how important is a recipe?

So, I have been making bread for a about 10 weeks now and I used a recipe for the first few times with little success. Most likely due to inexperience. My bread has been consistantly tasting great. I use whatever I feel like in whatever quantaties I think will tase good. I used about half my stater then put flour, sorghum, flax seed meal, or sprouted flour and mix it up to make some dough. I throw in some sugar and always forget to add salt. I proof it for usually about 2 hours and then knead it and shape it and proof it for 20-45 minutes. When cooking i cook at 425 and high humidity. I rub butter on the crust and it always cracks open at the side or top. Should I stick to recipes or is there a way to avoid cracking without having to follow a recipe?

2 comments

Hello foxhole,

While experimentation is a commendable thing, I think it would pay to follow a recipe (simple - such as SourDom's Pane francesa) until you can make good bread from that and understand the details of dough development and proving.

It is hard to be specific without more detail but a couple of things suggest themselves from what you have said.

The first possibility is that the dough is under-developed and/or under proved.  The time frame that you give seems remarkably short for a sourdough loaf though timing does depend very strongly on the temperature that you are working at.  Even yeasted doughs use more time for the final proof.

What sort of volume increase are you seeing at the end of these times? 

The final proof should see a 'doubling' (read substantial increase) in volume though there is some argument about exactly what this means.  The other thing that is worth trying to learn is how to do the 'poke' test.  As for dough development, the 'window' test should be your guide for this regardless of how you go about the development phase - vigourous kneading, punctuated kneading or stretch and fold.

If the dough is under-developed, the gluten will not have sufficient elasticity to resist tearing as the loaf expands in the oven.  Similarly, if the loaf is under-proved, the large amount of expansion that tries to occur during baking will also take the crust to breaking point.

My first move would be to ensure that the dough is properly developed and then extend the final proving time, probably out to several hours.

Another effect can be drying of the surface during proving that limits expansion and leads to eventual breakage usually at a point of weakness or at a sharp change in direction such as where the bottom of the loaf transitions into the sides.  This drying can also occur in the early stage of baking but you do say that you use high humidity.

You don't really need sugar as the yeasts and bacteria are more than perfectly happy with flour as a source of food and sugar can actually slow thing down.  Salt is mostly a flavour thing but I gather it does have some sort of chemical effect on gluten development and helps things along in that direction so I would try to remember to use it but not to excess as it will kill the yeasts etc in too high concentration.

I would also forget about 'rub butter on the crust' as I don't see how you could sensibly do that before baking without destroying the loaf structure, unless it is melted butter applied with a brush.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

 

If you are a hobby baker I suppose what you do is up to you.


 

If you want a consistent product you need a recipe.

 

Also if you make something wonderful if you keep some notes you have a better chance to repeat the performance.

 

Using a recipe would reduce the chance of you forgetting the salt for instance.