Further adventures in breadmaking

Some years ago, I baked my first loaf of bread. Two weeks ago, I decided to try it again. And it failed, and here’s what I learned.

The original recipe said to use “something along the lines of 1 cup” of water to mix in with the yeast. So I used 1 cup. In later discussion on the blog post above, it sounded like people thought 1/4 cup should be sufficient. So when I recorded the recipe, that’s what I used, and when I pulled it out to start baking, I’d forgotten all about this exchange.

With only 1/4 cup of water, I got a very dry dough that wouldn’t let me add more flour in the “add more flour” step. It was also very difficult to knead. But I kept at it. In the end, it barely rose, and I got a very small, dense loaf. Actually, it was still tasty, just thicker than you’d expect from a standard bread.

Lesson: the water does matter! And for this recipe, use 1 cup.

One week ago, I tried again, with 1 cup of water, and the bread came out fantastic again. I also incorporated some suggestions from “The New Best Recipe”, the encyclopedic cookbook/instruction manual I’ve raved about in the past:

  • Let the dough rise in the oven, not just on a counter. Heat oven to 150, leave it there a minute or so, and turn it off. Then put the dough in, covered tightly with plastic wrap. (Actually I used a damp towel but I think either works.)
  • Another great tip, which I didn’t get to incorporate, was putting a rubber band around the outside of the container in which the dough is rising, which ideally is a straight-sided container, so you can ACTUALLY TELL when it has doubled in volume.

Yesterday, I baked another loaf. I wanted to try making something wheatier, chewier, with sunflower seeds and oats in it. The Best Recipe book DID NOT HAVE a recipe of this nature, to my disappointment. But one of the first hits on google was this recipe for Multigrain Sunflower Bread, which sounded perfect.

I followed the instructions, which in this case did call for 1 cup of water, plus 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup each of sunflower seeds and oats. Many people commented that this made for a very wet, sticky dough and they had to add more flour. Instead, I ended up with… another dry dough! I went through the whole process anyway, but once again it didn’t rise the way it should have. Here is a comparison of loaf #2 (white flour) and loaf #3 (unbleached/wheat flour with oats and sunflower seeds), using the same yeast and water amount:


The new bread is quite delicious and chewy… but didn’t rise properly. This is either due to needing more yeast, or more kneading, or something … I learned that kneading stretches out the gluten fibers into sheets, so they trap the gas released by the yeast, which otherwise just escapes. So the dry-ish dough maybe didn’t form those sheets. More experimentation is needed!

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I knew this already. I learned something new!