New bread baker here!

Hi all, I started baking bread about a year ago. I’ve tried baking a variety of different kinds of things — no knead, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, hamburger buns… they’ve all been OK, but none of them have been great. They’re almost always dense, uninteresting, crumbly… just not very nice. I’ve been using all-purpose flour, and active dry yeast, and I’ve been kneading by hand. Do I need to try different flours, different yeast?.. My doughs almost never pass the windowpane test so maybe I need to knead them much longer? Or do I just need to be patient and practice practice practice? I am aiming for light, fluffy rolls and breads that stay moist for longer than a day — is that attainable as a home baker? I’m feeling frustrated that I don’t really like to eat the thing I bake, and I would love some words of encouragement! Thanks all.

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Hi @aleous

In answer to your question - yes absolutely it’s attainable. It’s also not that hard - but like anything else it’s easy once you know how - so your mission is really just to “know how” and learn how it’s done. There are a few things that I would suggest for good sandwich bread.

  1. find a good recipe - I just posted one myself and you can see some photos of the bread it made.
  2. Watch videos and read because a lot of it comes down to technique. I don’t spend a lot of time kneading for sandwich bread - maybe 7 minutes - but I use a slap and rotate method. Also the kneading only happens after I have mixed the ingredients and let it all sit in rough ball in a covered bowl for 30 minutes. Videos on youtube will show this technique and there are plenty of other ways to achieve the same end too.
  3. Maybe for your first loaves use strong white flour ie. bread flour/baker’s flour. It has a higher protein level and more gluten than ordinary plain/AP flour. Not saying you can’t make it with AP flour but why not start with the easiest flour and once you get good results then you can try mixing some AP flour with it if you want to experiment etc.
  4. Don’t use too dry a dough and don’t keep adding extra flour to it when you knead it - that’s a good way to have a dense loaf with not much rise… Learn how to work with a moister dough. Videos once again in that regard will help.
  5. I find the softest and fluffiest milk bread recipes will be made with milk instead of water and at least one egg and some butter (oil/fat) and sugars (sugar/honey/maple syrup etc). Sure you can make sandwich bread with just water, flour yeast and salt - like a baguette for instance but milk bread is very soft sandwich bread. Once again the relative amounts of these ingredients is fairly important. Learn about the concept of baker’s percentages ie. the percentage of other ingredients by weight compared to the weight of the flour used in the recipe.

So go watch some videos and keep reading. Find a good video on youtube and adopt their methods and you’ll be on your way in no time. Read some of the recipes and information here as well. Please don’t let the amount of info I just posted daunt you. I find some of the videos on YouTube very entertaining - you’ll absorb the information quickly if you just watch a few good ones.

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Thanks @Thumbpicker! I really appreciate the encouragement. I will give your suggestions a try. A question for you: are there any videos and/or articles you’d recommend that I check out? There are so many out there, that it’s hard to know what’s “good.” Thanks again :grinning:

@aleous This is a wonderful video with excellent written instructions for getting started.


There is also a sourdough version of this. I started my bread baking journey April 2018 utilizing the videos, techniques, flours/grains and equipment that I purchased here at Breadtopia. I’ve been extremely happy with my bread journey. No, I am NOT a paid staffer or affiliated with the company other than being a very happy customer. Take some time and look through the different videos and recipes. I know you’ll find some that will definitely peak your interest. I know I did. There are several recipes that are in my permanent bread-baking rotation.

Enjoy your journey and welcome to Breadtopia’s bread baking community. I love this forum and I’m sure you will too.

Leah

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Thanks @Leah1! I will check that out, and I appreciate your words of encouragement!

Me too! I’ve been looking at the videos today and ready to bake no knead sourdough tomorrow. Thank you too @Leah1 and @Thumbpicker!
Melissa

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Hi all - @Thumbpicker and @Leah1, I just wanted to report back to let you know that I gave it another go, and was excited to come out with a great loaf this time! I had no idea bread flour would make such a difference. I’m so glad you made that suggestion. I’ve also been reading through various posts and watching videos, and have picked up some other interesting tips. Thanks for sharing your insight and ideas! I’m excited to continue down this road :slight_smile:

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So pleased for you!

Go to your local Aldi store and buy a bunch of flour, it’s so cheap right now that you can aford to practice to your heart’s content. . It’s about a buck for 5 pounds, Unless you are doing sourdough, buy a pound of yeast from Amazon keep it in a jar in you fridge to keep it fresh, and bake lots of bread. I started some years ago, when I retired, and many of loaves that I threw out back for the birds that were so bad the poor birds were bending the little beaks on it. Just pick a basic recipe for white bread and bake it over and over until you get to where you love it, before you try any other recipe. That’s how you can become good baker.

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I would like to thank you all for your advice and encouragement. Over the past week, I had 4 successful bakes! I am so pleased to finally be able to produce bread that is actually bread and not just a crumbly loaf attempting to be bread. I am so happy with how my bread has been turning out that I wanted to show off a picture of some rolls I made this weekend.

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Wow - look at that! Perfect well done!

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Gorgeous!

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Hello Audrey, I know that feeling well about the heavy bread bakes, and happy to hear about your recent successes! Those bread rolls look beautiful and look like they tasted great! I’d love to try it out too…can you pls post the recipe?

Hey Audrey, Trial & Error was and still is my best teaching tool. I agree that videos help and recipes help but the bottom line is this:

Recipes are approximate although using the baker’s percentage and weighing your ingredients is as far as I am concerned the only way to go. The mixing, kneading, proofing and baking are all spelled out in each recipe but you have to learn them all for yourself.

Every person winds up with their favorite way to knead dough as an example. Each way seems to work but you have to know when to stop kneading. When the dough goes from extensible to having structure. Even my milk bread requires mixing for 25 minutes in a mixer and watching the gluten strands develop. First couple of times I did not do it long enough and the bread did not rise properly. Visually watching and learning worked for me.

Flour type is important (which I found out through trial and error) as the crumb was affected. Someone advised using a bread flour baking lots of bread until you get it right and that is good advice. Personally I would not eat the stuff from the stores hence I did what everyone suggested NOT TO DO which was starting with whole grain, home milled and sourdough. I am glad I did as I learned plenty.

One of the best things you can do is have a bake diary. Write down what you did and the outcome. I even took pictures of final proofing and the bread when baked. Eric and Meliisa from Breadtopia have a knack for sourdough. Something I still have not mastered because of how I handle my starter. I’m still learning. My breads never turn out like theirs.

As I love sourdough rye I started with Eric’s Limpa Rye and failed miserably each time. Basically I always had what is called a “enzyme attack” and my bread flopped. I tried Peter Reinhart’s method for Limpa Rye to have successive bricks I could have used for boat anchors. That would have been ok but no longer have a boat. Today I have my own sourdough recipe (all whole grain, all home milled) for Limpa Rye that comes out of the oven perfect every time. And If I say so myself I will place against anyone else’s bread for texture and flavor. I picked up some tips along the way (a year) and it was worth it.

If you have a mixer I have an updated recipe for Milk Bread with many variations that I have been working on for 6 months or so. I tried to post it here even in html and it just will not post properly because of all the formatting so I have given up on posting to the forum. The recipe is fool proof, light and airy crumb (a little on the wet side to handle but not bad) and repeatable every time I make it. Email me if you want it and I’ll send it. Be forewarned though it is made with 100% whole grain, home milled flours (tried many.) I cannot see why it would not work well with store bought bread flour though. Have plenty of pictures in the recipe to see what it should look like.

This for me turned out to be a fun hobby and I get to eat the results…SOMETIMES!! :laughing:

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Thanks @susanmcc99!

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Sure thing @PLBT.

Below is the recipe, including a few minor tweaks I made. I got the recipe from a baking blog that I found just by googling, but I’m sure lots of folks have recipes just like this.

(FYI this is a full recipe, which makes two round pans. I’ve cut the recipe in half just to make one pan)

1/2 c milk
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt (can use less)
1/4 c butter, melted
1/2 c warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 pkg Fleischmann’s active dry yeast
2 large eggs, beaten
4 1/2 c bread flour

additional butter for coating bowls used and brushing on tops of baked rolls

  1. Scald milk (bring just to a boil and remove from heat immediately).
  2. Stir in sugar, salt, and butter. Set aside and allow to cool to lukewarm.
  3. In a large bowl mix warm water and yeast. Stir until dissolved.
  4. Stir in lukewarm milk mixture.
  5. Add beaten eggs.
  6. Stir in half the flour. Beat until smooth. Add remaining flour gradually, mixing as you go. You may need a bit more or less than the total called for in the recipe, depending on the humidity and other factors. Once the dough is well incorporated, elastic and slightly stiff (but not dry), then knead for another 8-10 minutes until smooth and very elastic.
  7. Butter the inside of a bowl or container. Put dough in and turn dough over a couple of times to coat it all with the butter.
  8. Cover and place in a warm place so it can rise.
  9. It will take about 1- 1 ½ hours to double in bulk.
  10. Once doubled in size, punch dough down and turn out onto a board to shape.
  11. At this point, you can shape and fill as desired.
    To make dinner rolls: weigh the entire ball of dough. Divide the total weight by 12, and then pinch off small bits of dough in that weight, and shape into a ball. Place each one in a buttered muffin tin or baking pan, barely touching each other, do not crowd rolls.
    If you plan to freeze some: You can freeze them right after shaping them into balls. You will need to remove them from the freezer at least 2 hours before serving. They need to thaw and rise before baking.
  12. Cover prepared rolls and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, again about 1- 1 ½ hours.
  13. Preheat oven to 350 degrees when rolls are about 10 minutes from being ready for baking. When ready to bake place rolls in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.
  14. Brush tops of rolls with melted butter immediately when removed from the oven. Sprinkle top with large kosher/finishing salt.
  15. Allow rolls to sit for at least 10-15 minutes before eating.

Thanks @DennisM. I agree - trial and error has been a great teacher, and it’s important to keep your eyes open so that you can adjust along the way if needed. I’ll need to try out a bake diary! Not only would it be useful, but I bet it’s fun to look back and see the progress you’ve made along the way.

What’s that in the photo you posted? Looks like whole wheat - and did you add a dried fruit, or is that chocolate?

Congratulations! Never underestimate the importance of fresh flour and fresh yeast. They should be nowhere near their “best by” date. (The same goes for baking powder and baking soda, used for other kinds of… baking.) You’ll be able to make great bread with unbleached all-purpose flour in no time.

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Melissa~ I hope you’ve had luck with your sourdough bread. It’s a multi-day process that requires careful “feeding” of the levain long before you pull out your large mixing bowl and the flours you’re going to use.(And the filtered water. Yeast does not like tap water!) The most recent skill that I’ve been trying to improve is my stretch-fold-turn technique. It’s essential for great sourdough bread, I think.

Keep baking!

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