Thursday, April 22, 2010

bread baking blues? a simple troubleshooting guide --- part 1

so you tried bread baking but instead of finding yourself in bakers' bliss, you are now having bakers' blues?

fret not my friend! how many among us have not got detoured by minor setbacks like this? and it is minor as we shall triumph over it with renewed zeal, zest, enthusiasm and much better bread!

ok, ok, enough passion. let's begin.

q. did the dough rise?
this is the most most important question you need to ask. did the dough rise? if it did, you could skip this whole section. if not, there's lots to do.

most of the time, the likeliest culprit is compromised yeast. yeast which has been exposed to moisture and thus doesn't have any more potency like before. if this is the case, fret not as you could still salvage your dough by feeding it fresh yeast but the old yeast needs to be chucked. usually it's a storage problem.

i have tried mauripan and saf brands with good results. these are instant yeast. mauripan sells in small sachets but also available in 1kg packs. i have so far only seen saf brand in 1kg pack. (both brands 1kg pack sell for around rm10-14.) take out some and fill in half of a jam bottle. this will be kept in the fridge and will be used each time you bake bread. store the rest (the bulk) in a big container and keep in the freezer. from time to time, if you find your jam bottle yeast is lacking potency, throw this away and refill from the container in the freezer.

i do this and my 1kg yeast i could bake for more than a year's consumption of bread and hey, i bake 2 loaves every week.

if there's nothing wrong with your yeast, then did you mix salt and yeast together? as yeast is a living organism, exposing it to salt could kill it instantly. when mixing the dough, i usually mix the salt last.

then there's the issue of the other ingredients. you only need flour, water, yeast and salt to start with.

as i use only organic flour, i don't know much about the normal flour you buy out there. how much preservative does it contain? how will the preservative interact with yeast? how will the bleaching agent interact with yeast?  [now now organic flour can contain some amount of preservative but this is usually very minimal. otherwise it can't quality as "organic".]

do you use filtered water? straight off the tap, does your water smell of chlorine? will this chlorine affect the yeast? i don't know but you should think about it.

lastly, is your ratio correct? a recipe using 100% white flour needs way less water compared to a recipe using 100% wholemeal flour. wholemeal, like brown rice, needs a lot more water.

did you go overboard and have too much of other ingredients? so much so that the dough can't form enough gluten networks? let's say you want to bake a multi seed bread but if you mix like 2 cups of seeds into 3 cups of flour, you won't get good rise from such a heavy dough.

does the recipe call for kneading? call for overnight ferment ala biga? even though no-knead bread is easy, kneading and using biga yields much better bread.

okay, these are just some possibilities you need to think of. write to me if you have more specific questions.


  1. You use Saf yeast?
    Once I used that and my steamed buns were sourish. Never happens when I use Mauripan.
    Then I checked the back of the yeast packaging, and it states to add some alkaline to counter the acid added to the yeast. Gosh, do you ever add in some alkaline substance (like baking soda) when you bake bread with Saf yeast?

  2. until today i have never added anything alkaline stuff to my baked goods.

    the ascorbic acid acts as a catalyst for the yeast so the yeast will grow faster. and the thing with bread is, fermentation (more acid!) is good! i tried adding a teaspoon of apple cider to the dough before and the yeast became a lot more active!

    but my breads never turn out sourish. only one time it did, that was when i did 100% sourdough. you really have to eat it with some savoury fillings.