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homemade bread (third time's a charm...almost) I need pointers

  • c

Procrastination in college leads one to do daring things. Like trying to make bread. Yes, most of my cooking consists of tv dinners and ramen so it's no surprise that I lacked
a) measuring cup
b) loaf pan
c) yeast (midnight run to 24 hour grocery store solve this problem)

The first try I used the recipe to a T, but I proofed it in too short of a time so it was quite dense. The second time proved that proofing in a warming oven cooks the bread AND adding too much flour is a bad bad thing. We had fun paperweights (I kid, it just was not fully cooked inside).
Finally the third time, I mixed my water, sugar and yeast in the right portions, let it bubble for a couple of minutes, mixed in some milk and oil, and then added flour TO THE liquid. It was a lot messier but I finally got the consistency right. The dough was wonderfully soft and sticky so even if I did knead it for the requisite 10 minutes, it didn't get the stretchy sheen from previous attempts. It rose and proofed twice and baked into this beautiful crust, cut beautifully revealing the nice texture you see in the bakeries, but once we tasted it (yummy hot!) We noticed one thing...it tasted like flour.

Okay I can't describe it. It had no taste. Is this normal for bread? What can I do to add flavor? When I baked the previous two tries, everything didn't work except the taste (it tasted like bread). I added less salt than usual...does this make a difference?

Baking bread is complicated and the recipes I've been looking for online doesn't answer the stupid questions I'm prone to ask. I hope you guys can help!

Oven temp: 350 F

//on a side note, I made delicious salmon chowder that even my neighbors begged for. Perhaps there is still hope!

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  1. Yes, salt will make a difference. I have a baguette recipe that calls for a lot of salt (~2tbsps.) and it makes a huge flavor difference.

    1. i'd skip the milk, make sure you have good olive oil, and add salt! you also might not have kneaded it for long enough.

      1. Third vote for salt here. I was once in a Jewish bakery in Manhattan and heard the proprietor telling a customer "salt = flavor." You can put in too much though, so be careful.

        I make all my own bread, and believe me, it took a while before I had it down to the point where I liked what I made everytime. Even now, if I leave it a bit too long in the oven, I just turn it into croutons (a very good way to use hard overcooked bread).

        My advice is to use milk instead of water. Don't be afraid to add either more liquid or more flour until you get the right consistency - dough you can kneed but that won't stick to your hands.

        It's another thing to buy, but I really noticed the difference between using crisco and using vegetable oil.

        If you are looking for added flavor, don't be afraid to add spices or whatever you like right into the flour. I always put ground sage and rosemary in mine. I've put Cayenne, oregano, sauteed onions and tons of other stuff in there also. Sage is the best though, in my opinion.

        Don't be afraid to let it rise for a really, really long time, either. You don't want it to get a crust on top, but I will often leave mine to rise overnight in the refrigerator. This also helps to improve flavor.

        If all else fails, try putting some melted butter in there. How could that hurt?

        4 Replies
        1. re: bigskulls

          Adding spices is a good idea, though one of the obvious ones (cinnamon) retards yeast production, so this is one where it's better to make a swirl instead of mixing it in. You could also use honey or molasses instead of sugar with the yeast. Or experiment with different flours.

          And if you just want the good bread flavor, I agree with a bit more salt, but also, if it raises too quickly, it won't be as flavorful. On that note, i find if my house is too cold for it to raise well, I either put it on my stovetop and turn on the light in the hood of the stove, or IN the stove with only the light inside the stove on. If I need to really hurry it up, I put it on top of the range while the oven is on-- that's plenty of heat.

          1. re: Jess

            "if it raises too quickly, it won't be as flavorful"

            Extremely good point! Sometimes in the summer (hot and humid Washington D.C.), I have a hard time finding a place to slow down the rising.

            To speed it up, a sunny south-facing window in winter can do it, too.

            1. re: bacchante
              c
              Caitlin McGrath

              One way to do this is to stick in the fridge for the day (or overnight) for the first rise, then let it come to room temperature and shape. Makes a long, very slow rise and more developed flavor.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                If only I could plan that far in advance. We frequently go without when I forget to start the night before anyway.

                I typically make a biga of about 20% of the flour and yeast the night before I'm going to bake and do the first and second rises, with all ingredients, the day of. I try to find a location where the first rise is a minimum of 2 hours.

                The second, already shaped, I let go a bit faster. But, damn I hate it when it goes to far and deflates when I slash the top or when I jerk it off the peel into the oven.

                Do you find a great difference in yeast? What I'm using now seems to cause more rapid rising than what I was using before and so the first few loaves raised way too fast. It wasn't because it was a new bag, because it's still doing that after being open (airtight container in fridge) for several months. Unfortunately, I don't recall which brand I'm using now or before. Guess I need to keep better notes on what yeast I'm using.

        2. I suggest you take a look at the thread below started by BettyBotox, who asked about baking bread. It contains a lot of suggestions.

          My other suggestion is that you get a good book on bread making (several are suggested in the thread, and there are others). Read through the background information before trying recipes. After each try, go back to the background information and read it again to try and troubleshoot.

          Sometimes baking bread is difficult for those of us who simply tend to throw things together on instinct. No measuring, no standard list of ingredients or even methods. In the beginning, baking bread is the exact opposite. To get the hang of it, it helps to keep very precise notes (as if for a lab course if you were a science major) and change only one thing at a time. At some point, you will be able to do it by instinct.

          Keep at it. It does take a while to get a feel for it. I worked for a year to get to where I can turn out a beautiful, crusty saltless Tuscan bread every time.

          2 Replies
          1. re: bacchante
            c
            collegenewbie

            Bacchante, I didn't bother with the thread because it asked if baking bread was hard. And looking at it again I do see some tips there.

            Thank you guys for your tips.
            Will try to control salt content (grr this seems to be the biggest variable for me),
            add some butter/crisco,
            knead it a little more
            and use a better milk/water ratio.

            THANKS!!!

            /will try next week. It's too humid right now.

            1. re: collegenewbie

              Sounds like you're off to a good bread-making start and have gotten some good responses already. There was a period during my grad school years when my roommate and I were going through a manic bread-making phase, churning out 2-3 loaves per week. To procrastinate, relax...ultimately enjoy homemade bread. My then-boyfriend, now-husband even cultivated some yeast for us in his lab :-)

              Sounds like you get the point, but I will reiterate that salt (and sometimes sugar) is key for flavor. Patience is also key. Give plenty of time for double proofing, and while it's tempting to slice hot from the oven, wait for it to cool down a bit. Like meat, I've found that bread needs to rest for optimal flavor and texture.

              Start experimenting w/ dif. flavor profiles by altering the liquid, flour, and mix-ins. Since bread-making is somewhat a science, you do have to be cognizant of chemical interactions, but never hurts to experiment. My favorites were buttermilk herb and walnut wheat. Once made a chocolate cherry bread that was divine. Assume you know about "The Bread Bible," but "Baking w/ Julia" also has some interesting and detailed bread recipes.

              Good luck and thanks for inspiring me to get back into this gratifying labor of love.