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Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Recents Failures and Success At Last With Bread-Baking

I've been baking bread from scratch for 35 years. You'd think I'd know a thing or two about making good bread dough. Apparently, that's not the case.

I don't have any photos of the failed bread batches, but I'll tell you briefly what's been happening with my dough. For the last few batches of bread, my dough has been sticky, requiring extra flour, and has failed to rise completely, showing signs of falling back before a full rise. The resulting loaves baked up pale, flattish, and chewy (according to my husband). I had run out of my white flour at about the same time my bread took a downward turn, one month ago. 

Last week's bread was no different, and I noticed I had to add quite a lot of extra flour to achieve a dough that I could form into loaves without sticking too much to the counter or my hands. I thought I was beginning to lose my mind. The recipe I had always followed was suddenly not working. I was thinking I'd lost count of the cups of flour or mis-measured the water, or didn't add enough sugar (effecting browning), or, or, or. . .

Today I started another batch of 3 loaves of part whole wheat, part white bread (per the recipe). I paid much more attention to amounts and counted precisely. I was definitely needing to add lots more flour. I had very carefully measured the water, so my thought was the flour was holding moisture grabbed from the air while in storage in the paper sack. So I added lots more flour, extra sugar, salt, and yeast. Since it was the white flour I thought may be causing trouble, I went heavy on the whole wheat flour in my additional amounts. I added the sugar, salt and yeast in proportion to the extra flour amount, based on the original recipe. A recipe that calls for 8 cups of flour ended up using more like 10 1/2 cups. So for the last month, I've been baking bread with flour out of proportion to the salt, sugar, and yeast, and loaves with more white flour than whole wheat.

The final result for these 3 new loaves can be seen in the photo above. These are well-developed, fully-risen, browned loaves. I'll have to wait for my husband to give me the critique on texture and taste tomorrow, when he cuts into the first loaf.

Anyway, this frustration and experience prompted me to look into causes of sticky dough and poor rise with bread dough. Not only has moisture content of the flour likely been an issue, but the protein content of the white flour used may have played a part. Good bread dough relies on flour with a protein content of around 12.5 to 13+% protein. 

My white flour is all-purpose. The white flour I ran out of a month ago was a bread flour of much higher protein content. With my wacky diet, I'm not using much of our all-purpose flour, and we now have a surplus. I thought I'd use some of it in the bread. In years' past, I've made successful loaves of bread with half all-purpose, half-whole wheat bread. So I thought this would be okay. Only, I had used a different, more expensive brand of all-purpose flour than what I currently have on hand. And with recent loaves, my family had expressed interest in less whole wheat, more white flour bread. 

After doing a bit of math, I determined that my current all-purpose flour is about 10% protein. So, what I was doing was trying to make good bread with an average of about 11% protein content flour, between the lesser whole wheat and more all-purpose. The combination of added moisture drawn into my flour and a lower than ideal protein in the flour just sort of doomed my loaves.

Going forward, because I still have a surplus of all-purpose flour to use up. I'll have to reduce the water I add to the dough and use a 67% whole wheat, 33% all-purpose flour ratio for my bread. I hope that next week's bread doesn't throw me any more curveballs.

I'm fortunate that my family isn't terribly picky about my cooking. Even though the previous loaves of bread were dense, flat, pale, and chewy, they still ate it all. I'm very grateful for that, and the fact they don't complain about my cooking and baking failures.

You know what's really great about having a small success like this batch of bread? One single small success seems to blur the memory of about 30 small failures. Life feels less frustrating, and I am encouraged to do more.

Wishing you all a wonderful Thursday!


  1. Making bread is a lot of work and it must have been very frustrating to not have it turn out well. We don't eat much bread, and if we want homemade, I use the bread machine I got as a gift 30 years ago and still works well.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I think what was frustrating is I didn't know what I was doing wrong for several weeks. but it's all good now.
      Every once in a while, an appliance outlives our highest hopes and expectations. Your bread machine is just that appliance. Yay! 30 years is a long time for a small appliance to still be working properly.

  2. I feel your frustration. I found, years ago, that cheaper "house brands" of flour didn't work nearly as well as the national brands, but that was before I started making yeast bread.

    I started experimenting with rye flour last year and bought vital wheat gluten (via the internet--couldn't find it here) to help my bread rise better--you're probably familiar with it, but basically it adds more gluten in to give more structure to your bread. I don't know if that would work for you, and it's kind of pricey (but you only need a little at a time so the cost may balance out).

    I think pantry moths may have gotten into my white whole wheat flour--I went to use it last week and it had that webbed look that I associate with them. Ended up composting the flour--fortunately it wasn't a full bag, but still irritating. I generally freeze my flour for 48 hours when I bring it home, which is supposed to kill the eggs, so not sure what happened. We also had problems with mice in the spring, and I keep a pantry downstairs, so I ordered and received some sealed storage containers. I'm hoping that they will alleviate any issues from critters getting into my food. I may get more if they prove to be good.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Thanks for the reminder to try some gluten. I'm pretty sure I can buy a small amount in bulk at WinCo, our store with a huge bulk bin section . I'll give that a try.

      Oh no! I'm sorry you had to compost the white wheat flour. Good luck with the sealed storage containers. I keep meaning to get a large one for storing large bags of flour, as a just in case we have a mouse in the house again. Freezing grains that you bring in the house is a good practice. I do that when there's enough freezer space, which isn't all of the time. Hopefully your mouse issue won't recur.

  3. I have been having trouble with bread too. I was stumped as to why. Thanks for doing all the research for me lol. It’s been very humid here for a year. I have things getting stale that have never gotten stale before, so why wouldn’t the flour be affected?



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