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I made bread for the first time...and it did not go well. LONG

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When do I make my first attempt at yeast bread making? When we're suffering through a heat wave of course! I was in the cooking mood and didn't have much in the house and didn't want to venture out. I had bread, yeast, flour and water so bread it was!

I made two different recipes for baguettes this weekend and they did not turn out well. I made Nick Malgieri's Baguette from How to Bake and Mark Bittman's Easiest and Best French Bread from How to Cook Everything. The recipes were similar regarding ingredients but the prep time varied.

I started with Malgieri's which requires at least one overnight rise (in the refrigerator) and then another depending on when you start. I wanted my baguette NOW so I turned to Bittman's and figured I could compare the two. I also varied how I mixed the dough - Malgieri's went in the stand-up mixer with a dough hook and Bittman's in the food processor. Regardless they both turned out the same. Very hard crust and an almost damp, chewy, not airy and not very tasty inside.

I'm thinking my main problem was they didn't rise enough. It was hard to tell if it had doubled in size during the rises and I was impatient. Malgieri's recipe had an extremely long rise time (at least to me) so I figured I was pretty safe in cooking it when I did - but it did it's rising in the refrigerator – maybe it would have done better on the counter?

I'd like to try again but I'm wondering if anyone can give me any "foolproof" tips or methods. I don't want to be discouraged because I'd love to be able to make my own bread. I wonder if I was aiming to high with baguettes - maybe that takes practice and I should have tried a basic white bread first? Did this kind of thing happen with anyone else's first loaf of homemade bread?

Thanks in advance!

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  1. I always use the trick my grandmother have shown to me years ago. To see if the yeast dough has risen to its fullest extent, poke it with your finger gently, leaving a small dent, and if the imprint does not disappear after 2-3-5 minutes at most, then it has finished rising and you should proceed to the next step. The only problem is - you have to poke often enough, so as not to miss the right moment.

    1 Reply
    1. re: summertime

      i just learned this technique while reading the new laurel's cookbook! a friend recommended it to me for its superb explanations, and the directions for breadmaking are great. she offers up the tip mentioned above (poking the dough to see if it's done rising) as well as the "window paning" technique i've seen elsewhere. if you can, read that book's description of breadmaking. it's easy to understand and informative.

    2. I think that a common mistake made by fledgling bread bakers is adding the exact amount of flour that the recipe calls for. It may take a few practice tries before you get an idea of how the dough should feel, but different flours absorb different amounts of water, and if you add too much flour the bread will turn out dry and hard. I add the first two or three cups of flour one cup at a time, but after that I add smaller and smaller amounts until the dough is clinging together and starts to look shiny. It is generally better to add too little flour than too much (although once you know what you're doing, you can add a bit more liquid to compensate). After kneading in the standing mixer (my preferred method), I scrape the dough out into an oiled bowl for rising. After the rising is when I scrape the dough onto a board with just a little flour and knead by hand. The dough should be soft and pliable but not too sticky (although you really can't avoid getting some of it stuck to your hands).

      I was just telling Hungry Celeste that I baked my first loaf of bread following the directions and pictures in Fanny Farmer, and it came out perfect. It's not a bad idea to start out with a very simple white loaf, to familiarize yourself with the look, feel and smell of the dough. Once you start learning its nature, you can start branching out to more complex variations.

      1. Baguettes are tough- definitely not the place to start.

        The best breads I've made have been hand kneaded. I'm bummed about that because I envisioned piles of easy homemade bread when I got my stand mixer, and it hasn't turned out an excellent loaf yet.

        If your house isn't air-conditioned, I'd also bet that the humidity had an impact on it.

        Try a simple white bread recipe. I do my rising either in the microwave (not turned on, just using the small enclosed space) or in the oven, after I've warmed it up just a bit. I can't imagine you'd get a good rise out of the refrigerator- the yeast has to be warm to do its business.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Chris VR

          There is a whole category of the cold-rise yeast dough - supposedly the slow rise at low temperatures allows for more developed flavor.

          It is a fairly popular technique.

          1. re: summertime

            Shows what I know. I think if someone's just starting out with bread baking, it's best to try it the traditional way first.

            1. re: Chris VR

              I agree - start simple. Baguette does not strike me as my choice for the first bread to make either.

        2. Baguettes are really tough. I've been doing sandwich/toast loaves for several years now on a weekly basis, and I don't think I could do a baguette the right way... (but, on a different day, who knows, maybe you would have aced it the first time!).

          Anyway, if you really want to make bread, start with a simple white loaf. I used the white bread recipe from the Joy of Cooking. Another poster mentioned how you have to vary the amount of flour so that you get a proper dough consistency - this is very important. You want to add just enough flour so that the dough isn't sticky in your hands, but not so much that it doesn't hang together really easily.

          And whatever you do, stop rising it in the refrigerator! That is the key to a very, very slow rise, maybe several days worth. I do that when I've mixed dough and am going away for the the night so that it doesn't blow up.... People say it adds flavor, but if you're in a hurry, its not the way to go at all. In this weather (90s plus in NYC) your dough should rise very quickly.

          Bread baking is not that hard. I've got two little kids, and I make it on a weekly basis. They complain when I don't have it ready for breakfast every morning. A Kitchenaid helps dramatically. Julie Child says you can mix the dough in a Cuisinart using the plastic blade, so I'm sure you can, but I use the Kitchinaid and it really saves a lot of work. I kneed it by hand twice, once after mixing and once after rising, and I get tons of great bread.

          Watch out for those non stick bread pans. Mine started to come off on my bread.....

          3 Replies
          1. re: bigskulls

            I agree with your approach and I usually make bread for sandwiches. I am used to the total hand made approach but have been intrigued by Bittman's praise of the food processor and using the Kitchen-aid. Also, Bittmans preference for sticky dough rather than the classical " smoothe not sticky" I also agree with. If you knead by hand, what do you use the Kitchen-aid for? The initial mixing is the easy part. I am not critical just a little confused.

            1. re: Karl

              I use the kitchenaid to mix the flour, water, etc (I use eggs and soaked bulgur wheat as well). Mixing all that into dough is just more than I really want to do (I'm too lazy to wash dishes by hand also. It's the dishwasher or nothing.) After I mix it, I let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes, then kneed by hand. I don't doubt mixing by hand would be better, I guess I'm just too lazy. I really started making bread alot when I got my kitchenaid because it takes so much less time and effort.

              1. re: bigskulls

                I doubt that you will ever get a good baguette or approach the correct crust and texture if you add eggs.

          2. After all the good advice you've received so far, I'll throw my 2 cents in. I have baked bread, but I'm no expert.

            First, I always proof the yeast altho some recipes suggesting the use of rapid-rise yeast indicate that the yeast should be mixed with the dry ingredients. Being the skeptic that I am, I want to see the foamy yeast. I've used yeast that was 4 years past the expiration date with good bread baking results.

            Second, I prepare a sponge (biga) the night before baking and allow it to work at room temperature. The final dough is mixed the next morning. I have never tried the refrigerator rise. It doesn't make sense to me since one needs to use warm water for the yeast to work. I have seen books that advise the cold rise, but that's not for me. Contact a commercial bakery and ask if the bread that is produced is baked from dough that went thru a cold rise.

            Third, the only mixing tools that I use for preparing the dough are a large mixing bowl, a fork and my hands.
            Add the flour to the biga a little at a time and mix the flour in. Once I am unable to mix with the fork, I use my left hand to mix and my right hand to turn the bowl.

            Fourth, the amount of water is important. I like to bake ciabatta loaves and/or rolls. It's a messy dough, but produces light and airy loaves.

            I use a mixture of bread and all-purpose flours. Do as the other respondents advise...start with a simpler dough recipe. Learn what the correct feel of the dough is by producing good loaves.

            "Distinguere pane dai sassi" (To know the difference between bread and rocks) from Carol Field's book, The Italian Baker.

            Buona fortuna!