Homemade bread to shortening or not to shortening
This is my first post of this kind so sorry for the rambling that is to follow.
I made homemade bread about every other week. I use a "recipe" my grandfather gave me that he came up with on his own. I would ask him these questions but he is no longer arround. I use quotes on the word recipe because there really is no measuring. He just used his hands and his best judgment. I use one of two methods depending on how much bread i plan to make. The only time I really measure is when I make a large batch I usually use roughly 15 cups of flour. It is very hard to knead and achieve a "bakers window" so I just do it until I can't any more. I use bread flour, salt, yeast, water, and shortening. I do not know what the point of the shortening is, or how much to add. My bread is usually on the dryer side, which I don't like, and although I do butter the top when it comes out of the over, it is not always quite as crusty as I would like.
Also, for split top bread should I split it right before putting it in the oven, or just as I put it in pans for a second rise?
What I think the bread baking world has learned in the last decade moreso than anything else is that a wetter dough is almost always better. Try doing everything you are doing but with less flour. Based on your description of the dough being hard to knead and a dry finished loaf, I'd say you could back off on the flour (or increase liquid/fats).
A good crust is dependent on almost every other aspect of the construction and baking process. Fix your hydration issue and see what that does, then start tweaking. A good book on the subject (Reinhardt's Bread Bakers Apprentice comes to mind first) would be very helpful, too.
Fats in a bread recipe are tenderizing agents. Most sandwich and pan bread recipes include some kind of fat...butter, oil or shortening, for that characteristic light and tender quality.
Sounds like my Aunt Rena's recipe. She baked bread every day for an entire ranch, never measured anything, and it was always amazing. I've never been able to replicate her recipe, partly because it says things like "add flour until dough is right".
Anyway, about the dryness: I don't think that has anything to do with shortening, I think it has to do with the amount of flour you add. After adding too much flour too many times, I've discovered that I get much fluffier bread if I add less flour. Add enough so you can knead it with floured hands, but not so much that it's stiff. The dough should be tacky. If you have a stand mixer, some of the dough should stick to the bottom. If you do this a lot, I really recommend investing in a stand mixer. I know purists love kneading on their own, but I hate it, and the stand mixer gets me my bakers window every time.
I could be wrong here, but I think that additives like shortening and milk and potato make the texture of the bread softer. I think most recipes that call for shortening call for about 1/4 cup per 6 cups of flour. Or so. Adding honey or sugar helps the yeast develop. I think. I'm sure the other chows will have better info than I do on that.
I'm pretty sure you want to split right before the oven, not right before the second rise. Splitting too soon might either make you lose the split altogether or get an oddly shaped loaf.
Finally, you can find great bread recipes here:
You could compare them to your grandfather's and see which one is closest...
You've gotten good advice so far. I'd cut back on the flour, too, since your bread is drier than you'd like. That is a lot of flour so I can imagine how hard it would be to knead that to the window pane level. You could just mix it up as much as you can and let it rest and then come back to it. Here's a good article about autolysing dough:
Adding butter to the top after you bake it will affect the crustiness. How are you baking the bread (what kind of pan, what temp, are you adding steam?) and what kind of bread is it? To get the optimal texture/taste, a longer rise is important (at least overnight after the first rise is optimal). It's not necessary but it makes a difference.
You slice the bread dough just before putting into the oven. Finally, it's important to be accurate about baking bread, when you start. Eventually, when you get the feel for it, you can approximate and go by feel. But, you want to know what the loaf should be like at each stage.
Welcome to chowhound, btw.
Brushing with oil/butter after baking will tend to soften the crust- the above posts pretty much cover the situation; if you correct those factors and still want more crust, humidity in the oven (usually a pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven, or spraying water while baking) and brushing with water toward the end of the baking period will make a stronger crust.
By splitting bread I assume you mean the slits in the top such as for baguettes- should be done right before baking, with a very sharp implement.
I mainly brush the top for color and because grandpa did. The sliton the top is like for Split top bread. They are just normal alluminum bread pans, usually 350 degrees. I could try boiling water in the oven but it is hard as my oven isn't the greatest thing in the world, or any 3rd world for that matter.
I will play arround with adding less flour to the mix and see what that does. I do remember grandpa's dough being more tacky than mine.
I will let you all know how it goes. Oh and it is just normal Italian bread I would guess. We use it for our every day bread.
The tackier dough will help w/ the crust, as would a higher temperature. You can put a pan on the lowest rack of the oven and throw in a cup of water just as you put in the dough. The steam will help with the crustiness, as oldunc said. I use stone loaf pans for sandwich bread because the stone holds the heat better. Aluminum works but you won't get the same crust. Good luck with it!
That is a very low temperature for baking bread. If you mean by Italian bread the sort of crusty, panless bread that I think (similar to American French bread) 480 degrees would be more like it. I don't do a lot of (or any) soft, sandwich style bread but I think 400 is more the norm for that, maybe 375. Say, do any of you cybermaniacs know how to coax a "degrees" sign out of a computer keyboard?
ps re your original question, I just finished a batch of english muffins, and then found the melted butter I usually add still in the microwave- the difference is minute. Actually, as far as I know the type of bread you seem to be going for is generally made with little or no oil added, it's more of an element for dinner rolls and soft breads, and of course olive oil in pizza crusts.
White sandwich bread is the only kind of bread my husband will eat, so I make it all the time. I cook it at 350 and I always put butter (and milk and sometimes mashed potatoes) in it. A higher temp is good for a fancier bread, but I think 350 is just right for basic white. It's done when you can tap on the top and hear a hollow sound.
For sandwich bread, I like a lower temperature, too, around 350, for the breads that have milk, sugar, fats, etc. It's easier to eat as a sandwich (it's hard for me to eat crusty bread as a sandwich. Not enough jaw strength). In that case, I don't want chewy crust.
LOL, I love the "fancier" bread term. I think of it in reverse. The artisan style breads have few ingredients, just flour, water, salt and yeast so I think of them as plainer bread and the sandwich/rolls type w/ more ingredients as fancier.