Bread, Part 1: Basic Loaf

So after my adventure with the Great American Baking Show where my loaf of bread was deemed not quite up to par, I decided that I wanted to learn more about bread baking. I really haven’t done all that much of it before, though I have some general knowledge and have made several different kinds of bread with varying levels of success (and of course spent that fabulous week in Paris watching a professional at work), and I think it would be worthwhile to acquire some extra knowledge and perhaps make some tasty things along the way.

I’m going to do a series of posts about my bread-baking experience and make specific note of the things I’ve learned. Hopefully by the end I’ll be a better bread-baker!

My first attempt was a basic loaf– no special shaping, no special ingredients, with the only deviation from standard procedure being the use of a poolish (a mixture of yeast, flour, and water that you start the night before to give it time to develop some flavor). I used a recipe from King Arthur Flour’s website and opted to use the full sixteen hours of fermentation for the poolish to see what would happen.

My poolish bubbled up nicely, and when I scraped it into my mixing bowl the next day I could see that it had really nice gluten formation as well– it doesn’t just happen with kneading!

After mixing in the remaining ingredients the dough was soft, and I was glad I had my stand mixer to really give it a good kneading, since it was so wet that I wouldn’t have been able to knead it by hand without adding tons of flour. I ended up letting it go for 10 minutes in the stand mixer, adding only 10 of the 12 tablespoons of extra flour the recipe said I could use. I added most of it in the first 5 minutes, and only added tablespoons 9 and 10 near the end, which apparently gave it just enough dryness to finally pull away from the sides of the bowl.

My kneaded dough rose quickly (it only took an hour and probably was slightly more than doubled), and once I’d shaped it into a round loaf it rose even faster– the instructions said that it would rise about 50% in 45-90 minutes but it got a lot bigger in only 30 minutes, so I baked it anyway.

In retrospect I believe it was overproofed– not sure whether it was in the first or second rise– because the finished loaf was denser on the bottom than on the top, which is apparently a sign of overproofing.

The crust was also odd– the recipe said to spritz the outside with water before putting it in the oven, and also spritz the oven itself with water periodically during the first few minutes of baking. Well, I did that, and my crust was nice and crunchy when I first took the loaf out of the oven, but it quickly softened and ended up being almost flabby– there was no nice, shattery crunch when cutting into it. I have no idea what caused this– it wasn’t underbaked, as my probe thermometer demonstrated– but I didn’t like it.

So, lessons learned:

  1. Don’t overproof the dough– go by size rather than by the timeline in the recipe. Next time I’ll keep a much closer eye on it.
  2. For a crunchier crust I’ll try my dad’s trick of making a glaze out of water microwaved with a little cornstarch or flour, and painting it on the loaf before baking.

One thought on “Bread, Part 1: Basic Loaf

  1. Hmm, I wonder what was going on with your crust! Spraying it with water was probably more to help create steam and to encourage rising in the oven, and I think I’ve even read that it in the end it can help make crusts crispier too? Though in my case, I tend to be a chronic over-baker in just about everything so hard crispy crusts are usually not a problem for me haha 🙂

    It still looks like such a delicious loaf though! Good luck with the bread baking!


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