No matter how closely we follow a recipe or how sure of our efforts we are–baking attempts sometimes just don’t come out quite right. And yes, this even happens to the pros. Next time this happens to you, consult these questions Ken Forkish, acclaimed Portland baker and author of Flour Water Salt Yeast, asks himself when his bread is less than wonderful.
from Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish (Ten Speed Press, September 2012)
When a bread at my bakery doesn’t come out just right, I ask myself a number of questions to try to understand what went wrong and how to adjust so the problem doesn’t recur. This is a normal part of life for every good baker. Over time things change and adjustments need to be made. And no matter how good the bread, I may ask these questions to see if we can improve upon it:
• Dough temperature: What temperature was the dough at the end of the mix? Is that the target mix temperature for that dough?
• Time of bulk fermentation: How long did it take for the dough to expand to the size indicated in the recipe? Was this period too long or too short?
• Folds: Did the dough get enough folding?
• Room temperature: Colder or warmer than usual?
• Condition of the pre-ferment: At the time the dough was mixed, was the pre-ferment (poolish, biga, levain, etc.), underdeveloped, overdeveloped, or just right?
• Dough strength and hydration: Did the dough feel right? Did it have its usual volume and gas? Was it too sticky or too stiff?
• Scaling: Any possibility that a measurement error occurred? For predictable results you need to measure each ingredient accurately, especially salt and yeast. Keep in mind that for home baking, small amounts of yeast (1 to 2 grams, for example) require either a very accurate scale or conversion to a volume measurement (for example, teaspoons), as given in the recipes.
• Complete proof: Was the bread underproofed or overproofed?
• Proper baking: Was the oven temperature correct? Was there the right amount of steam? Was the baking time adequate?
• Flour: Was it a new flour? Even the same brand and variety of flour purchased from the same place can vary depending on harvest, weather, milling date, and other factors. Some flours produce slower or faster fermentation, and some fl ours absorb more or less water, which necessitates slight changes in the amount of water in a recipe.
With his troubleshooting tips in tow, try out Ken’s Saturday White Bread recipe, a great primer for making your own bread that will leave you with a crusty loaf of white bread in just one day.