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Bread baking, the flip side

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Nine months ago, I blogged about my success with the simple, overnight-rise, no-knead bread from a recipe by Nancy Baggett. That blog post drew quite a response, online and in the real world, with many people coming up to me to report their own success with the recipe, or emailing me questions because they want to give it a try themselves. I ended up talking about the recipe a lot, and as usually happens in these cases, I turned my face to the sun and forgot about the shadow-side of baking – you know what I mean, the deflated  feeling after you invest a lot of time and effort into making something that doesn’t work out.

I got my own reminder of this last weekend, when I decided to make a loaf of bread, after several months when my baking energies had been elsewhere. I walked to my local market for some yeast, confidently sailing past the in-store bakery despite the empty bread box at home. This time tomorrow, I thought, I will be slicing into a home baked loaf of multi-grain bread that will put these $5 artisan loaves to shame.

I went home, mixed up the dough and let it sit overnight. The next morning, I put it into my Dutch oven for its second rise. It was past lunchtime and I was approaching starving, but knew I had to wait for the two-hour rise, plus the one-hour plus bake time of this monster loaf. Finally, my timer beeped, and I moved the pot to a rack to cool. The top was a beautiful burnished brown, decked with seeds, and the loaf smelled toasty. Only when I turned it out of the pan did I see that it was pretty flat, more of a discus than a bread loaf.

 What had happened? I realized there were three possibilities:
1. I had used a larger Dutch oven this time, so the loaf spread out more;;
2. In my impatience, I hadn’t let the dough rise enough the second time;
3. A combination of the above two. (The most likely explanation.)

It wasn’t a total disaster, as the bread was still edible. But I had been waiting for this bread for over 24 hours, and anticipation has a way of raising expectations. The experience may have knocked the wind out of my bread-making sails, but it also makes me determined to give it another try, because I know how good this recipe can be.

How about you—any cooking disasters that motivated you to get right back in the kitchen?



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  • paoloXV | 12/19/2009

    I saw you blurb about the blog on FB so here I am to tell you that I, too, made the no-knead bread (alla Mark Bittman and Sullivan Street Bakery) and had the same problems - mine was worse than yours I think. First of all, there wasn't enough flour in the recipe and it certainly did exactly what your bread did - round and flat. It could be the oven. I'll try it again sometime but frankly, I have much better luck with boules and ciabatte.

  • User avater
    BasementBaker | 12/18/2009

    Judging from the flatness of the top, I would say it is probably a combination. These are the things we do that force us to be more patient. I remember once I was making Spiced Pumpkin Bread (https://www.finecooking.com/recipes/pumpkin-spice-bread.aspx) and, in my haste, I forgot to add the baking soda (I did add the baking powder, though). This was just enough to cause the bread to deflate as it was cooling. Patience is the key to successful baking!

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