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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.

                                        1. My suggestion is, not to overthink it! I used to bake Italian bread a lot back in the 1970s, when I first got married and when I was just learning to cook, and all I ever used was a recipe from the Kitchenaid mixer booklet. Perfect Italian bread everytime (I used their French bread recipe too, and just made the loaf bigger). It's not hard, just time consuming over the course of the afternoon....but if you're making a pot of sauce at the same time, that won't be a problem. Powdered yeast is easier to work with until you feel a little more confident. Like everything that needs kneading, I start it in the Kitchenaid until it's blended then finish by hand.

                                          I have to find that booklet, it's been awhile, then I will write it out for you. I never measured the temp of the liquids, it wasn't as big deal as you think. Although I might now since I've acquired all kinds of kitchen thermometers in the meantime. The dough rose in a covered greased bowl, with a bowl of hot water below it in the turned off oven; punched down twice each time after an hour, then shaped and baked on a regular old baking sheet. I'll get back to you when I locate it! Maybe I'll even make a loaf or two this weekend, it's been too long.

                                          1. Thank you everyone! You've given me hope.

                                            Oops, btw I don't have a stand mixer. Everything must be by hand. I am willing to learn to knead, I just have never done it. I am also clueless about yeast.

                                            I will check the library for the book.

                                            I have to buy bread flour this weekend.

                                            9 Replies
                                            1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                              If your library has or can get this book I would recommend it.....

                                              http://www.amazon.com/Bread-Alone-Fre...

                                              1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                Think of a cat purring and scritching his claws on you. That's all kneading is! I recently made pasta dough totally from scratch because I was too lazy to mess up the machine; the scary part of it is mostly a mind game.

                                                1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                  Kneading the old way, for five or ten minutes, isn't actually necessary.

                                                  I have bad joints. They hurt and they dislocate easily. Here's what I do:

                                                  Mix the dough. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes - that's called autolyse and allows the flour to absorb the liquid. Knead ten strokes. Let sit 20-30 minutes. Knead and let rest two or three more times. This is the equivalent time of the first rise and the dough will have risen in this time, and also effectively been punched back. Proceed to shaping and second rise.

                                                  This is the ONLY kneading I do and my bread turns out right every time.

                                                  1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                    You really don't need a stand mixer, it just makes things easier sometimes (though I mostly avoid using it because I HATE cleaning it).

                                                    As to kneading, I just watched a few YouTube videos when I was starting out and they really help. Agree with coll that it's mostly a mind game!

                                                    Just think of it as smooshing the dough around to get it all smooth. In the process, you're doing other things (building gluten formation) but don't think about that.

                                                    I saw Curtis Stone (hubba hubba) make dough once and he just kneaded it in the bowl, using his palms to quickly press the dough onto itself against the sides of the bowl. His dough rose perfectly. After I saw that, I said "to hell with traditional kneading" and most of the time I will either knead in the bowl or just do enough kneading to get the dough together and leave it at that. And it always turns out great.

                                                      1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                        To knead: Press the dough down hard on a floured board or table---lean into it and put your body weight into it--- with the back end of your hands where they connect to your wrists. Then use your fingers to bring the front end of the dough down over the back end, while flipping the whole thing over, and repeat many times. There's probably a video online demonstrating this action. From time to time you may need to reach for an additional dusting of flour. After you do this for about five minutes your dough will become less sticky and more elastic. You can feel it come alive under your hands. It seems to be talking back to you in a conversation. As you knead, you are telling it "Be bread, be bread" and after about five minutes it starts answering "Oh yeah, I get it, I get it". After a few minutes more of kneading if you take a sharp knife and cut through the dough, it will look like bread, not some kind of batter.

                                                        BTW kneading is good aerobic exercise.

                                                        1. re: Querencia

                                                          Okay, I picked up the Bread Baker's Apprentice tonight from the library. I also bought another 3 packet of each type of yeast.

                                                          Tomorrow, I will make another attempt and post back.

                                                          1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                            Great, keep us posted! That book enchanted me when I first got it. As soon as I got home, I plopped down and read it almost cover-to-cover. There's tons of great information, and the photos are super helpful.

                                                      2. As well as the Bread Baker's Apprentice or Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day, I suggest buying a bag of instant yeast. It looks like a lot, since it's sold by the pound typically, but you can keep it in the freezer and it's good for a very, very long time. It will save you money too.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: zitronenmadchen

                                                          My books haven't come in at the library yet.

                                                        2. New York Times Cookbook (1980's?) By Craig Claiborne has a simple recipe called Cuban Bread. Check with your library for the book. Don't over think this, just follow the directions. Be fearless. Youwill come to love the fragrance of home baked bread.
                                                          My favorite recipe is in Julia Child's Way To Cook, french bread. The key is to put 2 The of whole wheat flour in which gives it a nutty taste. But it is more work than Cuba bread.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: goodfoodyum

                                                            Now that's interesting, the bit of whole wheat.

                                                            I really have to find my Kitchenaid recipe book and get back to bread baking! Before Christmas I bought some of the Saf-Instant yeast that I saw recommended here, King Arthur has it; supposed to be foolproof, but it is still sitting unopened so I can't vouch for that.

                                                          2. Not sure if anyone mentioned, spritzing with water in hot oven for crispy crust.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: daislander

                                                              Or throwing a few handfuls of ice cubes into an old pie tin or frying pan on the bottom of the oven!

                                                              1. re: daislander

                                                                If you have an electric oven, I do not recommend your spritz water, but do put the water in a pan on the bottom of the oven. By experience, I know that spritzing into a hot electric oven can cause the heating element to break.

                                                                1. re: Wtg2Retire

                                                                  Careful about spraying or spilling water on a hot oven door window, it can shatter from the thermal shock.
                                                                  .
                                                                  I put a metal sheet pan on the shelf below the bread and pour water into it. The larger surface area makes a lot of steam immediately when the sheet pan is hot. If you add water to the cold sheet pan (about 1/8 inch deep) it will release steam over a longer period during baking.

                                                              2. You've gotten lots of good advice (especially "don't over-think it.") I'll just add a few tidbits from my experience:

                                                                The bags of yeast really are a great bargain. You can find a pound for as little as $1.99-- barely more than the price of one strip.

                                                                If you don't want to invest in a baking stone, some alternatives include an unglazed tile or two from a home-improvement store, or a cast-iron skillet that you preheat as you preheat the oven.

                                                                A little semolina flour goes a very long way to make your bread moist and chewy on the inside without softening the crust. I use about a tablespoon for every cup of regular flour, or even a little less.

                                                                If your bread is heavier than you'd like, try adding a tablespoon or so of vital wheat gluten (available in bulk at grocery stores that have a bulk section, or in small boxes at those that don't.)

                                                                Don't be afraid to experiment. If it goes wrong, what have you lost? It's not like a cake where you invest in butter and eggs and expensive cocoa; bread is just a few pennies' worth of flour and some yeast.

                                                                1. A few principles if you are new to working with yeast: 1) Yeast is alive, so treat it as you would a baby---keep it warm but not too hot, and feed it. It eats carbohydrate (flour, sugar) and eliminates (like an infant, only it's carbon dioxide, which makes all the little bubbles in the bread, thus "raising" the dough). 2) Kneading develops the "pull-y" texture in bread, otherwise it has the consistency of cake, not bread. 3) "Prove" your yeast before you go any farther--putting it in a little bowl with some liquid and flour will show you whether it's alive and will grow and bubble. Or not.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Querencia

                                                                    That's how I used to test the water temp, flicking it on my wrist like a baby bottle to make sure it was over 98.6. Not very scientific but it always worked for me.

                                                                  2. Okay so I decided to go with the French bread. The book tells me to first make the pate fermentee. It calls for the instant yeast, but doesn't proof it. Does that mean I won't know if my yeast is alive until after my 1st rise? Meaning if it doesn't rise in the 1-1 1/2 hr, then it was dead?

                                                                    Well I am attaching 3 photos:
                                                                    1. What the dough looked like after mixing
                                                                    2. After kneading for 5 minutes
                                                                    3. Oiled in the bowl, ready for rising, before covering in plastic.

                                                                    I am concerned that after kneading the dough seemed drier. It wasn't tacky. Could I have kneaded in too much flour? I didn't purposefully add any but I kept lightly brushing the flour on the table so it didn't stick. But at about 3 minutes I didn't have to anymore and the dough got tight feeling, does that make any sense? I decided not to be afraid of kneading and just pushed with the heel of my hand and turned quarter turn after each push.

                                                                    Thoughts?

                                                                    How the heck did the photo get on top???

                                                                     
                                                                     
                                                                     
                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                      Kneaded dough will become more....bouncy, less....slack. If you didn't add a lot of flour during kneading, it should be pretty good. You'll get the feel for it the more you do it.

                                                                      Instant yeast is not usually proofed - I have been baking with yeast for about 45 years (wow I sound old - since I was a toddler, obviously ;-)) and have encountered dead yeast ONCE. Just make sure it's not expired and that you don't overheat it and you should be good.

                                                                      1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                        Sounds like you did everything just fine.

                                                                        You don't need to proof instant yeast (in theory). Most pre-ferments just tell you to make a rather soupy mixture of yeast, water, flour, and then leave it alone for a while. It does help develop great flavor.

                                                                        Contrary to sandy, I've encountered dead yeast too many times to count. Although perhaps some of that was using too-hot water when I first started out.

                                                                        Let us know how it turns out after rising and baking. Looks great so far.

                                                                        1. re: nothingswrong

                                                                          I never heat the liquid for bread. Cooler liquids result in better flavor in the finished product.

                                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                                            A very long slow rise, at least overnight here...develops better flavors...often ,mostly, in the reefer.

                                                                          2. re: nothingswrong

                                                                            Okay well the pate ferment sat for 1.5 hours. I checked it at one hour and was like uh oh it didn't look like it was rising much but I waited the extra half hour and it rose! So the recipe says to lightly knead to degas and then return to bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. I could tell the dough had risen (besides that it looked bigger) because it felt lighter and airier. So now I wait until tomorrow.

                                                                        2. Are you using a scale to weigh the flour?
                                                                          The moisture content of flour varies with the weather so weighing is more accurate as opposed to volume.

                                                                          12 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Raffles

                                                                            True - I weigh religiously because I am working on being consistent with my results.

                                                                            That said, last week I just dumped flour, yeast, salt into a bowl, stuck it under the faucet for some water, stirred it up, and made a great quick pizza from it.

                                                                            Learn the rules first, then it's OK to break them sometimes.

                                                                            1. re: sandylc

                                                                              I agree, when I make dough it goes into the KA stand mixer with little additions until it looks good..but I had to learn what looked good..and it comes together.

                                                                            2. re: Raffles

                                                                              No, I don't have a kitchen scale. Money is kinda tight right now and I don't even have an extra $20 a week.

                                                                              Eventually if this really works out for me I will invest in a scale, but before a scale I figure I'd get more use from a baking stone. Priorities.

                                                                              The Bread Baker's Apprentice offers a conversion chart, how to weigh flour depending on how you measure, but the recipe lists ingredients by volume also.

                                                                              Unfortunately, I don't have a stand mixer, a baking stone, a convection or steam oven, a bread machine, scale or instant read thermometer.

                                                                              I do have a 12" cast iron frying pan, a 5-7 qt CI dutch oven (can't remember exactly) and metal baking sheets that I could bake my bread in/on.

                                                                              1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                You don't need any of that stuff. You can fine bread without it. If you had to choose one, I'd choose the thermometer; it is the best way to assure that you're taking your wonderful bread out of the oven at just the right time.

                                                                                1. re: sandylc

                                                                                  We make pizza all year round so that is why I am leaning towards the stone.

                                                                                  The problem with the thermometer is I can't decide between instant read or the one attached with the wire that sits outside the oven that you can set to ring at desired temp? I would love that one for my roasts.

                                                                                  1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                    I have the top-rated thermometer with the wire into the oven and it really sucks.

                                                                                    An instant-read is cheaper and more useful.

                                                                                    I do love my pizza stone.

                                                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                                                      Just for comparison's sake: I have the wire one, and don't know how I lived without it! I hate opening the oven door every 10 minutes. It's great to just glance over and see where you're at.

                                                                                      I do have tons of instant read, and dial ones, too, way more than any mere mortal should have. I never think to pull them out of the drawer though.

                                                                                2. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                  Of all those items, I would get the scale for making bread. Check places like Goodwill. You might find a great one for just pennies on the dollar. And don't hesitate to ask for a further discount.

                                                                                  1. re: smtucker

                                                                                    Good idea. I was just afraid that buying such a sensitive scale secondhand, it might not be as accurate. It seemed like something you would want to buy firsthand.

                                                                                    I should take a ride over there though. Mine is not that great, they are not allowed to sell knives there, for instance, but I have gotten great classic Farberware pots for my son and some loaf pans there cheap.

                                                                                    1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                      Thrift shops never seem to have what you're looking for, at least in my experience. If you find one, maybe you should buy a lotto ticket too!

                                                                                      I use my scale not just for baking, but also weighing for postage. That way you can feel a bit better about the price (or ask for one for your birthday or Christmas, that's how I got mine).

                                                                                      1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                        Oh that is simple! Have a 1 lb. bag of beans with you. If you find a scale, pull out your beans which were weighed commercially, and see how the scale does. It should read just over 1 lb due to the packaging.

                                                                                        Then grab one of the ugly bowls that you find in these type of shops, place it on the scale, tare to zero, and weigh again. Now you know if the tare function works.

                                                                                        I have great luck with second hand stores. Partially a function of where I live [lots of students with more money than sense.] In a university town, the last month of classes is usually the best time for find some higher quality items. Often it is cheaper to buy new at the next destination as opposed to packing and shipping the contents of a temporary apartment.

                                                                                        1. re: smtucker

                                                                                          You can check the accuracy of digital scales with U.S. nickels. They weigh exactly 5.00 grams each. U.S. cents since 1983 weigh exactly 2.50 grams each.

                                                                                3. Thank you everyone for all your great advice.

                                                                                  So Day 2 of my bread adventure has begun.

                                                                                  I let the pate fermente rest at room temperature for an hour, made my dough, mixed in the previous day's dough and kneaded by hand for about 12 minutes. The recipe said approximately 10 minutes or until it passed the windowpane test. I am not sure it reached that point even after 12 minutes. I kept checking but I feel clueless. How much am I supposed to pull off to test with?

                                                                                  The recipe said it's practically impossible to overknead by hand. But how do I know when I'm okay? The temperature with my meat thermometer registered about 72. The recipe wanted 77-82. Sigh.

                                                                                  Towards the end my dough started looking like the picture. Is that the gluten strands forming? That rough area?

                                                                                  So now it rests for 2 hrs at room temp.

                                                                                   
                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                    Looking good! I was wondering what pate fermente was and I learned it was another French term for poolish! In "Bread Alone" he uses a poolish, which makes a wonderful bread ! You can never Knead too much!
                                                                                    At a cooler temp the lil yeasties will be a little slower but still working, I've put the whole bowl in the reefer overnight and it has risen over the top!

                                                                                    Don't forget to have butter on hand for when it is done!

                                                                                    1. re: Raffles

                                                                                      I always have sourdough starter on hand, so I use that for my pate fermente in French bread. With the short rise times it adds flavor without adding a sour taste.

                                                                                  2. Bread=semi-fail. I didn't read enough about proofing so when we shaped the loaves, I didn't cover or spray them. They proofed for an hour and got a "skin" on them, and didn't really rise much. I sprayed them and covered them and proofed another half hour but damage was done. When I tried to slash them, it just pulled. Crap.

                                                                                    I baked them, did the steam pan and spritzed the oven with water to steam but my loaves never really grew and they didn't brown in the oven. The bottoms did but not the tops.

                                                                                    Pictures are after cooling.

                                                                                     
                                                                                     
                                                                                    8 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                      What was your oven temperature/baking time?

                                                                                      How did they look on the inside?

                                                                                      They're not absolutely perfect, but did they taste good? That's what counts!

                                                                                      AND, I'm sure you learned at lot - breadbaking is life-long learning...

                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                        I'm curious what they looked like inside too.

                                                                                        Sandy, is there any way to rescue a loaf which has dried out and developed that "skin?" I only had it happen once, when I left my dough to rise on top of a heated oven, but am just curious.

                                                                                        Jerseygirl, it still sounds like it was an improvement. And like Sandy said, it's all about experience and continuing to practice. Next time you won't forget to oil and cover during proofing. It will get much easier and more second-nature as you go.

                                                                                        1. re: nothingswrong

                                                                                          Here are a couple pictures of one of the round loaves. I forgot to add last night, it was delicious! We waited an hour for it cool, then ate it plain, with butter and with roasted peppers. No complaints about the flavor. Finished off the smaller loaf. It probably is the first bread I made (not from mix) that was so flavorful by itself. Also the inside texture was much better than my last couple loaves. They were so heavy, this is springier.

                                                                                          Even looking at them today, they look so not golden.the bottoms were nicely browned.

                                                                                          The insides seem great. They were cooked all the way through. The recipe stated 205 degrees in the center. I baked at 500 deg. Poured the cup of water into my steam pan, which was on the bottom of my gas oven, then 3x every 30 sec sprayed the walls of the oven with my spray bottle. Lowered the temp to 450, baked for 10 min. Checked temp it was 180, baked another 10 it was 200. Left it in another 5 minutes, checked the bottoms and took it out. Transferred immediately to wire rack. Could I have left it in longer?

                                                                                          Any suggestions for browner crust?

                                                                                           
                                                                                           
                                                                                           
                                                                                          1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                            Did you glaze them with egg white or the like? That might help.

                                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                                              No. They were sort of wet from the spray oil.

                                                                                              1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                                Definitely agree with using an egg wash. I use a whole egg, beaten with a couple teaspoons of water, then brush/wipe it over the top of the uncooked loaf. It will bake up nice and golden brown.

                                                                                                I have a recipe for rolls that call for just spray oil or butter being brushed on top, but that doesn't elicit the same browning at all. Definitely use an egg wash next time!

                                                                                                The bread sounds like it tasted great, but looks a little dense. Though maybe that's just because it was whole wheat, or the recipe itself.

                                                                                                Sounds like you learned a lot, and it was a big step up from last time!

                                                                                                Photos: the loaf has an egg wash, the roll has just spray oil/butter. You can see the difference in color and crust.

                                                                                                 
                                                                                                 
                                                                                        2. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                          Use a single edge razor blade for scoring next time.