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Jun 27, 2009 04:29 PM

bread bakers please: my grotesque "finger" loaves

This is a plea for help. All the loaves of bread I make (non non-knead variety) inevitably deflate and end up as flat, ovoid blobs instead of trim, tall, oblong loaves. Does this mean anything? Like am I not kneading enough, or too much flour, or.... please correct my ways. The taste is usually fine, maybe a little dense? But I don't know if that is the recipe, or just my bad skills. Please save me from a lifetime of "finger" sandwiches because quite literally, once sliced, the bread resembles fingers. NOT ATTRACTIVE!!!!

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  1. ConfusedCutlery,

    a little more information would be helpful. Could you give us a clue regarding the ingredient list for your bread? amount of liquid vs flour? Number of rises and length, along with what rising agent you are using? Are you baking freestyle or in a loaf pan? Even a reference to your bread recipe..... [someone will own whatever book you might be using.]

    1. My first guess would be over-rising but more info, like smtucker asked, would help. LOL, ConfusedCutlery. Would that be a spork?

      1 Reply
      1. re: chowser

        My first guess as well, but the hydration could be part of the issue as well or the wrong pan sizes, or or or......

      2. Things to consider:
        Type(s) of flour
        Amount and type of added fortification ingredients (if any)
        Yeast viability and amount used (including starter if any)
        Hydration (percentage ratio liquid to flour)
        Kneading duration
        Fermentation period
        Shaping technique
        Proofing period

        1. Wow, seriously, I knew I was a bad baker, but I did not know that I could be doing so MANY things wrong!!! oh dear. I thought it would be kind of simple like not enough kneading = ugly bread.

          Well, the latest loaf was the green onion yogurt bread from Baking Bites (i think). 3 cups of bread flour, 1/2 cup of yogurt, 1 1/4 water, yeast, 1 tsp of sugar, 2 tsp of salt, 1/2 cup of green onion. first rise = 1.5 hours second rise = 40 minutes (I think I let it go for an hour and a half though, does that matter?) I shaped into a log, as stated, made three slashes after the second rise. It looks as it should going into the oven, kind of, but spread out in the oven.

          Seriously, I feel defeated by the sheer number of possible failures that I committed.

          11 Replies
          1. re: aforkcalledspoon

            I suspect that the second rise is your primary issue. If the bread is "over-proofed" then there isn't enough "spring" left in the yeast to get it to rise more in the oven, and in fact, it can deflate.

            When shaping, try to get the dough to "tighten" so that the top of the bread feels taut. This does take practice, but I find it is easiest to make a round, and rotate it between the palm of both hands, making the dough move in a circular motion. Then you can easily manipulate the dough into a rectangular shape. Slash just before putting the bread into the oven.

            Good luck!

            1. re: aforkcalledspoon

              I am guessing that the main problem (though perhaps not the only problem!) is over-proofing: Your final rise (the "proof") was too long, and the gluten was over stretched beyond its ability and hence collapsed when slashed (or even when touched).

              This is a common rookie mistake, because people want their bread to be nice and big and don't realize that it will "rise" quite a bit once in the hot oven (called "oven spring").

              To assess the proof, gently poke the dough with your finger: Underproofed dough will bounce back aggressively without leaving much of an impression at all. Well-proofed dough will show some springiness and will leave a small indentation that slowly springs back over a number of seconds--it may not spring back entirely. Over-proofed dough will show very little resistance and leave a depression that does not spring back at all.

              There are some breads you intentionally underproof (like pizza) and even perhaps some that you overproof (I can't think of any though). But most should be well-proofed as described below.

              The timing of the proof is important because a dough with a lot of yeast in it can go from being under-proofed to over-proofed in as little as 10 minutes. In addition, the time is unpredictable because it depends on factors such as temperature, humidity, etc. Thus, you really have to judge it by feel as described above.

              When in doubt, it is better to under-proof rather than overproof. Under-proofed bread may be just a little heavier, but still quite fine. Over-proofed bread looks like a science experiment gone awry. The other thing you will find with underproofed breads is that they tend to "shell," meaning that the layers formed by rolling the loaf up to form it will separate out, and the loaf may even burst open the seam. Not the end of the world in any case!

              Another problem that can lead to flat loaves is insufficient tension formed during the shaping of the loaves--that just takes a bit of practice. That said, I am pretty sure that your main issue was over-proofing.

              1. re: zamorski

                Zamorski, that's a wonderful summary. Thanks.
                As for bread that is deliberately over proofed, Laurel Robertson's recipe for English muffins, as I recall, does just that.
                I would suggest that Aforkcalledaspoon would be happier by starting with a really simple loaf and get the feel of it before a foray into enriched doughs. Use anybody's basic bread recipe. Impart some tension in shaping the loaves, and don't overproof, as you suggest. Also, I think most people proof at too warm a temperature, so things happen too fast for them to respond to. Typical room temperature in our homes today is warm enough.

                1. re: Father Kitchen

                  oh I see. I did purposely leave it in the sunny patch on the counter because I thought it would "help". I had no idea about the tension idea behind shaping the loaves, so with all these pointers, I will embark on a humbler task. thanks again

                  1. re: aforkcalledspoon

                    Given that P = 1000(W), there are many videos on the web that show you how to shape various kinds of loaves. Most are pretty forgiving in the sense that amateurish shaping tends to lead to slightly homely, somewhat flatter loaves that still are still delicious and have a nice crumb. Keep in mind that the hardest thing to master in bread baking is the shaping of the loaves--it takes a good bit of practice to be able to turn out picture-perfect loaves every time. Happy baking!

                  2. re: Father Kitchen

                    Agreed, Father Kitchen--I hadn't thought about the warm proof issue, which can cause another problem: Proofing a large loaf (especially a boule) in a very warm spot can lead to the outer portion of the bread being overproofed and the inner portion being underproofed, because the outer portions get warmer than the inner portions, hence more yeast activity... End result is a heavy centre with sort of a collapsed top and sides...I wish I had kept a picture!

                    1. re: zamorski

                      oh the heavy center and collapsed top and sides sounds exactly like my problem! This is my first time baking in California, and had no issues in the frigid north where I used to live proofing my bread. I guess that is where I developed the habit of proofing in sunny corners.

                      1. re: aforkcalledspoon

                        or on top of refrigerators. In the winter, my bread is set to rise in a small closet on the second floor that has water pipes running behind the wall. It is the only place in the house that is warmer than 62ยบ. The plus is of course, the slow rise makes for a mighty tasty bread.

                2. re: aforkcalledspoon

                  I've never had that happen and I thought I had held the title as the "worst baker".
                  Perhaps its your recipe? check your yeast. I have had better luck with the yeast in a jar, which I keep in the fridge. The little packets, were hit and miss. I seem to get better rise, and can even let the rise go longer. Make sure your area is draft free where you let the bread rise. I like to put it in the oven with plastic covering it, then a towel.

                  1. re: chef chicklet

                    The yeast could have been a problem, or that it came in contact with the salt which theoretically could kill it, though I've never had a problem with that, but given that it did rise well, until the baking, it sounds like it might have been overproofing.

                    I've gotten busy and the dough over proofed. It's discouraging to see all the work go down the drain.

                    1. re: chef chicklet

                      Yeast *can* be a problem, though I have to say that I think it gets blamed to easily when things go wrong. Even if the yeast is out of date, it generally still works fine (though your rise may be a bit slower OR you may choose to add a bit more in).

                      One other cause of flat loaves to consider: If the dough is underkneaded the gluten will be too weak to support the gas in the loaf. In this case, the texture of the crumb is fairly distinctive: The air cells are more polygonal than round. If in doubt, it is generally better to overknead than underknead, at least as you start baking. Overkneaded bread can be a little chewy and the aroma and colour of the crumb may suffer a little, but it is still a respectable loaf.

                  2. When you shape the bread make sure that you make the surface taut by kind of pulling it down so there is a seam on the bottom. I can't find great pictures on line but this might help If you're kneading the dough by hand try kneading for another minute or two beyond what you feel is neccesary. I have never over worked dough by hand. If you use a mixer machine ignore this last step. If you what you read on this thread doesn't help borrow Reinhart's the Bread Bakers Apprentice, which is great in explaining ALL about baking bread.