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Need advice and suggestions on baking bread

I need your help! I am a cookie baker but really really really want to bake bread. I have made the No knead recipe twice and loaf from a package but otherwise am inexperienced working with yeast and kneading.

Here's what I want and need: a not too complicated recipe for an Italian loaf. Sort of a French baguette but shorter and fatter. I do not have a convection oven or a baking stone. Just regular old gas oven. I am looking for bread with a crispy crust. Any hope?

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  1. Yes. There is hope. May I suggest you order up Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice from your library, and actually read the first 1/3 and then jump into a formula. Peter also has a blog at http://peterreinhart.typepad.com.

    I went from being a bread novice to the one who is always asked to bring bread in a short time.

    However, a stone is a pretty cheap investment, and I think you will find it saves you more its cost, since you don't ever need to buy bread again.

    1. You can fashion your loaf from no knead dough and bake it off (in an extreme hot oven) on a baking sheet. You can do pizza dough and baguettes. I have pics of some that I have done will try to post tomorrow. Breadtopia is a website that will show you many ways to use no knead dough.

      1. I totally agree with buying The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I got it on a whim one night while my bf and I were killing time before a movie and was baking bread in no time. I'd never touched yeast before. Took some trial and error, lots of reading, and some YouTube videos, but now I bake bread and other yeasted goods at least 2-3 times per week and am asked to make them for friends and family often.

        Also, a baking stone is a good investment but not necessary. I actually was sent one by accident from Amazon and I've been trying to get rid of it for months but none of my friends bake breads/pizza at home so it's just sitting here. I already have several.

        Anyway, to answer your question!

        Lately I've been using this very simple recipe to make fresh baguettes and loaves. It only requires a quick rise, and the flavor of the bread is so fantastic. I prefer it to longer and more complicated recipes. It's not a "rustic" loaf, but it's got a perfect chew, is soft enough to make into sandwiches, and tastes amazing with butter. My bf asks for a loaf each week for lunches.

        (EASY) FRENCH BREAD:

        -1 cup lukewarm water
        -1 tablespoon sugar
        -1 1/2 teaspoons yeast (instant or active-dry)

        -2 1/2 cups bread flour
        -1 teaspoon salt

        -egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, beaten)

        Mix water, sugar, and yeast in a bowl. Let sit until foamy, 5-10 minutes (if yeast doesn't foam up, discard and try again with new yeast).

        Add 2 cups of the flour, and the salt. Stir until mixed thoroughly. Add remaining 1/2 cup of the flour, a bit at a time, until dough forms (you may not need all of it). Dump onto a floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

        Shaping: Punch down dough. Either divide in two and shape into baguettes (Google for a tutorial), or shape the entire amount of dough into a boule (or the loaf shape that you described in your OP). Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush dough with egg wash and cut a slit (or several if making baguettes) along the top with a sharp knife. Cover with plastic and let rise until puffy, about 30 minutes.

        Baking: Preheat oven to 375 F. Place a pan filled with boiling water on the bottom rack to generate steam (or, alternatively, spray your loaf with water before and halfway through baking. Both of these will help create a crust on your bread). Bake baguettes 20-25 minutes, or a boule/loaf for 25-35 minutes. Keep an eye on them toward the end of baking to make sure they don't get too brown (i.e. dry inside).

        They're done when deep golden brown and hollow if you tap on them. Let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.

         
         
         
        34 Replies
        1. re: nothingswrong

          Oh and btw... you don't need a special pan. I use a baguette pan when making baguettes because it's a new baking toy. But I just made this same recipe shaped into a boule on parchment and a regular baking sheet and it turned out exactly the same in terms of the crust.

          1. re: nothingswrong

            If you are using slack dough, the pan helps the loaf to maintain a round shape. Before I bought the baguette pan and French bread pan, my loaves often looked pretty flat. ;-).

            1. re: Antilope

              I'm learning this. What is a French bread pan?

              1. re: nothingswrong

                Instead of using a Bakers Couche (a cloth full of folds holding the rising French bread and baguettes that helps to maintain their shape during rising),
                I use these bread pans. For me, it's much easier for home use.
                .
                French Bread Pan
                http://www.amazon.com/Chicago-Metalli...
                .
                http://globerove.com/wp-content/uploa...
                .
                Baguette Pan
                http://www.amazon.com/Metallic-Commer...
                .
                http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/f...
                .
                http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-s4xn7xQNdCw...
                .
                Bakers Couche cloth
                http://www.amazon.com/Bakers-Couche-L...
                .
                http://www.kingarthurflour.com/item-i...
                .
                Baguette board
                http://www.pastrychef.com/BAGUETTE-FL...
                .
                If using a bakers couche cloth, after the bread has risen, you have to move it from the cloth to the oven (to a baking stone or sheet) without deflating the dough. With the French bread pan, you just move the whole pan to the oven.

                1. re: Antilope

                  I don't bake baguettes often so didn't want to invest in the pans. I put the dough on parchment in the cloche to make moving easier. It still can be tricky, not nearly as easy as pans I'm sure, but I don't have extra pans.

                  1. re: Antilope

                    Thanks. I actually already have a baguette pan and I love it. Turns out great-shaped baguettes I think (see photos above).

                    I've been wanting to make more of a French/Italian loaf shape, like they sell at bakeries, so I can slice between 1/4" to 1/2" thick and freeze, then pop into the toaster.

                    So far, the loaves I've been trying to make are indeed too slack to maintain their shape after the second rise. They rise sideways more than up, if that makes sense. The resulting bread still is great in terms of taste, texture, and crust, but the slices are small and wide.

                    I was thinking of trying to bake it in a regular loaf pan, maybe for the first half of baking, then unmolding it and continuing to bake on parchment/baking sheet. What do you think? I know it's not traditional, but would be more the shape I'm looking for.

                    1. re: nothingswrong

                      It has to do with the final shaping if the loaf. It has to be tightly formed with good surface tension.

                      1. re: sandylc

                        Sandy, so with this dough, it can be quite wet after the first rise. Just pretty loose and tacky.

                        Is it possible to tightly shape a dough like this?

                        I purposely spent more time this last time I made it stretching the dough as I watched on the interwebs to create a nice taut surface, but I must be missing something.

                        1. re: nothingswrong

                          Baguettes, for me, are the hardest to shape. It's difficult to get that long, skinny thing stretched tightly enough. I haven't conquered it to my satisfaction, yet.

                          What is the hydration of your dough? Just curious...

                          You might try using your dough to form and bake a really tight boule, just to see if that rises high enough.

                          Another thought - I do the stretch-and-fold proofing technique on many of my breads now, and very slack dough stands up much more stiffly after 2-3 rounds of SAF.

                          1. re: sandylc

                            I don't know the hydration. I haven't figured out how to calculate that yet :)

                            I think my baguettes turn out great. Last week I shaped into a boule and it rose nicely but still a bit wider than I'd intended. So when I made the next one, I was more careful with how I shaped. TBH I accidentally "popped" it before putting it in the oven, so I think that had a lot to do with the finished shape/size. Didn't have time to shape and let it rise again.

                            Maybe I'll try your SAF technique and see what happens. I was going to bake a loaf today and I'll report back. Thanks Sandy.

                        2. re: sandylc

                          This video shows stretch & fold and baguette shaping
                          of a fairly slack dough.

                          Baguette Shaping with Ciril Hitz
                          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI-Ws...

                            1. re: Antilope

                              Okay! Thanks so much for posting that; I watched a few of his videos and the resulting loaf I made was exactly the size/shape I wanted. Finally!

                              I made my dough as usual, let rise, then deflated and did the first shaping (stretch and fold), then let the loaf sit for 5 minutes or so. It lost its shape slightly. I shaped again (as he does in one of his videos--two shapings with a 5 minute rest between), stretch and fold, then covered the loaf and let rise 20 minutes more before baking.

                              Sliced the cooled bread and they're the perfect size for sticking in the toaster from frozen for quick sandwiches or bread with dinner.

                              Thank you!

                               
                               
                               
                               
                        3. re: Antilope

                          Thanks for the info. I'm going to look into getting a french bread pan in the near future if it'll make my bread making easier and faster!

                      2. re: Antilope

                        Because of your post, I just bought my first french bread pan last weekend. I'm excited to try it out. Thanks!

                        http://www.yummyreads.com

                    2. re: nothingswrong

                      I don't think my yeast is foaming. Is it very obvious, like carbonated soda? I waited 10-15 minutes and it seems like nothing is happening. I tried two different packages of yeast. Also, I just wanted to check, that is 1 1/4 tsp of yeast, not the whole packet which is 2 1/4 tsp, correct?

                      1. re: Jerseygirl111

                        It is pretty obvious when your yeast foams. It will look like the tan foam you get when you open a can of shaken-up Coke, and it will really increase in volume.
                        Are you checking the water temperature when you mix it? If your water is too warm, you'll kill your yeast before you ever get started.

                          1. re: tacosandbeer

                            You don't want to get your yeast or yeast dough too hot or you will kill the yeast. I remember my aunt's first disastrous attempt at yeast baking. She set the dough to rise on a back porch in the sun where the temperature must have been 110* thinking that a nice warm place would be just the thing. It wasn't.

                          2. re: Jerseygirl111

                            Use newly-purchased "instant" or "quick-rise" yeast and just mix the dry yeast in with some of your flour. Don't bother with the proofing step.

                            1. re: Jerseygirl111

                              Yes, it is very obvious.

                              Here's a photo of proofed yeast. You can see the yeast is active and alive--it bubbles and foams up.

                              Despite what I read on the internet and hear people say, I've bought fresh active-dry yeast from the store and it's been dead numerous times (i.e. didn't foam/bubble after proofing). When I first started yeast baking, I didn't proof and ended up with several flat and heavy breads.

                              Now I always proof. It assures me a good result, and it also gets the yeast going quicker than without. Usually my yeasted doughs are doubled in size far quicker than the recipe indicates.

                               
                              1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                Okay so here's how it went down:
                                1. I had the triple pack of Red Star Yeast. My water was 110 degrees and I put the sugar in my big stainless bowl. Poured the water in then the 1 1/4 tsp yeast. Whisked it till sugar dissolved. Waited 10 min, nothing happened. Just the bubbles from mixing. So I dumped that batch.

                                2. Water 110 again. Repeated above. Started to look up pictures what yeast proofing should be. Still nothing. Dumped again. Started wondering if the house was too cold at 65, because the bowl was pretty cold, maybe it was slowing down the yeast.

                                3. Repeated above. Filled my dishpan with same 110 degree water to create sort of a bain marie. Placed bowl in dishpan and covered with dishtowel. Waited 10 min. Ended up with something that looked like espresso foam, not foam per se but that lighter milky swirl on top. No bubbles.

                                Decided that was good enough. So I added the 2c flour but how will I know if I need the other 1/2c? I added 1/4c and it made a sticky dough. I turned it out onto my floured surface, floured my hands and the dough. Tried to knead it like they did on the KA instructional video on YouTube. It stuck and stuck and stuck. Not the whole thing but each time I stretched it forward it stuck to the heel of my palm. I scraped off the stuck crumbs and refloured. But each time it seemed the inside, newly exposed dough stuck when stretched. I added more flour. Is this correct?

                                How will I know when I have kneaded enough? I kneaded for 5 minutes then just decided it was enough and put the dough in the oiled bowl and set it aside for an hour. 35 minutes to go.

                                1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                  I think your yeast is dead. Just my .02

                                  As for the flour--often a recipe will specify what your dough should feel like. "Slightly tacky" or "Smooth and not sticky" or "It will be very wet and sticky." You should follow any cues like this. If it states the dough should be sticky, then it should, and you just have to knead through it without adding too much flour or the dough will end up dry and tough. If the recipe says the dough should be smooth and supple, not tacky or sticky, then you can go ahead and add in the remaining flour if your dough is still sticky.

                                  As for how long to knead, generally you want to knead until your dough is smooth, elastic, and uniform in appearance. If you try to stretch a piece of it with both hands, it shouldn't rip or tear apart in jagged pieces. It should stretch smoothly. Google "yeast bread windowpane test" for photos on what the stretched dough should look like.

                                  The other "test" is to poke a hole in the dough with your finger and see if it pops back up or stays indented.

                                  Let us know how it goes with the bread you have going right now!

                                  1. re: nothingswrong

                                    Lol I was following the recipe you posted above but sadly, it doesn't specify how the dough should feel. :-(

                                    My dough did not double in size. It barely rose maybe a third. I will just dump it.

                                    I will pick up more yeast later this week and try again.

                                    Thanks for sticking with me.

                                    1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                      I agree that your yeast was probably dead.

                                      1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                        Oh, sorry!

                                        The recipe above yields a dough that is slightly sticky/tacky, but not so much that it isn't kneadable. The first few minutes of kneading are quite sticky, and I have to dip my hands in flour several times, but it gives way to a very workable dough.

                                        The only other caveat to this is, depending on the humidity of your home, you may need to add more or less flour. Some days I don't need the extra 1/2 cup flour or really any flour for kneading. And some days I need the 1/2 cup plus a lot more on the work surface.

                                        This is where bread baking becomes less about the recipe and more about experience and getting a "feel" for the dough. You will start to figure it out the more you practice.

                                        That being said, I still think your yeast is dead.

                                        You may want to try picking up some new yeast. TBH I find the yeast sold in the grocery store in individual packs (Fleischmann's) is good because if one pack is dead, you're only throwing out a few teaspoons of yeast as opposed to an entire package.

                                    2. re: Jerseygirl111

                                      Yep, it sounds like dead yeast. I've had that happen, too - one month after date of manufacture, two years to go until expiry. It's actually why I switched to sourdough yeast.

                                      1. re: LMAshton

                                        It's so frustrating. There is no way to even tell until it's too late.

                                      2. re: Jerseygirl111

                                        Treat the yeast gently, let it hydrate on top of the liquid WITHOUT whisking, for 10 minutes, then stir gently to mix...you bruise the lil guys otherwise..
                                        We learned that from our home brewing experience...

                                        1. re: Raffles

                                          Really? I watched a video on YouTube of a man making Italian loaves and he beat the crap out of the yeast. I will let float first next time.

                                          Still waiting on my books. Sigh.

                                          1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                            We use various Lalvin yeasts, and they have the same direction on each packet...letting them sit for ,as I actually check, 15 minutes to rehydrate before stirring gently.

                                            2 ounces - 104-109 degree water- 5 grams yeast-- 15 minutes before stirring and adding to must

                                    3. re: nothingswrong

                                      You don't need the sugar. There's plenty of white stuff in the recipe to feed the yeast.

                                      1. re: sr44

                                        I clicked recommend, but then I thought about it - OP has said herself she's "clueless about yeast". A little sugar in the warm water while the yeast blooms won't hurt anything, and might help get the yeast going enough to give her confidence that it's active.

                                        1. re: tacosandbeer

                                          I agree. She might as well proof it, it only takes a few minutes and minimal effort, and it will show her what her yeast should be doing.

                                    4. Try this w/out toppings and shape the way you want.

                                      http://www.steamykitchen.com/6795-no-...

                                      You could also add a cup of water/ice into a pan below for extra crispiness.

                                      1. We like an extra long rise over nite in the reefer.