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Making bread tougher

After getting laid off a year ago I started making my own bread to save money and because I'm home all day so I can let it rise, punch it down, etc. I love simple peasant breads (tuscan and similar kinds) and I make a basic bread. Per loaf: 450g of bread flour, 1 tsp of yeast, 2 tbsp oil, 1.5 tsp salt, and water.

(I also sometimes make multigrain and specialty breads but that's not relevant)

This makes a basic white bread which smells and tastes great and is good for dipping, eating plain, and toasting and using for bruschetta's, etc.

My wife loves it but I'm not happy with its strength and chewiness. It falls apart too easily when I spread something stiff like peanut butter on it and it's not as tough and chewy as the peasant breads we get at bakeries.

I've tried adding extra gluten (Hogdson Mill Vital Wheat Gluten) and this does make it stronger so it accepts stiff spreads like peanut butter and cream cheese, but oddly it also makes it softer - closer to Wonder Bread. (yecch!)

How do I make my bread tough and strong?

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Have you tried increasing the time you kneed the bread? That should develop more gluten. Do you use a stone in your oven? That helps maintain even heat when you open the oven. It is hard to get the same crust at home that commercial bakers with v hot ovens get.

    3 Replies
    1. re: corneygirl

      It's not the crust; it's the inside that I want tougher. I'm pretty strong and I currently knead for about 20 minutes by which time it's very stretchy and elastic and a bit puffy and has lost all its stickiness and makes gluten "windows" . I currently knead it; let it rise, punch it down and knead it again, let it rise again and bake that. I've tried 3 kneadings/3 risings but that didn't make any difference.

      1. re: plnelson

        I saw a similar question on yahoo answers:


        Basically, the answer recommended trying a drier dough. I think that would be hard to do if you're kneading by hand, but if you have a mixer, it might work.

        1. re: jvanderh

          have you tried any of the recipes for italian country breads that have a wet dough and are made with a starter? Most of the chewier breads, that have long keeping quality, are of this type.

    2. Are you using hard (winter) wheat flour or all-purpose? If you're happy with everything else, having a hard wheat with a high protein content might make the difference.

      1. Your formula is a bit vague. ("Per loaf: 450g of bread flour, 1 tsp of yeast, 2 tbsp oil, 1.5 tsp salt, and water.") Salt looks to be about 9 grams and yeast about 3 - 4 grams so they're within the range of a standard peasant bread formula. What's the protein content of your flour? Packages labeled "bread flour" aren't always the well suited for anything but quick breads. "Water" is a critical ingredient and without the percentage of water relative to the flour (hydration percentage) it's difficult to speculate on how that ingredient affected your outcome. If you reduce the oil by 50% (or more) you will get a heavier loaf.

        1. You might try experimenting with different flours.

          1. Have you tried spring water? It is my understanding that chlorine and other chemicals in municipal water can impede the activity of the yeast.

            1 Reply
            1. re: greygarious

              That's a genuine risk, but the original poster isn't saying that he can't get his bread to rise. If his bread is rising he's got a viable yeast community regardless of whether or not the water he uses is chlorinated.

            2. I agree that flour might be a factor. But with that formula, you should get a good bread with Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour (except in the south), wo you don't need a super high gluten flour. However, a major factor in getting good breads is giving the enzymes enough time to reconstruct the molecules. If you leave the bread to rise in a very warm place, so that it rises like gangbusters, the enzyme activity will be limited. So let it rise at room temperature. Also, it helps to give the dough an autolyse stage of betwen 20 minutes and an hour, to hydrate and activate enzymes before adding the salt and the yeast. A pre-ferment like a poolish or biga can make a huge difference. And if you don't want to go that route, try retarding the dough overnight in the refrigerator. Also, you don't have to knead it that much. Take a look at Hammelman's book "Bread" and consider kneading less and folding the dough more. Finally, things like milk and oil soften the crumb. If you want a really chewy crumb, try leaving the oil out entirely. But make sure you have a long ferment at a lower temperature.

              1. Concur with the long fermentation, low-yeast approach. Standard no-knead bread, a huge favorite around CH, uses this technique (1/4 tsp yeast to 3 c flour), and also calls for baking the bread inside a covered pot, which allows the crust to get well-developed and very crisp-chewy, peasant-style.

                6 Replies
                1. re: the_MU

                  WOW! Thanks for all the responses!! I'll try to bundle my replies in one message to avoid clutter -

                  I'm sorry about the vague ingredients - I wasn't trying to take up a lot of space detailing the recipe, just give an idea of the sort of bread I'm making.

                  In general I think this is a "good" bread- my wife loves it and I've received compliments on it from people whose breadmaking I respect - I'm the only one who's dissatisfied because it's definitely not as tough and chewy as as the bakery-made peasant breads.

                  I'm using commercial bread flour - Gold Medal or Pillsbury.

                  I think the person who suggested slower room-temperature rising is on to something. I let it rise in an enclosed ex-microwave oven with a pitcher of hot water - a warm moist environment. The first rising takes 2.5 hours, the second about 1.5 hours. I do this because I keep my house at 64 degrees in the winter which I think would be too cold for bread to rise (is this wrong?) . I'll try creating a 70-75 degree place for it to rise - maybe use a pitcher of LUKEwarm water - that should slow it down.

                  By coincidence someone just emailed me the NY Times recipe for no-knead bread - I don't know if I have the patience for a 24-hour rising but I'll try something like that - less yeast, longer time. (BTW does that change the flavour or smell? Yeast is one thing that gives bread its characteristic smell and taste. This is a GREAT cheap hobby for an unemployed person like me - rich in time not so much in money.

                  Thanks again!

                  1. re: plnelson

                    64˚ is NOT too cool for rising. You would get a very slow rise which is how you develop tastier bread. Or you could simply use that microwave without the water. I actually use my microwave as a proofing box to keep the dough protected from my dogs.

                    I would skip the Gold Medal or Pillsbury and look for winter wheat or hard wheat flour. King Arthur makes it. Bob's Red Mill makes it. Whole Foods sells it from the bulk bins (which makes it cheaper than their packaged goods). Health food stores carry it.

                    Finally, you should try the no knead method. It does change the flavor but it makes it better by giving the yeast colony a lot of opportunity to convert the starch into the sugars and alcohols that provide bread's most complex flavors. You will get less of the assertive flavor of commercial yeast and more of the rich and mellow flavors of the bi-products.

                    As for the impatience issue, it would only be a problem for your first loaf. After that you just begin your mixing a day before you want the finished bread. And you can even shorten that by reserving a handful of dough each time you make a batch. Keep that refrigerated and use it as a pre-ferment (it's called "old dough") for your next loaf. You'll be adding the complex flavor up front and staring out with extra leavening.

                    Besides being a cheap and productive hobby it's a very satisfying thing to make a great loaf of bread.

                    1. re: rainey

                      I seem to be the odd man out on flour. I use "bread flour" only when I offset other ingredients that have a low gluten content. I have read, and have confirmed by experience, that you get better flavor with the softest flour that will do the job. Independent tests have compared flour varieties. See www.theartisan.net/flour_test.htm. I get very chewy artisan bread using only unbleached all-purpose flour. Favorite brands for that include Gold Medal, Dakota Maid, and Hawaii. And, yes, 64 degrees is not too cold, but it will take about twice as long as 75. Though yeasted dough can rise in the refrigerator, I wouldn't suggest letting it rise much cooler than 64. The internal temperature, I've read, should be at least 62 before baking. So if you retard dough, you have to let it warm up at room temperature.

                    2. re: plnelson

                      You didn't mention how much water you use, and that really makes a difference in texture. I'd suggest you aim for a medium-soft to soft dough--which means normally anything from a 67% to 75% hydration. What is that all about? Weigh the ingredients. 67% hydration would be 2 parts water to 3 parts flour. 75% would be 3 parts water to 4 parts flour. Or if you want a medium dough, generally 62% hydration works out, or 5 parts water to 8 parts of flour. Remember those fractions and you won't need constantly to consult recipes: 5/8, 2/3, and 3/4. The no knead breads work well at 3/4.

                      1. re: Father Kitchen

                        I have experimented with the no-knead NYT recipe. When I use MORE water, not less as advised above, the bread is chewier and holds up to peanut butter better. So this recipe (3c flour, 1/4 t yeast, 1 1/4 t salt and 1 5/8c water) is chewier than this recipe (3c flour, 1/4t yeast, 1 1/4t salt and 1 1/2c water).

                        1. re: runwestierun

                          You'll get more reliable results if you weigh the ingredients, since flour measured by volume can vary tremendously in density. Rose Levy Beranbaum tweaked the Jim Lahey recipe popularized by Bittman in the NY Times. She found that a hydration rate of 75% gave best results. That would work out to 16 ounces of flour, 12 ounces of water plus the yeast and salt (which are probably easier to measure by volume unless you have a very accurate scale for small quantities). Salt quantities can vary according to taste, within limits. I use 1 1/2 teaspoons of table salt or fine sea salt. And I used unbleached all purpose flour--generally Gold Medal.

                  2. I'm not a fan of white breads that are tender and soft, or doughy. I almost want my bread day old. I've been making breads lately and the one that I and my husband just love the most is the French bread. There is no oil, fats, eggs or milk in it. It's water, yeast, flour and salt. Pretty basic.
                    Perhaps if you cut the oil down? I used that wheat gluten for rye bread also, if anything that helps with the springiness of the bread, I don't know that it will toughen it.

                    1. Have you tried using bread flour mixed with high gluten flour? I'm a baker and it's what I use; my bread comes out really well with this combination. It's more expensive but it really is worth the extra money. Also, I use shortening instead of oil

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Cherylptw

                        Got a brand you use or is it only available to professional bakers and in 20 lb bags?
                        I've added the gluten, are you saying that it's better than adding that?

                        1. re: chef chicklet

                          We order 25 pound bags of both Gold Medal bread flour and High Gluten flour from Sysco...I use a ratio of two thirds bread flour to one third high gluten flour. If there is a supplier near you, they may allow retail customers to buy from them and they may have smaller amounts like 10 pound bags; we order the larger sizes as I make all the bread for the restaurant including dinner rolls, sandwich bread and hamburger/hot dog rolls. I've never added plain gluten to my flour so all I know is that what I use works.

                          1. re: Cherylptw

                            Oh darn, that is a little more flour than I want to purchase at a time. I just wouldn't use it all fast enough. I wonder why they don't make this for homebakers, oh well.
                            thanks it was well worth asking you!

                            1. re: chef chicklet

                              I don't know either why they don't make the flour in like 10-15 pound bags, so I just order from work but I take mine and break it down into very large zip top bags (about 5 lbs per bag) and put it in my freezer.

                              If you have a freezer and can find the flour, it really is worth buying because as long as it's frozen it's not going to go bad. I still have about 10 pounds from last year in my freezer.

                              1. re: Cherylptw

                                Yes I have two fridges, just need to use what I have to make more room.
                                I know putting flour in the freezer really is a good idea to extend the life and keep out the critters. Me too, I have flours and grains and nuts in mine. AP flour never makes it to the freezer. You have me thinking, I will look. Thanks!

                      2. Two factors that are needed to make good chewy peasant style bread with large holes. First is to have a wetter dough and second is not to knead it too much. A dry dough requires a lot of kneading to distribute the yeast into the flour that will yield a loaf with fine crumb, similar to a good sandwich loaf. That is what you are currently producing. A wet dough will not require much kneading to distribute the yeast into the flour. Just a few folds OR a little gentle kneading. Also skip the second kneading. Proof the yeast with a little warm water. Mix the flour (unbleached all-purpose or bread flour) with the proof yield, salt and the rest of the warm water. Give the wet dough a few folds or very light kneading. Let it rise at room temperature. Your 2 1/2 hour should be enough. Punch it down. Let it rest covered for a few minutes. Shape the dough and give it a second rise. Bake on a stone if you want to good crust.
                        Drier dough and good amount of kneading for fine crumb sandwich loaf: 1 pound (454 g) all purpose flour, 1 cup warm water, 1 1/2 tablespoon oil, 1/2 tablespoon salt.
                        Wetter dough with very little kneading for a chewy peasant style loaf. 1 pound unbleached all purpose flour to 1 1/4 cup water, 1 1/2 tablespoon oil, 1/2 tablespoon salt
                        For both types of bread, I don't do a second kneading at all.

                        1. Increasing the gluten is starting on the right track.

                          Doing it my more mixing may not be, especially if you're doing it with a mixer and dough hook.

                          On a kitchen aid mixer, about 5 minutes on 6-7 is MORE than enough.

                          Then, develope the rest of the gluten in the bulk fermentation process!!! This way you get gluten and less chance of oxidizing the dough.

                          I'm so happy to see you measuring your bread in grams. I'm hoping all the other steps involve weight and not volume.

                          Try this: hit the book store...look for the book: BREAD by Jeffrey Hamelman.

                          Then...let's talk some more!

                          Adagio Bakery & Cafe