Artisan Bread
November 26, 2004 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Artisnal Bread. So I've been working on making some of that great artisnal bread that has become so popular in recent years, but I'm having a problem. It seems that all of my bread is much denser than my favorite bakery bread, no matter what kind of bread I'm making. Everything else is great, what am I doing wrong?

I've done a great deal of reading on breadmaking and some things just don't seem to work for me...specifically some of the methods used in rising. I seem to particularly have problems in degassing when I move the dough from where it's rising onto my peel and then even more so when it goes from my peel onto my baking stone.

When I use either blankets or a bowl to help the dough keep its shape, either the dough sticks or I add enough flour to keep it from sticking and it seems to dry out and not rise well. Also, when I move the dough to the oven to bake, it just completely flattens out.

I also can't seem to get those wonderful large air pockets one finds in good ciabatta. Most likely due to some of the issues I've mentioned. I've got great books with lots of photos, I've done lots of reading and researching online, I've practiced over and over, and I've talked to some people who seem to know what they are talking about...all of the resources just tell me about these methods that aren't working for me. What am I missing here?
posted by spaghetti to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have no idea what Artisnal bread is. It is popular? Where? Seriously. Just curious to learn more about a "popular" bread I have never heard of.
posted by terrapin at 9:30 AM on November 26, 2004

Are you weighing the flour instead of measuring it? This made the biggest difference in my bread.

Is your yeast fresh?

Can you let the dough rise on your peal so you can avoid moving it? I use a clear rubbermaid bin turned upside-down as a proof cover.

Moving dough takes a lot of practice, especially some of the wetter doughs used in artisan bread.

The humidity content in the air can affect things too. Try using less flour than the recipe calls for. I usually add about a cup less and then add the rest by the tablespoon-full depending on how the dough is coming out.

If you've done a lot of reading, I trust you have Peter Reinhart's book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. If not, add it to your library.
posted by bondcliff at 9:31 AM on November 26, 2004

Sorry. Should have Googled it myself. Looks like you mean "artisan" bread or even "artisanal" bread. Everything I have read about the bread you describe is that it is a very basic bread (water, salt, flour, yeast) and that it is known for becoming hard as a brick after a day or two. My guess is that you may have some dead yeast. Perhaps get some fresher yeast? *shrug* Good luck!
posted by terrapin at 9:35 AM on November 26, 2004

you might be adding too much flour.

as for the dough sticking to the peel - use lots and lots and lots of cornmeal on the peel - then you can slowly shake the dough off the peel onto the stone and it won't flatten.

I don't typically follow any recipies when I bake bread, but in order to get big holes I use less flour than I normally would (making a pretty moist dough) and i let the dough rise at least once or twice (and punch it down) before the final rise on the peel.

hope this helps
posted by soplerfo at 9:41 AM on November 26, 2004

There could be many things causing these problems. Are you oiling the bowl or cloth you use to proof? A little oil from one of those pumper-sprayer things goes a long way.

Do you need to use these things in order for the dough to hold its shape? If so, you could work on your kneading (many people don't knead long enough for the dough to get really nice and stretchy) or shaping (you need to create surface tension for the dough to not just flatten out).

As for transferring from the peel to stone, use lots of corn flour or semolina on your peel to keep it from sticking, or proof it on parchment paper, and slide the whole deal on to your stone. After 5 mins or so you can slip the paper out.

To keep it from drying out during proofing, spray the top with a little oil and put plastic wrap over it loosely. I also like to put a cloth over the plastic wrap to weigh down the sides.

Good luck!
posted by transient at 9:48 AM on November 26, 2004

Oops -- strike corn flour from the above; use corn meal as soplerfo says, or semolina.
posted by transient at 9:50 AM on November 26, 2004

Oh yeah; ciabatta. I've only made it a couple of times, but you will actually not knead it too much; just kind of stretch it and fold it over on itself a few times, and will need to proof it in oiled cloth. I proof it under the plastic wrap as above.
posted by transient at 9:59 AM on November 26, 2004

Response by poster: Terrapin - Sorry, I'm a terrible speller.

Bondcliff - I do have The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I've read it cover to cover and he makes it look so damn easy.

All - When I use ridiculous amounts of cornmeal or semolina, the bottom of the bread is just caked in the stuff, even when I brush it off.

Transient - I do oil the bowl, often quite liberally, but by the end of the rise, the dough almost always seems to stick. I've tried metal, plastic and glass, can't seem to get it right. Even when I try to score the bread with a razor, the dough sticks to the blade and I don't get a clean cut, rather more of a tear.

In terms of kneading, I'm using a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook and often adding extra gluten to the flour. The texture seems good, though with the wetter doughs, I have a lot of trouble getting the surface tension you mentioned. Is it possible that I'm making my doughs too moist? I'm very aware of the problem of most people adding too much flour to their dough and I don't think any of it is too dry....

The parchment paper idea is great though, that will slide right off the peel onto the stone and solve some of my problems in the delicate handling of the dough.

Also, how important is the steaming process when the dough is in the oven? I'm worried about adding enough moisture without reducing the temperature too much.
posted by spaghetti at 10:17 AM on November 26, 2004

Which is it:

ar-TEE-shun-al? ar-ti-SAH-nal?
posted by Alt F4 at 10:49 AM on November 26, 2004

I got sick of the burning cornmeal in my oven, so I started using a Silpat/parchment paper, like transient said. It works wonderfully.

Re: the steam. To get the steam in my oven, I use a small, very cheap, very expendable cast iron pan that I always leavein there. When I pre-heat the oven, the pan gets screaming hot. After the bread is on the baking stone, I quickly drop a 1/2 cup of ice and water on the cast iron pan and shut the door. I've never had an issue with temperature drop from the steam (any opening of the oven door would be worse for temperature, I think).

My favorite bread book is The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I've always been able to get very nice results from her book - it was indispensible when I was teaching myself to bake bread. She also gives the time things should be kneaded (kned?) in a KitchenAid and at what speed.

Also, when going outside of the book, I usually stick to recipes/formulas that are explicitly weight based (I like it in metric, because I find the precision comforting), so I never really wonder if I'm using too much or too little flour/water/salt or if they think 1 cup of flour is 4.5 ounces or 5 ounces.
posted by milkrate at 11:06 AM on November 26, 2004

Well, I'm just an old hippie, but my bread-baking bible was the Tassajara Bread Book, and so I always kneaded my bread by hand.
Therefore, my suggestion is that you do some final kneading by hand after you get the flour/wet stuff incorporated most of the way. As you knead, the dough changes from sticky to shiny and stops needing so much flour to keep from sticking the bread board. As with so many things in cooking, using your hands is quite helpful, since we're blessed with all those sensitive nerve endings in our fingers. You'll find that you have a much better sense of when the dough is ready. (I also always dress my salads by tossing them by hand, a suggestion from James Beard; and separate eggs by hand too - I've never broken a yolk that way).
Not so sure about the yeast thing - if your bread is rising, the yeast is fine. What makes bread not stick is the development of the gluten, which comes from generous kneading. As the gluten develops, the dough gets all stretchy and shiny (quite lovely, really). You don't mention how many risings you use - one or two? I used to do two risings of the big lump of dough, then a final rise in the loaf pan/shape (and of course, the final rise in the oven). Each rising aids the gluten development of the bread.
Also, as others have said, relative humidity can have a huge effect on how much flour you need to use.
One more thing and I'll shut up - it's very hard to get true artisanal bread in a home oven - they generally are not hot enough. But of course, ymmv.
Good luck!
posted by dbmcd at 11:15 AM on November 26, 2004

the bottom of the bread is just caked in the stuff
Yup. Good thing it's yummy. The loose stuff in the oven does tend to burn, though, as milkrate said, and I usually use the parchment method.

It's certainly possible your dough's too moist. If you're having trouble shaping it without it sticking to your hands, you can use more flour. In time, you should be able to do this by feel, so experiment and see what works. You can also use flour on your hands while shaping or moving the dough.

Steaming just gives a it a little more oven spring -- lets it puff up before it crusts over. When I steam it (i.e. when I'm not using an egg wash or something) I mist the top with water and pour 1/2 to a cup or so of hot water into a steam pan, shut the door and leave it shut.

You could try dipping your razor in water before you cut; might help it slip through.
posted by transient at 11:53 AM on November 26, 2004

ar-TEE-shun-al? ar-ti-SAH-nal?

posted by jjg at 12:19 PM on November 26, 2004

Why is the bread too dense? I would think maybe its the yeast, too much flour (less is better you can always add more later) or too much sugar or salt (both will kill yeast if not added at the right time or too much is added). Are you using bread flour or all purpose flour? Bread flour has a higher protein content which makes bread lighter. Is the dough 'soft' or 'stiff'? 'Soft' dough will make a lighter bread.

A baker showed me how to tell if you have kneaded enough to form gluten which is essential for light bread. Pinch off a piece and stretch it, you should be able to get the dough nearly paper thin and translucent, if the dough rips and looks rough more kneading is required.
posted by squeak at 1:51 PM on November 26, 2004

Thanks, jjg!
posted by Alt F4 at 1:56 PM on November 26, 2004

There's also a usage issue going on here: you can't really make 'artisanal' bread until you're an adept breadmaker. You can make bread in an artisanal style, but if you're doing it as an amateur, you're making home-made bread.

The word 'artisanal' refers to the provenance of the bread and not the type of bread.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:51 AM on November 27, 2004

Actually, the term "artisanal bread" does commonly refer to a particular category of bread, regardless of how "correctly" it may mesh with the meaning of "artisanal" outside of that context. I wouldn't say an adept breadmaker who baked a sandwich loaf was making "artisanal bread," for example, though he may in fact be an artisan. So when spaghetti uses the term, those of us who bake know, generally, what type of bread he is making and what general characteristics he's after.

I'll qualify that by saying that people do tend to use the term differently -- e.g. some people will only use it for sourdough-type leavening -- but it usually refers to boule, baguette, ciabatta; your thick-crusted, freestanding loaves.
posted by transient at 2:56 PM on November 27, 2004

check to see if your water is soft or hard.

I live in Europe, and whenever I travel I buy local yeasts and flour for my bread baking girlfriend. It really, really makes a difference, especially with italian bread.
posted by zaelic at 3:39 PM on November 27, 2004

those of us who bake know, generally, what type of bread he is making and what general characteristics he's after

I fall squarely into this category and still stand by my statement.
posted by yellowcandy at 12:05 AM on November 28, 2004

Better late than never, I'm adding in a vote for Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery; I got this for my husband's birthday two years ago, and he's never really looked back. Her technique is incredibly fussy, but once you get in the groove, the bread is fabulous. Reading through her notes might help you troubleshoot your technique.
posted by deliriouscool at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2004

« Older Games Workers Play   |   Trekkie Vote Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.