For me, a major leap in understanding came with digital scales, weighing flour (don't use volumes , 'cups', for solids with variable packing density), weighing liquid (don't use a measuring jug - its imprecise and so inconsistent), weighing in grammes always, and thus easing thinking in percentage terms (but not, I must admit, always strict "bakers' percentages").
... Can you write about your experience in bread making that helped enlighten you or gave you the feeling that you have advanced another step?
Put all those together and you can cut through most recipes to see what's really going on.
A major taste breakthrough was when BBA explained *why* it should be that following Elizabeth David's remarks, about less yeast and longer slower rising, really did give more interesting flavour. Hence my adding a little rye flour (3% of the flour) and giving a cool overnight rise to allow the amylase time to work its magic.
While I'd broadly agree with all Jackal10's comments - I will quibble with the expression of a few of the details!
There are things that matter in bread baking and many things that do not. Here is a rough list, but not exclusive. I'm sure others will have their views:
Things that matter:
Steam in the first minute, but not after
If you add sugar etc it will slow fermentation
Things that don't matter:
Strong flour - almost any flour will do
Steam after the first minute
Kneading - its time and water that develop the gluten, not mechanical work
- The flour. You can indeed make good bread with most (wheat) flours. However a different flour will produce a different loaf - different in both taste and texture . So as regards "almost any flour will do", I'd suggest that might be rather misleading if one were after either a particular quality in the result, or the achievement of consistency. Certainly a strong flour may actually be a disadvantage to the baguette baker!
I gather that iii_bake is in Thailand (from the prawns). I have no idea what flours may be available there. However it may be worth remarking that stoneground flours (with lots of tasty wheatgerm oils) would have an even shorter storage life at tropical temperatures.
- Kneading. Agreed, don't think of it as developing gluten. But do think of it as mixing, and distributing (or redistributing) the yeast and microbubbles (whether of air or CO2, the tiny bubbles that will spring in the oven).
- "Steam". Steam is actually visible because it is water vapour condensing out to a fog as it cools. What does the work on the dough is the vapour, not the visible stuff. Misunderstanding that point leads to some people being misguided into putting ice cubes in the oven - lots of cooling so lots of visible "steam" - but actually less water vapour in the air and a colder oven! Personally, I leave a shallow tray of boiling water in my oven for more like 10 minutes - but I think this *must* depend both on one's oven *and* what you are trying to achieve (rather different for a baguette and a pain de campagne) - so I'd just say boost the humidity in the oven at the beginning is useful, but IMHO it'd be wrong to be absolutist about detailed timing.
- Sugar. Some people must like sweet bread, but I personally don't. The other thing that sugar will do is give more CO2 more quickly (as when 'starting' yeast). So with added sugar, you could get to the same dough volume faster - BUT - you won't have changed the rate of fermentation of the flour much, so in the shorter rising time, you will have fermented the flour less and so developed less flavour in the bread. So while Jackal10 might say sugar slows fermentation, I'd say it gives you less flour fermentation for the same amount of rising (because the rising will actually happen faster).
The important thing is to develop an understanding (whether conscious or 'by feel') that works for you individually. Gather whatever ideas work for you - but do recognise that different people can have quite different, but often equally workable, understandings! Which very often just turn out to be different ways of looking at the same thing...