Mark Bittman made it look so easy!
March 31, 2010 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Breadfilter: Help me troubleshoot my loaf and expand my bread baking repertoire.

I recently started baking my own bread again and my first three loaves left something to be desired, mainly a bottom crust. I tried going the Mark Bittman route and my first loaf went pretty well up until I burned it. Then I remembered, oh yeah, my oven is like 50* off, so whoops. The second loaf stuck to the bottom of the dutch oven, but other than that tasted fine. The third loaf I thought would be perfect, I adjusted for temp, I oiled the dutch oven and the loaf and it still stuck and I lost the entire bottom crust. What am I doing wrong? I never had this problem with a stone or bread pan so I'm at a loss for what to do. Also, do you have any other bread advice, I've never gotten beyond white bread and 70/30 white/wheat bread. Thanks Metafilter!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Bread Makers are fool proof and make delicious bread of every and any kind. You can even set it the night before and wake up to the smell of fresh baked bread, ready at whatever time you set it for. You make it all in one pan, no mixing bowl, just put in the ingredients in the specified order (make sure salt doesn't touch yeast) and press the "start" button. I'm hooked.
posted by Lylo at 8:11 PM on March 31, 2010

I sometimes have luck with mixtures of flour and oil on my pans to prevent wet loaves from sticking.

Although his wording sometimes drives me nuts, Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads has some lovely whole wheat recipes. I've made the bagels a few times and it's always turned out really well.

Best of luck in your baking!
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 8:12 PM on March 31, 2010

Also, I forgot to mention that sometimes flour choice (all-purpose vs bread flour in particular) is supposed to be important. My mom tried switching from her standard Robin Hood whole wheat flour to a zero-additive flour (I can't quite recall what the brand or additive was) and found she had to add a whole lot more yeast to get the loaves right.

Also make sure your yeast is good. If it's been a while since you baked, it might have gone off.

Man, I frickin' love making bread.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 8:14 PM on March 31, 2010

Here's some extra info!

Ingredients I have:
Gold Medal Better for Bread Flour
Bob Red Mills Wheat Bran
Bob Red Mills Wheat Germ
Fresh ground wheat
Fleischman's Active Dry yeast
Sugar and Honey
Kosher salt
Extra Virgin Olive oil
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 8:22 PM on March 31, 2010

That spray oil that contains flour? It's AMAZING. It's so good that I've dispensed with cupcake wrappers, and I've never had a problem with bread sticking.
posted by ansate at 8:47 PM on March 31, 2010

A while back, Cook's Illustrated suggested placing the Bittman no-knead dough on a big piece of parchment paper and putting it into the hot dutch oven paper and all. I tried it a few times, and it makes the whole thing a lot easier -- the bread doesn't stick to the dutch oven (I had that problem a lot, too) and you can hold the paper to get it in and out.

I stopped making the Bittman no-knead bread once I found Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, though. I really recommend their method. Mother Earth News printed the basic recipe in this article... once I tried it, I never looked back.
posted by Gianna at 9:35 PM on March 31, 2010 [9 favorites]

First of all, if you post this question on this site you may have (much) better luck. Not sure if this is still the case, but the guy who started and runs it studied with Peter Reinhart, and there are many knowledgeable and experienced bakers on there. As an aside, regarding Reinhart's Whole Wheat Breads book mentioned above, I find it to be super awesome and also super duper complicated. It might be a good second or third (or fourth...) bread book.

As far as your specific issues: I've never oiled any pan I've made Bittmann's *cough* I mean Jim Lahey's no-knead bread in, never needed to, other than maybe when I've first gotten it (if cast iron). What might work better if you really need something is parchment paper, but I'm guessing that something else is off; maybe too hot? And make sure to FLOUR the dough and the pot. I'm not a good enough baker to tell you what exactly it most likely is, but there are people on the above site I linked to that could probably tell you in five seconds 'cause they've baked five thousand loaves of bread.

I also recommend experimenting--try more flour, less flour (bread nerds talk about hydration...), rising more and less, tweaking the temperature, etc. You'll get to know your oven and dough and then will begin to play more with the different options, like different types of flour.

Speaking of, as far as bread flour vs. regular flour, my understanding is that bread flour has more gluten and will soak up more water. I don't think you really need to worry about it now though; just go with the all-purpose stuff. Wheat flour also tends to soak up more water, and requires more kneading (if you are kneading) to develop gluten...and since the rising process with the no-knead bread is what builds the gluten, it wants more time than an entirely white-flour loaf...etc. etc.

A book I can recommend that taught me a lot about this stuff--especially different flours--is Daniel Leader's Local Breads. I must have made the simple french bread recipe from there a hundred times.

Last thing I'll say regarding flour, which has nothing to do with your problem but I think is important is: use organic flour. I really, really sincerely feel like it makes a difference in flavor and quality in a way other organic ingredients don't really come close to. Seriously noticeable.
posted by dubitable at 10:01 PM on March 31, 2010

My mom tried switching from her standard Robin Hood whole wheat flour to a zero-additive flour (I can't quite recall what the brand or additive was) and found she had to add a whole lot more yeast to get the loaves right.

Total digression, but: I think I remember reading that a lot of flour already contains a fair amount of yeast in it just because of the environment it's in. Indeed, sourdough can be made (I've done it) just by putting some flour and water in a bowl and making sure it's in good shape for a few weeks, adding fresh flour and water...voila, yeast will grow. It would make sense a grain mill would have a buttload of yeast floating around, just eating up the grain particles in the air...
posted by dubitable at 10:04 PM on March 31, 2010

It's been years since I made regular bread (Celiac Disease) but I remember when hubby and I were getting into it that somebody suggested Vital Wheat Gluten. It made a world of difference.
posted by TooFewShoes at 10:04 PM on March 31, 2010

I don't really dig this style of making bread for a variety of reasons, but anyway, all your bread-baking needs should be directed to The Fresh Loaf. It contains a wealth of recipes, knowledge and expertise.

Re: your specific issue - it is a common problem with metal tins and high hydration loaves. Even teflon can be difficult with this combo. I don't know what they call it in the states, but "oven paper"/ "baking paper" (the non stick kind) is probably your best best.

I can't speak for all the recipes, but I found the ones I used from Artisan in Five were incredibly, incredibly salty for my palate. Rienhart's not my style but it's a good recc. My hands-down favourite is Jeffrey Hamelman's bread.
posted by smoke at 10:15 PM on March 31, 2010

best bet. Not best best.
posted by smoke at 10:18 PM on March 31, 2010

And I buggered up that link, but dubitable has it right. Dubitable answer really has everything right, I wish I had previewed before posting! Local Breads is a great book, but be sure to download the errata pdf - it's chock-full of errors, the lazy bastards.
posted by smoke at 10:21 PM on March 31, 2010

The book I go back to for simplicity sake, variety sake, good-practice sake, all-around great bread is Edward Espe Brown's Tassajara Bread Book. Brown was (may still be) a monk at the Tassajara Hot Springs outside San Francisco/Big Sur area. I consider this bread book an essential.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:47 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Baking bread is Really Easy, so don't give up! Kneading the dough is a lot of fun! Don't worry about using special ingredients until you get your basic loaf down so you can make it without thinking.

Try a different recipe! When I bake my bread, I just throw the dough on a metal cookie sheet, or in a bread pan. They both work fine. I never have made your no-knead bread, but trust me, do not be afraid of kneading - Just dust your hands with lots of flour before you start!
posted by rebent at 11:42 PM on March 31, 2010

I too have had problems with no-knead bread sticking to the pan; I just cut a circle of baking parchment to the size of the bottom of the pan, and it all works fine.
posted by Jakob at 4:35 AM on April 1, 2010

Dumb question, but are you letting the dutch oven preheat long enough before putting the dough in? Also, the original Bittman version of Lahey's recipe had too much water, which might be part of the issue. The revised version is 430g flour and 345g water.

I've baked the Lahey no-knead bread in an enameled dutch oven (with and without parchment paper) and in a regular cast iron loaf pan. For the loaf pan I've found that using butter, rather than oil, does a better job of keeping the dough from sticking during the 2nd rise. Also, the shape is much better for sandwiches (mmm). Good luck!
posted by Fin Azvandi at 4:25 PM on April 1, 2010

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