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Posted: 24 June 2012 02:44 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m an extraordinary baker. Using only flour, salt, sugar, and water ? I have contrived a substance harder than a diamond and uglier than a statue in hell. As I was trying to extract the wretched missile from the pan, it fell out and almost killed the cat. Our brand new kitchen floor was irretrievably scarred in the process. Failing to perceive the humor, my wife advised me that it would be safer for me to spend the night on the couch than chance being choked to death in bed.

Then on the fifth loaf, a miracle occurred. I was staggered when I looked in the window and saw the bread up to the rim of the pan (which is five and a half inches up from the bottom). I called everyone I knew to come see it. To save my life I didn’t have a clue what I had done to achieve this miracle. I advised my admirers, that disciplined as I was, I would wait a requisite interval before tearing into the bread. I got the beer, the butter, and cheddar ready in anticipation of the unbridled euphoria that was shortly to be mine.

When I fell to slicing that beautiful loaf, I was astonished to find the top was no more than a sixteenth of an inch thick and an inch above the real bread. . No matter, we ate it gusto, but my confidence was shaken. My sixth loaf was a reprise of its predecessor. While I had achieved the height I craved, the bread was tough as nails in and out. The holes in the crumb were smallish and evenly spaced, but the bread simply felt like a starched shirt collar even though I had thrown in 3 tablespoons of olive oil this time to soften the interior.

Look, all I want out of my recipe (3 cups flour, 1-1/8 cups water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1-1/2 teaspoons yeast) is a slice of bread soft enough to fold over itself from a loaf 5-1/2 inches high. Please don’t tell me to use only the best ingredients ? as though I keep rat infested flour,  sugar off the floor, water from a cesspool, salt from human sweat, and eighty-four year old yeast in my larder. That’s not advice, even my four year old grandkid knows that. Please tell me how to manipulate simple ingredients into an edible product that looks like a real loaf of bread.

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Posted: 24 June 2012 04:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Could be a number of things.  First, it sounds like you had a “room where the baker sleeps” in your bread.  This could be a shaping problem where you didn’t adequately deflate the dough, or didn’t shape tightly enough.  If the bread is dry, too, it may not bond to itself well, and have noticeable swirls in the crumb.  You may need a wetter dough.

It’s possible that you overworked the dough; what did the windowpane look like after kneading?

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Posted: 25 June 2012 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Some other thoughts: 
1.  Could something be killing the yeast?  Is it direct contact with salt?  How hot is your water?  I recently tried making pizzas from some previously frozen dough.  I did not think it was possible to have such a dry, tough, greasy piece of pizza.  I assume some yeast died in the freezer! 
2.  Are you overproofing?  Sometimes the dough will look nice, but if it proofs too long it will “collapse”—tast a bit off, and not rise properly. 

Perhaps some more details about your technique?  Are you hand/machine kneading?

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Posted: 25 June 2012 09:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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It does sound like your dough may be too dry and/or over risen. Avoid adding extra flour when kneading even if the dough is sticky and until you get a handle on the process just fill your loaf pans half full and bake when the dough doubles to the top of the pan.

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Posted: 25 June 2012 10:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I couldn’t really check your formula because I don’t know how you measure flour.  But in my experience, bread like you describe can come from not enough structure and/or overproofing. 

Check that you knead long enough so that your dough makes a windowpane.  Ten minutes of hand kneading is a good place to start, though it will need more if your dough is soft and sticky/ higher hydration.

Check during every rise, especially the final proof, that the dough will just barely spring back slowly when gently poked with a finger.  If it’s too bouncy and springs back quickly, then it needs longer to proof.  If it doesn’t spring back at all (the indent remains) or worse, it deflates, you’ve let it go too far.

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Posted: 26 June 2012 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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As is my custom, I screwed up again, I failed to mention these baking dramas took place in a brand new Cuisinart CBK 200 convection bread machine. Last night I baked another loaf which put all my teeth in mortal danger. The crust on top was bad enough, but the sides and bottom were very hard, crunchy, and thick. I had to remove these merely to taste the mess.

Am I ever going to produce a truly soft white sandwich bread? I’m not in this for the art, European masterpieces are not for me. I just want a soft, mushy, cottony, characterless American super-market type bread without all the the gratuitous chemicals and preservatives one can never pronounce.

I have a suggestion, instead of trying to fathom a solution for my bread ? maybe you can provide me with a recipe that wont turn what I bake into a Zweiback twice baked teething biscuit.

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Posted: 26 June 2012 12:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Your recipe is probably fine; it certainly doesn’t explain the results you see.  You might consider ensuring that your yeast is working, and that it’s bread machine yeast.  Other than that, perhaps your bread machine is defective.

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Posted: 26 June 2012 08:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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There are 16 bread style settings with your machine. Have you selected the correct setting? If so I would blame the machine.

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