bread baking question
March 30, 2013 7:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm new to bread making. I want to make bread that is not so dense and has regular, medium-sized air bubbles in it. Can you help me?

I've been learning how to make plain white bread. I'm not using a bread machine, just an oven. The bread's been turning out okay. But it's pretty close to cake or quick breads, texture-wise, and I'd like to make something less dense. How do I make white bread that has regular, medium-sized bubbles in it? Sort of like ciabatta bread, I think, but not necessarily with holes that are that large.
posted by colfax to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Try a slow-rising no knead bread. It takes time for those larger bubbles to develop. You want a recipe like this where the dough sits in the fridge overnight and you don't touch it very much.
posted by steinwald at 7:36 AM on March 30, 2013

I don't know if you're making bread for the aesthetics or for food (or both, of course...) but if kneading is on the list of things you're willing to do without, may I suggest the no-knead bread recipes that have taken the internet by storm? It started with this post in the NYTimes and it went from there. In particular, I like this recipe from Steamy Kitchen, but just google it and you'll have tons of recipes with slight variations.

It'll give you those medium to large sized bubbles you are looking for. I've had wild success with it.

That said, the bubbles you want for regular bread that requires kneading usually require a series of kneading and rising cycles, a steamy oven, a hot stone, and a good level baking temperature (so if you're using an electric oven that cycles on/off, that might affect the final product.) I'm not much of a baker (my other half is the baker between us, and often makes the kind of bread you're starting out with, aka "Cuban", which is a quick loaf in that it only requires two rises), but Bernard Clayton's book is the bible (or so I've been told.) You might want to invest in that book and go from there. He covers just about everything.
posted by absquatulate at 7:40 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Short version: less yeast, more time to rise, wetter dough--ciabatta, foccacia, and the no-knead bread mentioned above are all very wet. Leaving off the kneading also means that the gluten won't strangle your bubbles.
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 7:54 AM on March 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

A while back I posted instructions for the no-knead yeast bread I like to make. This is a great recipe to really learn the art of bread baking with. Once you get comfortable with it, you can start experimenting. The bread is easy and delicious!
posted by workerant at 8:01 AM on March 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding House of Leaves and Grass, the way to bigger bubbles is wetter, softer dough. This also tends to mean stickier dough, so expect to need to flour the kneading surface and your hands generously.
posted by jon1270 at 8:04 AM on March 30, 2013

Agreed - with HoLoG. Though not sure you need to go all the way to a Ciabatta type dough with 75%+ hydration for what it sounds like you like. Get "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" he will teach you what to do. And give you recipes.

Also is their fat in the dough you are making now? That can contribute towards the texture you are getting if everything else is not being done correctly.
posted by JPD at 8:50 AM on March 30, 2013

The Bread Baker's Appurtenance by Peter Reinhart and the King Arthur Baker's Companion are two great books that explain a lot of how things work, and have good recipes and techniques to get you started.
posted by nalyd at 8:57 AM on March 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm a very inexperienced baker maintaining a sourdough starter, and this Sourdough English Muffin Bread is both really easy to make and has a lot of little bubbles.
posted by jackbishop at 9:13 AM on March 30, 2013

Seconding the advice to try a no-knead bread.

This recipe is the one I use. The texture -- chewy with some substantial bubbles and a nice crunchy crust -- it the best I've ever had from homemade bread.
posted by pantarei70 at 10:34 AM on March 30, 2013

There are many great resources for this. Tartine Bread is, in my opinion, the best for beginner bread bakers. It focuses specifically on open, holey bread.The Bread Bakers Apprentice and both books by Daniel Leader (Bread Alone, Local Bread) are also great. The Fresh Loaf is a great online resource.
posted by ssg at 12:06 PM on March 30, 2013

Even you decide to go no-knead, The Bread Bible is really the best guide on how to bake wonderful bread. She explains the science and the art.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:17 PM on March 30, 2013

I threw myself into the deep end with the Bread Baker's Apprentice. It took 6 months to get something I was proud of, but it taught me the technique I needed. Here's what I was doing wrong (and it might help you):

1. Using anything other than SAF Instant Yeast. It's ridiculous how much it helped.

2. Using water at the wrong temperature. Turns out I need to use cold water, instead of the room temperature water recommended in many recipes.

3. Not kneading long enough - which I did by hand until I got the feel of it. Now I use the mixer because of nerve damage, etc.

4. Letting it rise too much or too little. This is one of those things that you have to do by feel. This is a texture thing; the structure of the bread is down to the kneading (to windowpane, which is longer than I thought possible, and longer than the recipe ever says it should take) and to not letting it rise too little or too much. If it looks deflated, it's over-proofed. It should still have rising to do in the oven.

If you want a dough with lots of big bubbles (like ciabatta), you're going to need a wetter dough too. Which makes it really hard to work with.

Get Reinhart's book. And then commit yourself to experimenting. A lot. There's really no other way to learn...and make sure you track what you did each time - I have a journal of all the baking I did for the first six months: any extra flour/water added during kneading, time to rise, pictures of windowpane dough, time in the oven, etc. And it really helped a lot.

Memail me if you want more help. Bread baking is both art and science. Good luck!
posted by guster4lovers at 1:50 PM on March 30, 2013

The Bread Baker's Appurtenance

It's a different word, but it still works! Neat!

Many 'no knead' recipes will give you those air holes, but will still give you a relatively dense , springy / spongy crumb. Reinhart's pan a l'ancienne - impossibly wet, impossible to more than fold, breaking every rule in the home baking book (cold water, next to no yeast, no kneading, refrigeration) - makes a wonderful, open, creamy ciabatta-like crumb if you can let go of the idea that bread is square.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:05 PM on March 30, 2013

Thank you all so much for your answers!
posted by colfax at 5:33 AM on April 1, 2013

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