Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Knead to Know:
Your Bread Baking Questions Answered

Susan's 'Perfect for Beginners' Farmhouse White Sandwich Bread

We love to hear your feedback about our recipes, and we enjoy answering the many bread baking questions you ask us. But since our (often longwinded) replies usually end up buried in the comments sections of past posts, we thought it would be more helpful to start turning them into their own little mini posts instead. And besides, we can never pass up the opportunity to use a good (bad?) bread pun. As always, we welcome your input! —Susan and Beth

Our first official Knead to Know question is about Susan's popular Farmhouse White andwich bread and comes from Shelby, who blogs at Eat Local Santa Fe:

I have a question. I made your bread today, and it is beautiful and it tastes great. But I am having a problem. I live at 7000 feet and have been experimenting with different breads and keep having the same problem. The breads come out looking great. They sound hollow when I tap them, but after they have cooled and I cut them open, they are almost too moist and gum up on the knife. What am I doing wrong? Do I need to increase the cooking time? Maybe the flour? Not sure. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Okay, Shelby, first a disclaimer—I have no high altitude baking experience. But my immediate thought when I read your comment was something I see you mentioned in your Farmhouse White blog post, and that is oven temperature. If all of your breads are turning out too moist inside, they simply may be underbaked. An inexpensive oven thermometer can be very helpful in this regard. What you assumed was 375 degrees might actually only be 325 or 350—and that can make a big difference.

Remember, too, that all ovens bake a little differently, so bread that bakes in 35 mintues in my 375-degree oven might take 40 (or even 30) in yours. The easiest thing to do is experiment. Turn up the heat. Or try baking your breads even longer than you already are. If you're baking more than one loaf at a time, pull one out when you think it's done, then let the other(s) bake longer and compare them.

Another question: Are you slicing into your breads straight from the oven? Once you take them out of the oven, the loaves actually continue to bake. Eating them right away can lead to gummy, undercooked interiors even if they look perfectly done on the outside. For most breads, it's best to let the loaves rest intact at least 40 minutes (which often seems like an interminable amount of time!) before slicing into them. And no, contrary to what Beth claims, tearing into the bread with your hands rather than using a knife still counts!

There are a few exceptions to this 40 minute rule—rolls can usually be eaten after just a few minutes (click here for all the roll recipes on A Year in Bread), as can my favorite Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguettes.

Shelby, we hope you'll let us know how things go with your breads. In the meantime, do any of you have other thoughts or ideas to add—or tips for baking bread at high altitudes?

© Copyright, the fun and floury bread baking blog where you have all of the questions, and while we definitely aren't yeasty know-it-alls, we do have some of the answers.



Anonymous glenda said...

I have been using an instant read thermometer to check my bread. Maybe that would help. It should read around 200°F.
I insert it almost to the middle of the loaf being careful not to touch the hot pan.

I have had similar problems before and I am not high altitude. I never do well when a recipe tells me to look for nebulous signs like "jiggle" in the middle or "hollow sound" or similar suggestions.

3/01/2009 11:33 AM  
Anonymous rosemary said...

I live at 7400 ft. and often have to decrease yeast amount slightly (1/2 tsp.) to avoid too rapid a rise, then collapse of dough, which causes the bread to be more dense than it should be. Also, I sometimes need to raise the oven temp. by 25 degrees. The oven thermometer is critical to make sure that your oven temp is accurate. Hope that helps!

3/01/2009 10:20 PM  
Anonymous Samantha said...

I don't think altitude has anything to do with the bread not baking up to expectations. Its basically adjusting the temperature just right and that happens with practice -practice -practice - till you get it right. So keep at it and soon the bread will come out shining good - inside out!

3/03/2009 2:49 AM  
Blogger Connie said...

After moving from sea level to 5000 feet, I had to learn how to bake again—everything except bread, which works fine. So I agree with Samantha that altitude is unlikely to be the problem.

One high-altitude baking book suggested letting bread rise three times instead of two to compensate for the faster rising times. But oven temperature, not rising seems to be the issue here.

3/12/2009 8:36 PM  
Blogger t said...

so my question is:

when i bake bread, for the first day the texture is great- soft, chewy. but the next day it gets hard, dry, coarse. what am i doing wrong?

3/13/2009 11:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in Denver, struggling with the altitude issue as well. Just tried beer bread for the first time today, had the oven up to 425 degrees, as that's helped with baking before. Still - my beer bread, all my breads, turn out gummy. I've increased oven temp and baking time (for the beer bread, just as an example, I baked it for 55 minutes, and just put it in for more...)
Advice is welcome!!!

3/16/2009 8:10 PM  
Blogger Danielle Michelle said...

Whereas Temperature is important, baking above 7000 feet does present it's own challanges - especially with bread. Please do not dismiss this fact. I didn't beleive it either until I talked with a woman who had experimented with her breads at this level.

Yes, this problem CAN occur at sea-level - BUT decreasing the yeast by 1/4 to 1/2 tsp and increasing the flour just slightly (~ 1/4 cup) and making sure the temps are correct or slightly higher will help A LOT!

For beer bread - increase the flour and don't put quite the whole can (or bottle!) of beer in. Also bake for a little longer.

Hope this helps and saves a bunch of loaves from just messing with the temps!

3/31/2009 1:54 PM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

Seeing the delicious looking loaves of bread so makes me want to bake bread again! I can't remember the last time I pulled a fragrant totally homemade loaf out of the oven...I'm so overdue! Thanks for the sweet reminder....

4/28/2009 2:58 PM  

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