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Old 03-27-2007, 03:31 AM
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Default Bread baking is like tennis

I made a really mediocre no-knead loaf the other night. So-so crust, poor holes, uninteresting crumb texture. Just blah.

Here's my theory. In trying to make it a little better every time, I lost it somewhere, and now I have to go back to the orginal recipe and start from stratch (actually follow the recipe). My theory is that tennis is the same way -- you improve a couple of times in a row, and think you are on your way, then boom. You can't hit the ball, and have have to go back to basics at a lower level. Hopefully at some point my bread (and tennis) will get better and become more consistent.

But for now, my conclusion is that bread baking is a skill sport that is really difficult to get good at.
James
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Old 03-27-2007, 06:39 AM
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Default Re: Bread baking is like tennis

Not a tennis player myself, but I understand your deviating from the original recipe for no knead bread. It's just so simple to get a good result it doesn't feel like you need to stay close to the recipe. I have found the biggest variable in quality of the end product is rising time - you just have to learn when it is done and cannot go by time alone. My worst breads with this recipe have been when I've baked the bread at a time I had to because I wouldn't have been able to later. Was time a factor in your recent poor loaf?

I've also largely ditched the dutch oven in favor of a well warmed baking stone and aggressive use of a spray bottle. I use an over hot oven to allow for the cooling of the frequent misting efforts. I'm expecting the free form loaf experience will translate well into the brick oven - unfortunately I'm needing good bread more than I am prepared to fire the brick oven until the evenings warm sufficiently. Need to build that outdoor fireplace this year.
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Old 03-27-2007, 08:09 AM
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Default Re: Bread baking is like tennis

James,

Another analogy might be golf, a crazy sport I took up when shoulder problems ended by budding career as a tennis star. The more I played, it seemed, the worse I became. Now, I play only occasionally and I'm much better at it. I just go back to muscle memory and don't expect too much. That's when I hit it straight. Strange.

You might try paying more attention to weights and proportions. I've added all sorts of stuff to no knead bread: wheat germ, a bit of whole wheat flour, some whole rye, etc., but I've always kept the weights the same. But, Maver's got it right, time is the most crucial factor.

Also, check your yeast. How old is it? Where do you store it. It might be getting tired. My procedure is to store it in a Lock N Lock container in the freezer. Then again, I go through quite a bit, mainly instant dry, so freshness for me is not an issue.

Variables again.

Jim
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Old 03-27-2007, 10:17 AM
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Default Re: Bread baking is like tennis

Jim, I hate to tell you this, but for the high hydration no-knead bread I've stopped measuring the flour altogether. I measure the water to set my amount (I generally use 16oz of water for two loaves), then measure my salt, add some flour to begin the mix, then a 'dollup' of natural starter, then continue adding flour until it comes together as a dough - I aim for tough to stir with my spoon but still wet enough that gravity makes it look like it will pour when tilted. Then wait for good bubbles before forming the loaves. I'm using the idea from the original article that this is a very forgiving bread. It works.
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Old 03-27-2007, 10:35 AM
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Default Re: Bread baking is like tennis

Maver,

It's always tough diagnosing from a distance, without me looking over the baker's shoulder. I should say from the outset that I make no claims to being the world's leading authority on bread baking. I share what I know, have found and am finding; that's it.

For some people, your approach works, for some it don't. My grandmother never measured anything, and her breads were fantastic. I've found that when teaching bread baking it's best to stick to the rules for beginners. You and James obviously aren't, but when problems arise it seems like a good idea to return to basics. Sure, once you've made this sucessfully many times, you do it by eye. It's when the blahs occur that remedial action of some sort is necessary. Once you add a wild yeast starter, you've changed up the recipe pretty considerably, by the way, both in proportion and rise times.

It is a very forgiving formula, true, but controlling variables is the only way I've found to ensure consistent results.

Jim
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Old 03-27-2007, 12:48 PM
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Default Re: Bread baking is like tennis

I weigh flour and water in grams, which at this point for me is important. That is the core of a recipe, and then I wing it for salt, yeast and olive oil (if called for). We get a nice fresh brewers yeast here. They are 25g and are good for a couple of weeks. I'll take a photo. I can't image there is much variation there.

That makes me think it has more to do with time, as Maver noted, and then dough handling and shaping, and baking.

I have always thought there were things you could do through hard work and determination, and things that require a gift and hard work (singing opera or playing professional golf) -- and I am starting to think that great bread is one of those gift things.

Or, maybe it's late.
James
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Old 03-27-2007, 03:33 PM
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Default Re: Bread baking is like tennis

Quote:
Originally Posted by CanuckJim View Post
I should say from the outset that I make no claims to being the world's leading authority on bread baking. I share what I know, have found and am finding; that's it.

For some people, your approach works, for some it don't. My grandmother never measured anything, and her breads were fantastic. I've found that when teaching bread baking it's best to stick to the rules for beginners. You and James obviously aren't, but when problems arise it seems like a good idea to return to basics. Sure, once you've made this sucessfully many times, you do it by eye. It's when the blahs occur that remedial action of some sort is necessary. Once you add a wild yeast starter, you've changed up the recipe pretty considerably, by the way, both in proportion and rise times.

It is a very forgiving formula, true, but controlling variables is the only way I've found to ensure consistent results.

Jim
Jim, I appreciate your modesty. I'd suggest that you are at least the international FB.com forum's leading authority on bread baking, and considering the obsessed membership, I think it counts for a lot. I'm certainly not trying to argue against measuring for consistency of results, but have found that within my own inconsistent results (but always better than what I can buy locally), sufficient bulk fermentation time seems to be most important to a good crust and crumb. The challenge is trying to find what the right amount of time is - I've occasionally overdone it (usually after shaping) and the result was a denser lower crumb and the crust practically peeling off the top. I've given up measuring flour just to make cooking more like playing, but I'm not making bread for paying customers who have expectations of consistency. But, I assure you, if I hit the blahs of breadmaking, I'll go back to measuring (for one batch).

In beer making, a professional brewer will sample the fermenting beer periodically (checking light refraction) to determine when it is done. It would be interesting if there was some way to evaluate a rising dough for doneness (beyond looking at bubbles or volume displacement) by measuring e.g. alcohol in the dough.

James, from the measuring standpoint, I'd suggest that 'winging it' for salt, yeast and olive oil may contribute to much more variation than unmeasured flour. If you add a small amount of an ingredient like salt or yeast, the difference to the dough of half the intended amount or 1 1/2 times the intended amount (which is a plausible range of variation if you are eyeballing it) can make a huge difference in outcomes. My own scale has too little precision to weigh small ingredients, but if you use volumetrics (e.g. teaspoon) you may be cutting down on your variation significantly. I can assure you that with my unmeasured flour I have never used by mistake only half the intended amount of flour.

Thank you both for kicking this idea around with me.
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