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"Help! My bread is either too hard, or too sour, or doesn't rise at all."

Dear Anne and Sue,

I have tried in vain to make simple bread. It is either too hard, or too sour, or doesn't rise. Please send me instructions for overcoming these problems, or point me to a resource.

Kind regards,
J. G. Nasser Olwero
Mpala Research Centre, Kenya


Still have more questions? You'll find more answers in our archived monthly feature articles by the Inquisitive Cooks.

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Dear J.G.
You aren't alone in your frustrations! Over our years of teaching and writing, we've come across many frustrated bread makers. We can assure you it becomes easier when you understand the science that underlies making good bread. At the Science of Cooking Web-site, we can help you do this.

We invite you to visit the bread section of this site to read about activating yeast, to watch what's happening as you knead dough, and find recipes for a basic raised bread and the Ethiopian flatbread, Injera. Check out some of the useful links here for more exploration on the Web. Then, the best thing to do is roll up your sleeves and have some fun with bread.

Here are some tips based on commonly made mistakes:
1. If you are a novice bread maker, make sure the yeast you use matches the type called for in your recipe—it might be active dry, quick rise, or compressed (also called "cake" or "fresh") yeast. Each type has its peculiarities and directions will vary according to which type you use.

2. Use a thermometer. Yeast needs warmth along with moisture in order to grow. If it's too cold, yeast is sluggish; too hot and yeast cells die. And different types of yeast require different temperatures. The optimal temperature for rehydrating active dry yeast, for instance, is between 105° - 115° F (41° - 46° C). A digital thermometer is a small, worthwhile investment and that takes away the guesswork.

3. Knead until the dough springs back when you push down with the heels of your hands. It usually takes about ten minutes to knead by hand dough made from 5 to 7 cups of flour. Insufficient kneading is the most common reason for low volume. That's because kneading develops gluten, which gives bread the elasticity it needs to rise. Kneading also incorporates and divides air bubbles, which are the basis of a fine, even texture in the finished loaf.

4. The optimal temperature for dough to rise is between 78° - 82° F (25° - 28°C). If the temperature is hotter than 95° F (35°C), disagreeable by-products produce a sour taste and an off odor.

After you've made a few batches, join the conversation on bread already happening in the Food Talk section of the Discussion Forum. See "Help with bread making." This is a great place for novices to share their frustrations and ask questions, and for experienced bread makers to offer encouragement, tips, and recipes.




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