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trying to get the hang of making good artisan bread, and my last loaf tasted great. But it stayed flatter than previous efforts, and was very tough.

I am doing my best to understand the science as clearly as possible, so I want to know what part of my process I should look at tweaking to get the results I want?

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If you want to understand the science, read all of the first part of this book: amazon.com/Bread-Bakers-Apprentice-Mastering-Extraordinary/dp/… –  justkt Nov 14 '10 at 21:27
    
I second this recommendation. A truly excellent primer on what happens when you make bread--and it has loads of really great bread recipes in it too! –  bikeboy389 Nov 14 '10 at 23:49
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4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Toughness is usually the result of either too much gluten (which in turn comes from using a flour too high in protein), or not enough fat (or possibly adding the fat at the wrong time).

Poor volume on the other hand is usually the result of using low-protein flour, and thus not having enough gluten formation.

Therefore it is logical to assume that the most likely cause of your bread troubles is the fat. Try adding some more fat.

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Low volume can also be the result of over or under proofing. –  justkt Nov 14 '10 at 21:28
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What about for breads that don't have any fat? In those cases, could insufficient hydration result in a dense bread? –  bikeboy389 Nov 14 '10 at 22:01
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@Magnus: The French (among others) might argue with you about bread needing fat and winding up dense without it. :) –  bikeboy389 Nov 14 '10 at 23:46
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@Magnus, @bikeboy - I'm in the process of making some French bread - it has absolutely no fat and is fluffy and airy (currently rising as loaves). Reinhart himself recently said that the trick to big air bubbles in bread is to get it as wet as you can handle for steam during the oven spring portion of baking. –  justkt Nov 15 '10 at 13:57
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Fat is absolutely not a requirement for good bread. The best bread I've had was flour, salt, yeast, and water. Period. –  Marti Nov 17 '10 at 19:48
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Magnus Nordlander's answer was good. I would add one more thing:

You can also get a lot of extra toughness if you over knead a dough. If you are using an established recipe that works for other people, I would cut back on the mixing and kneading and see what kind of results you get. If you don't knead enough, you won't get the airy texture of the crumb because the gluten won't be developed enough.

If you bake a lot, make changes to your kneading time and take notes about how it affects your final result.

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The trick to knowing when to stop kneading is the windowpane test (wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/07/gluten). Knead until you can pass it, then stop. –  justkt Nov 15 '10 at 18:45
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A couple of more possible reasons:

  • If your dough didn't rise properly before putting it in the oven, this is the problem.
    • Common reasons for a dough not rising enough are:
      • You killed the bacterias in the yeast by overheating it
      • Your yeast was not good enough (fresh or good quality)
      • You didn't put the dough near a heat source. Bacterias love heat & sugar. If they don't have these two, your dough will not rise. It should at least double its size in about 1 hour.
  • If your dough was raised properly:
    • The temperature of your oven was too low and it required more cooking time and therefore it allowed the dough to dehydrate.
    • The dough was not moist enough
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@user3386 - welcome! Good list of ideas, but just an FYI that a cooler rise (at room temperature) actually contributes to a more holey crumb. –  justkt Nov 16 '10 at 19:25
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There shouldn't be "bacteria" in your yeast ... it's the yeast itself that you're using and that gets killed by too much heat. –  Allison Jan 26 '11 at 17:42
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I've tried making bread many many times and I'm FINALLY starting to get it down. The one thing I used to do wrong, was to add too much flour. I use a Kitchen Aid and that can really pack it in. It may be a high altitude thing, but I tend to make my down a little on the tacky side, wetter than I would think and it turns out MUCH better. I've also started using a cylindrical container for proofing my dough, that way I make sure I get a good double out of it.

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does it still go silky with kneading? –  Mild Fuzz Nov 15 '10 at 10:00
    
@Mild Fuzz - Reinhart posted something recently about wetter dough making a more holey crumb structure. The tackier dough suggestion is right on. –  justkt Nov 16 '10 at 13:41
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