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There are lots of things that can possibly go wrong when you bake bread. Baking bread is no child’s play as there are many factors that can result in a failed product.
At Bakestarters, we are all too familiar with bread failures. Whether it is bread that is too gummy, overly sour, too dense or over-baked – we’ve faced it during our testings. There was one bread recipe that we had to test close to 20 times to get right!
However, perseverance is key so don’t give up. Testing and tweaking recipes is also where the fun in baking comes in! In this article, we break down some commonly encountered bread baking problems and the reasons behind them. We’ve also included some possible solutions that you can try if you face any of these problems.
Maybe the packages of instant yeast you own have been sitting around for years, and you happened to forget checking the expiration date before using it for baking. Or, you might have accidentally killed the yeast by using water that’s too hot to activate the yeast.
The way your dough rises highly depends on the climate. You can’t always blame the weather for your baking fails, but sadly, that’s the case in this one. Singapore’s hot temperatures supports yeast activity and enables it to grow faster, but the high humidity might result in the dough absorbing too much moisture, resulting in a situation of over-proofing. Over-proofing is where the air bubbles in your dough has grown too large and burst, therefore resulting in dense bread.
Image source: Flickr
You might have added too much liquid (water or milk) to the dough. Try baking the same recipe, but reducing the amount of liquid by one or two tablespoons.
Most recipes require less than one package (7 grams) of instant yeast. Make sure you’ve added the right amount of yeast, or your bread will rise too rapidly and collapse because the dough’s structure can’t hold that much rise.
Also, pay attention to the type of yeast suggested in the recipe. If the recipe suggests using regular yeast, don’t substitute it with rapid-rise yeast, or you’ll face the same effect as adding too much yeast.
When salt is listed as an ingredient in a bread recipe, never try to omit it – don’t worry, it won’t make the plain or sweet bread taste salty. Adding salt will limit yeast growth, so your bread won’t rise too much and end up deflated.
Maybe you didn’t bake the bread for long enough, so while the crust looks perfectly golden-brown, the center is far from done. To check for a bread’s doneness, use a kitchen thermometer. A loaf of bread is usually done baking if the internal temperature reaches 88°C–99°C. If you don’t have one, knock the bread lightly. It should sound hollow when it’s done.
Another possible reason is that your oven isn’t hot enough. Although you’ve set the temperature according to the recipe, all ovens are different, and maybe your oven’s internal temperature is not reflective of the temperature you’ve set on the oven knob. An oven thermometer will be useful to measure the internal temperature of your oven. Try measuring the oven’s temperature, increase if needed, and bake for another 10 minutes.
Image source: Pixabay
The protein content of the flour isn’t high enough. Try to use bread flour as opposed to all purpose flour when you’re baking bread as it has higher protein (gluten), which helps to hold water in the dough and keep your bread moist until the baking process is done.
This problem is also common when you bake bread with whole grains. Whole grains absorb more water, and to compensate for this, you’ll need to use more liquid than what the recipe states if you’re modifying a recipe that originally uses regular flour. Otherwise, use recipes that already list whole-grain flour as an ingredient. It’ll save you from getting an overly dry loaf of bread.
When your dough develops a dry, crusty skin during proofing periods, it is most probably because you didn’t cover it when you set it aside to rise. Most recipes recommend you to cover the dough with a piece of cling wrap or damp cloth. This step is important as it prevents the outer layer from drying out and forming a crust before it is baked.
Image source: The Bread Guide
Slashing or scoring a bread allows excess gases in your dough to be released during baking. If you did not do it properly, or skipped this step, the gases released during baking will get trapped and create large/too many air bubbles on the inside of your loaf. Make slashes or scores at least 1 cm deep to ensure that any extra gas can escape.
Forgetting to punch down the dough after proofing (and before shaping) will also lead to the formation of too many air bubbles. Deflate your bread dough gently before shaping to avoid the appearance of big air bubbles when it is done baking.
In any type of baked goods – muffins, cakes, and bread, not sifting your dry ingredients well is a common cause to the appearance of hard flour lumps in your finished baked good. As for making bread, this is also due to under-mixing and insufficient kneading of your dough, which prevents the flour from being completely incorporated, forming flour lumps post-bake.
Make sure that you’ve kneaded the bread dough well enough, and don’t forget to sift the flour with the other ingredients before mixing it with the wet ingredients to ensure that your dough will be mixed thoroughly.
Cooling loaf on rack
Your bread comes out of the oven with a crispy crust just like in the picture above, but fifteen minutes later, you find that the crust has dramatically softened, and even becomes soggy. What happened? Chances are that you didn’t give your bread enough room to “breathe”. When there’s no space between the bread loaf and the surface it is placed on, the heat that is emitted from the bottom of the bread gets trapped in between, creating steam that gets absorbed by your bread, resulting in a soggy crust.
As soon as your bread finishes baking, take it out of the pan and place it on a cooling rack. Make sure there’s enough space (at least 5 cm) between the cooling rack and the surface you’re placing it on. Also, don’t forget to remove the parchment paper. When possible, place the bread in a dry and hot place to make it easier for excess moisture to evaporate.
If your bread is perfectly baked, but the crust looks darker than you expected, it usually indicates that the top browned quicker than the rest of the bread. No worries, this doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong!
When it starts to smell like freshly-baked bread, take a look inside the oven and see if the crust of your bread is starting to brown. If it has, don’t rush to take it out as the inner part of the bread might not be done yet.
Instead, keep an eye on it. Once the color gets darker, make a “tent” using aluminum foil and place it over the bread to prevent it from over-browning. You can also try lowering the oven’s temperature a bit. This will ensure that your bread will be done without a burnt crust.
Most recipes require bread dough to be proofed for 40 minutes to 1 hour. Although this seems like a very long period, it’ll give your bread that desirable fluffiness. Make sure you’re following the directions to avoid getting a heavy, dense bread.
Just like troubleshooting bread dough that won’t rise, you can overcome this problem by using the correct type of flour in your bread, which is bread flour. It has been proven that using flour with lower protein content (such as cake flour) will keep your bread from rising properly.
When you encounter a bread baking fail, don’t get discouraged. Even the greatest bakers had their worst times, but that’s what motivates them to hone their baking skills. We encourage you to do the same! With enough practice and experience, your baking sessions will be free from disastrous failures in no time.
For more cooking and baking tips, facts, and trivia, follow us on Instagram @bakestarters.
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