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my first attempt at bread was a disaster. What went wrong?

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Well I got to use my new mixer yesterday (which worked beautifuly by the way) I made a olive oil bread using a reciepe from the Itallian Baker by Carol Field. My boyfriend and I followed the recipe to a tee...actually the bowl in wich we set the dough for it's first rise was not lightly oiled it was liberally oiled (I think this was our mistake, I think it may have incorporated too much olive oil in the dough)

The dough did rise impressivley for the first time, it was the second rise where we started to see signs of a problem. You are supposed to divide the dough into 7 pieces and make balls about the size of a lime
and arrange them in a circle about an inch and a half apart from each other (the resulting bread was supposed to be a wreath of pull apart buns)and let rise for a second time under cling wrap.

Well I wouldn't say they rose. They did spread out but I think that was just the force of gravity working, not the yeast. We let them "rise" (sit) for the second time for an hour and a half just like the book said, then baked them on a parchment lined cookie sheet in a preheated 400 degree oven. The boyfriend was still holding out hope at this stage thinking they may rise once in the oven, but no go. We ended up with what looked like biscuts, only very bad biscuts.

We were so bummed, but we are both determind to keep at it. I chose The Italian Baker because I had heard it was a good book for beginers, so this failure really made us feel pretty badly.

So finally if any of you can offer any insight on:

What you think went wrong

A good beginers recipe for bread (we prefer the rustic type loaves but we won't be picky at this point)

Any good bread baking books

Thanks as Always, Kristine

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  1. Sounds like it may have been the excess of oil, which can make for a dense, heavy loaf. Keep trying though! I'm sure you'll master it next time.

    1. I would suspect you had a yeast problem. What kind of yeast did you use (active, instant) and how did you activate it? Was the water the correct temperature (105-115)? Also, because humidity effects how much flour a dough may take on a particular day, you can't just go by the amount stated in the recipe. The dough has to have a particular "feel" when you knead it.

      1. I've never made olive-oil bread (not a huge fan) so I can't tell you if you had too much oil in there. Some things that will kill your rise:

        1. Old yeast. Yeast do die, you should keep them fresh.

        2. Mixing salt with powdered yeast. Most yeast doesn't need to be "bloomed" these days -- active dry yeast can be mixed right in with the flour, but if you mix the salt in there too you'll kill a lot of the yeast. Mix the flour and yeast, THEN add salt.

        3. Temperature -- what was the temperature in your house? Yeast die at 110° and they are exothermic, meaning they give off heat. If it was 85° or hotter in your kitchen it's too hot for yeast. You can rise in the fridge (it takes overnight to rise).

        I suggest a copy of the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. It is an incredibly long book with recipes that take a long time, and it's the most anal-retentive recipes I've ever seen, but if you follow her directions exactly, you cannot fail. After you make bread a few times, you'll learn what looks right and what doesn't look right and you can depart from her guidance a little bit.

        1. Since your dough rose well in the oiled bowl, I think your yeast was ok. What exactly did you do after the first rising?

          Did you knead the dough back to a firmer consistency? If not, it may be that it "over rose" the first time, with the air bubbles getting so big that they broke a lot of the gluten strands that you built up in the first kneading. If you didn't re-knead it, no new gluten strands formed to hold the bubbles for the second rise. If this is what happened, next time, don't let it rise so long. If your house is warm or your yeast particularly active, it may take less time than the recipe says.

          Did you place the 7 little balls on a cookie sheet? Where did you set the cookie sheet? I can imagine that a metal cookie sheet on, say, a granite counter top might be too cool in an air-conditioned house to get much of a rise.

          It sounds like you got most of the way there. Now you know that there needs to be a visible rise the second time-- if you're not seeing one, ignore the time in the recipe. If you think your problem might have been that it was too cool, set them somewhere with a light close by -- I set dough on my stove top and turn on the hood light. It's a small difference, but it works.

          Good luck! Now that you're familiar with the recipe, I might try the same one again, to see what happens.

          1. One thing to keep in mind is that "following instructions to a T" doesn't work quite as well with bread as with things like cakes, which are generally more along the lines of "science" than "art." I wonder if you're dough might have been a little wetter (slacker, looser) than it was intended to be? With the bowl to support it, it might not have been much of an issue the first time around, but more so when it was unsupported on the sheet. Too much oil might have affected the final texture, but I don't think it's likely to have kept the dough from rising per se.

            Since it rose once, I agree it probably wasn't the yeast. Yeast is alive and grows geometrically, so if it worked the first time, it should have worked on the second rise unless something was different. Did you have it in a spot as warm as for the first rise? Was it covered to keep the surface from drying out? If you let it rise for much too long the first time, it's possible the yeast used up too much of the readily available carbs for a good second rise, but you would have to have let it go for a very long time.

            Bread baking basically comes down to practice, so keep at it. Pay close attention to the condition and behavior of the dough and if you need to, take notes. Eventually you'll come to realize when you need a little more or less water, how the temps in different parts of your kitchen or home affect rise times, etc., etc.