Bread Me Baby

ok. Let's talk about bread. Your post inspired me.

I have been making bread, and I love making bread. But about every 7th loaf seems to work. Lately my dough has been shrinking, yes I said shrinking, in the oven. Which results in me, well, very pissed off.

Any suggestions?


  1. When making bread, there are a few things that you want to pay attention to. I find sandwich loaves so much harder, probably because the crumb is so important. Although I use a different mixing method than Jamie Oliver (he adds water to his dough, I do the reverse), his attitude about making bread is fearless and comforting. One recipe can be transformed into a million others, whether it's for sandwich or foccacia. He has, as you probably have seen, some wonderful recipes that are easy and delicious. (I recommend the banana honey bread and yes, you can find it on his website). For the bread I photographed, I used his proportions, but changed the ingredients.

    So let's see if we can't find a solution to your "shrinking problem". It's possible, however, that you've already covered these points, so let me know if you need more and I'll dig further.

    The first question to ask is: what happens to the dough right before it goes into the oven and during the first few minutes of cooking? After it's second rise, I gently took the dough out of the bowl and formed it into oblong shapes to fit in my bread pans. Some people recommend that at this point you knead it five or six times to give it "spring". After the third rise in the pans, when the dough goes into the oven, it will have a little of this spring left and inflate like a balloon. I, however, did not do this, but it might help. Also, no slamming the oven door. That disrupts the circulation of heat.

    The second question is: how are you mixing the dough? Yeast could also be a factor, but if you're using a high quality instant yeast, there should be no problem here. I mixed together 2 tbs yeast, 2 tbs molasses, and 1 tbs salt with 2 C of warm water in a bowl. Then I added two cups of all-purpose white flour and stirred vigorously to activate the gluten. The dough should be soupy and sloppy at this point. Then I added a cup of whole wheat bread flour, stirring hard, another cup, stirring hard, and another cup (by this time I couldn't really stir any more). Finally, I worked in 1/2 C of corn flour with my hands, just cause it was around. This way of adding flour to water seems to work the best. You avoid adding too much and drying out the dough, plus a lot of the kneading work gets done. I found my dough was immediately smoother and more elastic.

    Of course, all of this changes if you're making all whole wheat bread. I have made many frustrating lumps of 100% whole wheat bread, so I thought I'd try a mix until I regain my confidence. Bread making seems to be a lot of experimenting and trying to figure out which flours and methods work best. But the best advice is to read a couple of books. Maybe you already have done so, but start with the Joy of Cooking, then read the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, then check out the Tassajara Bread Book. Another one I found at the library that was awesome is, Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein. All of these books have different suggestions, but then it's up to you to pick which method works best. And then! Abandon the books, have faith in your knowledge, and with a peaceful calme make another loaf. (grin).

  2. Oh Lord, bread is a process isn't.

    I too use the Jaime Oliver recipe/proportions. And I always proof the yeast and then add the flour in small quantities. I have also followed the proportions in Artisan Bread in less than five minutes a day, which is all about no-knead soupy business, and it works, but is a little dis-satisfying.

    I think it could have something to do with the fact that I force the second rise by rising the dough in a cold oven with a pan of boiling water belief (because MN is so freaking cold and our apartment is dank not damp). And then I think the bread is so happy in it's little warm box, that when it goes into the dryer heat of hot oven, it shrinks down. I also have tried including a pan with steaming water in it while the bread breaks - this has proved unsuccessful as of late.

    I think perhaps I need to take a collective deep breath and try again.

    Thanks, keep the thoughts coming.


  3. As I thought, you are already doing what you're "supposed" to. I always let my bread rise in a warm dry oven. I just turn it on really brief, and then put my bread in there. My apartment is flipping cold, so these precautions are necessary. I've never heard about the boiling water trick though...

    You know, make a loaf of chewy delicious foccacia, or something that you can throw on a cookie sheet and watch it rise like there's no tomorrow. Maybe that'll break the streak.

    Who knows. I happened to make two great loaves. The next time I'm going to change my recipe and something different will happen. It's this lovely process and we just keep on giving it our all.

    love jude!

  4. I restarted my confidence with pita bread. I've decided from now on only flat breads. Fast. Über delicious. Less distressing.

    I'll keep you posted on my progress. And I appreciate the support.


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