So I have now successfully repeated a bread recipe twice. Both times it came out with a very tight grain and very spongy. The bread itself squishes easily and bounces back. I would like to make it more firm (so that it puts up with things like spreading cream cheese or butter more readily).
The recipe I am using is pretty much flour, water and yeast (and a little salt). It calls for three rising periods with two punch downs in between -- after the initial ten minute knead.
Is there something I can change in the way I knead? Something I can change in the recipe? How do I get less of a spongy texture and more of a chewy or firm one?
The first thing I would change is the final rising period before putting it in the oven. Cut that in half, so it doesn't have as much time to expand, and that should give you a denser loaf. You could also try substituting 25-50% whole wheat flour, which will both make it denser and more nutritious.
Yes, kneading well can yield a much firmer result without being denser.
Learning how is the hard part. Faster and with more stretch and resistance must be taught and practiced. When the dough sits like a pert buttocks on the board (rather than a squishy baby's bottom) you have cracked it.
Increasing the salt content also has a tightening effect, if the recipe will allow.