flour as possible. Do this until the dough comes together from gluten formation, NOT BECAUSE YOU’VE ADDED FLOUR.
Here is a video I made of my daughter a few years ago demonstrating this kneading technique. I decided to use it here because she is actually doing a really good job- and demonstrates perfectly how it should look.
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