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What happened to my bread dough?

Ugh, I make bread and rolls all the time and tried a new recipe today. It seemed a little low in hydration (1 c milk to 4 c bread flour, 1 egg 1/4 c butter) but not unreasonably low. When I mixed all the ingredients together, it immediately toughened up. Kneading helped somewhat but it was still like hard play dough. I let it sit to see if that would relax the dough and, again, it helped a little, but it was still tough. I tried gently adding liquid but it didn't absorb into the dough well even after letting it sit. So, after far too much kneading, I never got it to the window pane level, just started to tear as it stretched. It's sitting right now but I'm not sure if I should bother baking it. I've never had this happen before. It isn't like I overkneaded it because it was tough from the get go.

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  1. Hmmm. Interesting. Yep, it's probably too late to add hydration....but if I had that dough, I'd pull off little chunks and roll them into grissini. Worth a try?

    1. I would try chopping it into large rough cubes and adding milk and tossing to coat, then letting it rest overnight in the fridge and trying agin from that point. I think the long rest with the liquid will help it absorb and soften. If it hasn't eased up by morning, then I'd consider tossing it out.

      1. Thanks for the feedback--they rose so I went ahead and baked them. They were fine, a little on the chewy side but light enough. I still don't understand what could have made them contract so quickly and toughen.

        14 Replies
        1. re: chowser

          What kind of yeast? It's a pretty low hydration dough with fat. I wonder if the fat didn't allow more absorption of the additional liquid. Some yeasts don't do well with high fat doughs, but you said the dough rose, so maybe that's not it. The tearing at the windowpane test leads me to believe that the dough was too dry and couldn't/didn't relax. Curious.

          Hope we can find out what the issue is. I'm dying to know. Do you read Fresh Loaf? Maybe post this over there as well.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            It was instant yeast. The recipe called for cake, but I've substituted in other recipes w/ no problems. I wonder if the fat had something to do w/ it. I've used butter in rolls before, too, and often more than just 4 tbsps. This is my first recipe from this book but there didn't seem to be anything unusual in it that would make it seize up like it did, immediately. It looked wrong from the beginning.

            Your description is exactly what it felt like--the dough being too dry and couldn't relax. It helped to autolyse it, somewhat, but not enough. I've looked online to see if there was anything about tough dough but haven't found anything that sounds like it. Weird.

            1. re: chowser

              What book? You didn't mention sugar, but was this a sweet dough?

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                It was a cheap book I picked up about breads around the world. The pictures looked great and it was like $3.99. It had a tsp of sugar which is also an unusual amount.

                I've been thinking about this and why it did that. I didn't test the temperature of the lukewarm milk and think that might have done it. I usually touch it to make sure it's not too warm. So, maybe it was too warm, the flour sucked it up (for lack of a better description) and made it immediately dry? It wasn't warm enough to kill the yeast, though.

                1. re: chowser

                  I don't know. That's not a sweet dough. The sugar was there to get the yeast going, not really necessary. Different brand of bread flour from what you normally use? Just so weird! Did you weight the ingredients? I would say try it again, see if you get different results, if you dare.

                  Pictures always get me...

                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                    No, same brand (actually same packages of everything from bread I just made recently) flour, KA bread flour. I did weigh the larger ingredients but never weigh yeast, tsp sugar, salt. Good idea on taking pictures, even video because seeing the dough being mixed in the stand mixer was telling--it didn't knead it as much as tear it. It wasn't a sweet dough, just a plain old dinner roll. Right now I'm leaning towards too warm liquid because of how quickly it became tough.

                    1. re: chowser

                      Ok. I'll go with that then.

                      I meant pictures in cookbooks cause me to buy them, whether I think they might be worth the recipes or not. But I would have liked to see a picture of your dough too.

                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                        I like this book, actually, and have flipped through it often. The first part talks about different breads by country and what makes them different from each other. The second half has recipes of most of the breads. I love the breakdown by country and have seen quite a few breads I've never come across IRL. But, I don't think it's an American book. I'll have to find it online and post it when I have time.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                            This is the book. I didn't know that Ingram and Shapter had written so many bread books.

                            http://www.gourmetfoodz.com/product/4...

                            There isn't much information in that description but I found the book interesting, especially for how little I paid for it. I don't like the details in the recipes, though, and don't think it's helpful for anyone who is a beginning baker. But, for someone who knows what "smooth and elastic" means, it's fine.

                            1. re: chowser

                              Thank you for posting. The cover looks familiar to me. Will you try the dough again or give it odd recipe status?

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                I'm thinking there are far too many good ones to try to tweak one that didn't work but never say never!

                                1. re: chowser

                                  True, not enough time in life to try all the bread formulas in the world. I like to stick with the ones that work, although there have been moments when I felt it was important to work out blips.

                                  1. re: bushwickgirl

                                    Definitely--I view this as a learning opportunity which is why I've asked and have looked into it.

        2. Where was the cook book printed? Could it have been for a different continent with different flour?

          The other thing: are you in the desert with really low ambient humidity? Could the recipe have counted on flour that had some water in it with more water coming in from the air? (This sort of inspired by the differences in making bread in the Mississippi Delta in New Orleans versus inland where things are a lot drier.)

          3 Replies
          1. re: shallots

            London publisher, that would not make much difference in type of flour:

            http://www.amazon.com/Bread-Christine...?

            1. re: shallots

              I was wondering if the weather had played some part to it but it was rainy and very damp yesterday so it would have been the reverse effect. It called for bread flour. The book might have been written in England but it was Americanized.

              1. re: chowser

                The real test will be if other recipes have a similar problem.

                I've cooked at a friend's in England and I used whole milk; what I've seen here is that 'real' buttermilk is very different from skin milk. White Lily cornbread mix puts a range of liquid vol based on whether you're using milk or buttermilk. Buttermilk needs (for me) at least 30% more liquid to get the same consistancy. I wonder if the recipe wanted a thinner milk. (I'm out in the country and our whole buttermilk from the store is so dense, I can stand a spoon upright in the middle of a glass of it.)

                Likewise- egg size and freshness.

            2. Chowser, I don't want to hijack the thread topic, but what type of yeast are you using these days? I'm a die hard active dry girl, who's in the market for a good quantitiy of yeast, and am leaning towards instant, but I've never used it before. I don't have concerns about the technique of using instant; my only issue I have is that I always proof my yeast first, for "proof of life," and I know it's not necessary to do that with AD, but I can't help myself. Care to comment?

              I'll do a Chow search for yeast use/preference threads, but I though t I'd ask you first, since we're in the bread dough state of mind.

              3 Replies
              1. re: bushwickgirl

                I use both. I used to only use active yeast until I started reading Peter Reinhart and using his recipes. So, now I keep instant in the refrigerator and active dry in the freezer. I go through far more instant but the active dry is a 3 pound bag of Red Star and only cost about $3. If I had other friends in the area, I'd split it because that's far more than I use before it goes bad.

                I don't proof the instant but go through the container pretty quickly, except in the summer when it's so hot and humid I can't think of having the oven on so high for so long.

                1. re: bushwickgirl

                  Miss Butt-in here: I've used instant for about the last 10 yrs now and buy 500gm packages of it in European "ethnic" markets like the Euromarket in Astoria (nr the N train). Cheap as dirt and lasts ages in the fridge - I'm using some that must be at least 3-4 years old.

                  1. re: buttertart

                    two pounds from costco cost less than 4oz. at the supermarket. lasts forever too.