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Sep 7, 2009 07:36 AM

How do I make rich, dense bread instead of "cotton candy" bread?

Hello Chowhounds!

I have gotten into bread making, and use my bread maker for it. I have tried to make a rich, dense bread, such as the ones that I get in some good restaurants, but it keeps turning out airy with no body. Like fluffy cotton candy bread.

Do you recommend using a particular flour, not using the bread maker, or anything else? What are your tips for this?

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  1. Try the no-knead bread (NKB) that's perennially discussed on CH - there's a thread going now. The Cooks Illustrated version is wonderful and is demonstrated on their America's Test Kitchen PBS show. That means the recipe is available on their website without joining. It yields a crusty, round loaf with a chewy interior that has random air pockets, just like the good stuff at restaurants and artisanal bakeries.

    Jacques Pepin's no-knead one-pot bread is also rich and dense but does not have the shatteringly crisp crust or the pockets:

    1. Basically don't let the bread rise as long. Rising creates the multitude of air bubbles which give you that light airy stuff you detest so much.

      Another factor could be the recipe you're using. Get one of the Bread Making Bibles out there and try different mixtures.

      2 Replies
      1. re: KiltedCook

        <Basically don't let the bread rise as long. >

        I have to disagree, since this advice is misleading if applied to a recipe for a wetter, longer, no-knead rise such as in the NKB and "Artisan in 5" loaves that have become extremely popular in the last few years.

        1. re: greygarious

          I'm with you. Too short a rise WILL avoid cotton candy bread, but it will also mean the bread will be dense and leaden. The common factor in getting large random bubbles and chewy crumb seems to be wet dough. So even using your current recipe, if you amp up the water, you'll see a difference. I think fat content (added butter, oil, even whole milk) tends to result in a more even, cottony crumb.

      2. Tracy, without knowing what is in your recipe, it is hard to know what the problem is. My guess is that you have a recipe that includes, besides flour and salt, milk or milk solids and some lipid like butter or oil. These extra ingredients soften the crumb, usually leading to smaller alveoli (holes) in it, so you get something like sandwich bread than the more rustic loaves that are in vogue in restaurants now. Try making a bread that is just salt, flour and water. After your bread machine mixes the dough, take the dough out and let it rise in the refrigerator. The long, slow rise will give enzymes time to bring out the best in the flour. Then return the dough to the baker. Since I haven't used a bread machine in years, I don't recall the practical details of baking dough that has been refrigerated in one. I presume you leave the dough out of the fridge for at least two hours. Check your appliance manual or the manufacturer's web site. Some Chowhounds may know what to do, too. And do check out the bread section at your library. There are books written specifically for making "artisan" or "rustic" loaveds in bread baking machines. Good luck and let us know how it turns out.

        1. Thanks so much to everyone for the advice! I will try the Cooks Illustrated version, as their recipes have been awesome for me in the past. I will post results.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Main Line Tracey

            If you want to mix with the bread maker, Rose Levy Berenbaum covers using the bread maker to make dough in the Bread Bible. It's very informative and I found it at the library. But, she said the heat is usually too high in bread makers to make a good loaf (the heat probably contributes to the airiness) and only mixes with it. The directions are fussy trying to time the mix cycles, and I find it easier to use the stand mixer. I do use the bread maker when I'm busy to make sandwich bread but I take it out as dough, roll it out and bake in the oven in a loaf pan. It's not rustic crusty bread but good for lunches.

          2. I felt the same way when I first got a bread machine 20+ years ago. Then I learned that I got all the convenience and far superior results by using the "dough" cycle and shaping and baking by hand. You can do that with any recipe.

            Then you want moisture in the oven. Jim Lahey's no-knead bread combines the ease of using a bread machine and the effectiveness of holding the moisture close to the dough by cooking in an enclosed pot. It's worth reading any of the various threads on it because the crust is incomparable and the crumb is also lovelly.

            But you can get similar results "faster" (we NEVER want to make bread dough fast; we just want to make it a convenient way) but using your "dough" cycle and borrowing his hot enclosed pot method. My personal preference for this is an Emile Henry Flame tagine. The base is wide and shallow enough that you can easily load in the dough and have time to slash. And the dome is high enough to get maximum, unrestricted oven spring. Personally, I find the crumb and the crust comparable to no-knead and a much more attractive, less random finished loaf.