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Question from a bread newb

m
Molassey Sep 28, 2012 08:07 AM

I've been attempting to teach myself how to make bread for the last few weeks and I've come a long way but there is still one part that I have not been able to figure out. How do I know how much flour is enough?

I know when I'm first mixing the ingredients it has enough flour when it pulls away from the bowl etc but it gets stickier and stickier as I knead it and I have to add more flour. It feels like this process could go on forever. It gets sticky, I add flour and knead some more, gets sticky again, add more flour and so on. I never know when enough is enough! When I attempt to research it I mostly find answers like "You'll know you have enough flour when the texture feels right." But I don't know what "right" feels like! Is there any way to communicate this?

  1. j
    j8715 Sep 28, 2012 10:19 AM

    The best way is using a scale. Then, it's 5 parts flour and 3 parts water by weight to make 'sandwich' bread.

    1 Reply
    1. re: j8715
      q
      quimbaya Sep 28, 2012 11:08 AM

      5:3 by weight works really good in my experience. A.k.a. 60% hydration.

      One major caveat though. If you use a certain kind of all-purpose flour, it may keep on being sticky and runny almost to where you go below 50% hydration. Basically due to weak gluten from my limited understanding. Happened to me with Kroger brand unbleached all-purpose, which is the cheapest unbleached I can get hold of easily. That kind of flour is only useful for feeding the sourdough when not using it or baking cakes and stuff.

      So try with a better-for-bread kind of flour. Any of the common ones should work, but if in doubt just go with King Arthur, even Walmart has it nowadays.

    2. b
      Brandon Nelson Sep 28, 2012 10:48 AM

      In general wetter dough makes for better flavor. Add just enough flour that you can make a workable dough.

      A coat of vegetable oil on your hands helps make handling wetter dough a less sticky situation.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Brandon Nelson
        j
        j8715 Sep 28, 2012 11:44 AM

        Water is adding flavor? Interesting blanket statement. . .

        1. re: j8715
          b
          Brandon Nelson Sep 28, 2012 03:21 PM

          Context my friend. The post reads; "wetter dough".

          Wetter bread doughs tend to yield better tasting bread. I am paraphrasing from the book "The Bread Builders", and a Cooks Illustrated issue that had a section on rustic Italian bread. A wetter environment allows for greater yeast activity. It is the by products of that yeast activity that make for a greater flavor profile.

          1. re: Brandon Nelson
            j
            j8715 Sep 28, 2012 03:55 PM

            Water isn't adding flavor the yeasts are.

            You don't need unworkable slop dough, just time.

            1. re: j8715
              b
              Brandon Nelson Oct 1, 2012 11:22 PM

              Reading comprehension is apparently not your strong suit.

              From my first post "workable dough".

              From my second post "A wetter environment allows for greater yeast activity. It is the by products of that yeast activity that make for a greater flavor profile."

              At no point did credit water as "adding flavor" or building an "unworkable slop dough".

              Are you planning on adding anything to this conversation or is you next post going to enlighten us all with the sage words like "water is wet"?

      2. chowser Sep 28, 2012 12:03 PM

        It depends on what kind of bread you're making, some do have much wetter dough. If you're making one that doesn't have wetter dough, it shouldn't be sticky but kind of spongy (the picture in the link might help). It can help to walk away from the dough, let it sit and come back in 10-15 minutes to give the flour a chance to absorb the water. This describes it, plus the advantage of a wet dough. I do it after I've mixed everything together, including the yeast and salt.

        http://www.redhenbaking.com/about/lib...

        1. m
          Molassey Sep 28, 2012 12:05 PM

          Thanks so much for your replies. Dough is rising now. We'll see how it turns out!

          1. todao Sep 28, 2012 02:40 PM

            While I believe this board can be very helpful in answering some of your bread making questions,
            you will undoubtedly find a wider range of experienced bread makers on:
            http://www.thefreshloaf.com/forum
            I've been a member there for the past five years and find it very friendly and quite helpful.
            My advice would be to purchase a good bread making book that will take you from the basics to some intermediate processes (I happen to recommend Peter Reinhart's "The Baker's Apprentice")
            http://www.amazon.com/The-Bread-Bakers-Apprentice-Extraordinary/dp/1580082688/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348868609&sr=8-1&keywords=the+bakers+apprentice
            later, perhaps one of Reinhart's advanced books:
            http://www.amazon.com/Crust-Crumb-Master-Formulas-Serious/dp/1580088023/ref=sr_1_30?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1348868769&sr=1-30&keywords=basic+bread
            or Dan DeMuzio's:
            http://www.amazon.com/Bread-Baking-Pe...
            If you learn early that bread making relies on formulas and not "recipes" as such, and how a formula works when blending flour/water/yeast/salt you'll have a lot more fun with the process.
            Best of luck ............................

            1. steinpilz Sep 28, 2012 03:15 PM

              I do 2:0 parts flour to about 0.8 parts H2O by volume, then sprinkle with flour to keep it manageable through kneading, folding, and rising.

              @castorpman on Twitter

              1. c
                Chowrin Sep 28, 2012 06:20 PM

                standard white should feel like an earlobe when you're done kneading. if it's crumbly, add a bit of water.

                1. j
                  jvanderh Oct 5, 2012 11:47 PM

                  It depends what you're doing. A very wet loaf will work nicely if it has sides to push up against, like a round loaf in a dutch oven or sandwich bread. Doubly so if it's 'old dough' (made a couple days ago, or from a starter)- which undergoes sort of a magical solidification/rising process in the oven, so that even dough that seems impossibly sloppy gives a nice high rise. It is also much easier to knead wet dough by hand than stiff dough (just wet your hands first). It is very hard to adequately knead dough by hand that isn't sticky. But if you're making a freestanding loaf, like a baguette, you need stiffer dough. If you're making bagels, you need extremely stiff dough. You add flour until it seems the dough can't hold any more, and then you add some more. You practically need a mixer- if you're kneading by hand and your knuckles aren't red and bruised at the end, your bagels are probably going to collapse in the water bath.

                  Here's the tl:dr: a surprisingly wide variety of dough consistencies will lead to perfectly fine bread. You're better off obsessing about adequate gluten development, which is a far more common pitfall for newbies.

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