Bread-making diaries

This week I’ve been working with Peter Reinhart’s Master Formula for French bread, as detailed in ‘Crust and Crumb’. I’ve stuck with the pate fermentee method, as I’d like to see whether I can improve with this one simple loaf before I move onto others.

Tues 10 May. Two more ‘batard’ shaped loaves from the dough made up on Sunday night; I’d baked one on Monday, and the second and third on Tuesday. The boule baked on Monday was much more successful – in rise and crumb – than the two subsequent loaves, which were much flatter. In retrospect, I think the dough was suffering from some overproofing, and that I might reduce the yeast if I’m aiming for Peter’s retardation of dough in the fridge.

Wed 11 May. Again, using a 50:50 pre-ferment to dough ratio, I built dough and worked through Peter’s master formula II for french bread. Once I’d done the initial bulk fermentation (the proofing of the whole mass of dough), I shaped the dough into three loaves: one boule (round) and two longer loaves.  This time, because I wanted some bread for the evening meal, I just left off the overnight retardation step for the boule and let it continue rising for about 30 mins or so while I heated the oven. The result was a beautifully risen round bread with crunchy crust and creamy, airy white bread inside.(I did however forget to slash the top of the bread, so it had an uncharacteristically smooth finish; the rise/oven spring might well have been better if I’d remembered to slash!)

OK, I should've taken the photo when it was just baked, not the next day - but not bad for next day!!

At the same time, though, I had a second batch: a bit of pre-ferment that wasn’t quite the full amount listed in PR’s formula. I adjusted quantities according to formula, and decided to put that lot in a bucket in the fridge to retard. This batch, though, I forgot to put salt in until the very last mixing. Still, it did go in – albeit a little later than in my previous batches.

Thursday 12 May. The weird thing was the two remaining loaves. I purposefully shaped them before leaving in the fridge overnight – because last time the dough tensed up so much after overnight retardation without pre-shaping. The loaves rose/spread (more spread than rose, actually) dramatically, but in the morning they were impossible to move – even touching the surface caused a crumpling/collapsing. I’d also unthinkingly covered them in dry rather than damp towels (or plastic), so the outside of the dough had formed a sort of skin.

According to fellow bread bakers at The Fresh Loaf (an online bread making forum), the dramatic puffy spread and collapsing form is a giveaway for overproofing. Next time, less yeast I think.

I just took the whole baking tray they were on and slid it into a hot oven for baking anyway. I ended up with something that looked like a focaccia, but with denser crumb. Bit of a fail on that attempt.

Can you believe this is from the same batch as the pic above? Just a day later... That's what overproofing gets you 😦

Meanwhile the bucket of batch two was still quite a happy, airy dough in the fridge. I punched it down regularly, wondering whether it would be good as a dough-to-go, or whether I’d need to recycle it as a starter. Didn’t feel like more baking after the failed wannabe foccacia loaves, so just left it.

Friday 13 May. Was about to use the bucket of Wednesday’s batch 2 as a starter, when I noticed how light and airy and happy it felt. Why not try bake it up as 2 loaves, I thought? We are (astonishingly, I know) in need of some bread for the weekend. So I turned it out, and using a technique I saw on an awesome bread video, shaped it into two boules. So far, they feel soft and light and elastic – possible success imminent. Also, they haven’t stuck to anything, so I can transfer them directly to the ceramic tiles in my oven, a trick I haven’t tried yet. Update soon!


About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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3 Responses to Bread-making diaries

  1. Bread can be such a tricky beast. I love making ciabatta, but hate when I fail and don’t get enough air in. My wife still loves it though. I use the Bread Bible a lot, will have to check this book out.

  2. It’s amazing the difference in shape between the well-proofed dough and the over-proofed dough; did the latter still taste fine?

    I recently discovered a really easy bread recipe. It’s not elegant bread, in that it doesn’t unleash the inner bread geek, but it’s handy–because you can make a loaf of bread from start to finish in one hour. I found it here:

    But I’ll copy past the text here for your convenience:


    Recipe By :
    Serving Size : 1 Preparation Time :0:00
    Categories : Breads Sandwiches

    Amount Measure Ingredient — Preparation Method
    ——– ———— ——————————–
    3 c Flour *see note below
    1 2/3 c — water, cold
    1 t Salt
    1 tb Yeast, dry
    1 tb Honey

    : Heat 3 cups of flour for 2 minutes in the
    microwave. : While that’s happening, measure the
    water. Add salt, dry yeast and a dollop of honey. It
    looks like a mess, but don’t worry about it. :
    Quickly take the hot flour and mix in the water
    combo with an electric mixer. It should be sticky and
    gooey. If your mixer is having trouble, just add more
    water. Mix it around as long as you want.
    : Now, cover it, put it in a cool place, go away
    and ignore it. Go to work, take a walk, go to sleep,
    whatever. If you happen to pass the poor neglected
    thing during the day, pound it around a little with a
    wet spoon. If you are going to ignore it for more than
    8 hours, put it in the refrigerator. If you are in a
    hurry, ignore the ignoring part and proceed to the
    next step.
    : Pound your sticky dough around with a wet
    spoon to pop all the bubbles, then slop it into a well
    oiled bread pan ( do not whisper sweet nothings in its
    ear ). Set a timer and let the dough rise in a warm
    spot for 10 minutes. If it was kept in the
    refrigerator, let it sit a little longer. Set your
    timer again for 10 minutes and turn on your oven at
    350 degrees. When it’s hot, put the bread in and set
    the timer for 50 minutes.

    As a personal note from me, I say: take care! The flour becomes *very* hot.

  3. Lisa says:

    Thanks for the comments and suggestions. The overproofed wasn’t as good in texture, but it all got eaten and everyone loved it anyway. I’m gradually learning that if you don’t announce your failures, no one notices them!! (Or if they do, they’re still enormously encouraging!)

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