Well, Did You Make The Loaf?

Your first attempt at bread. Congratulations. Now while I hear that many of you were delighted, some of you had problems. Let's consider some of them.

My dough went into a sticky mess and I couldn't work with it

Getting the amount of water right is tricky, even when you follow a recipe. While the general rule is wetter is better, it can make kneading difficult, at least at the outset. This is where a dough scraper comes in handy. Resist the temptation to flour your surface, but a little additional oil is useful. Quite simply you have to be quite brutal with the dough, and after a couple of minutes it will come good. Some of the very best advice I was given is that you have to show the dough who's boss. On occasion, even when the dough has started off OK it can turn sticky half way through. Again, just keep going. It can be fickle stuff.

My dough overflowed the tin like a volcano

That's very simple - you over proved it. While the first prove isn't time critical, you have to keep an eye on it when it's in the tin. In a typical Scottish kitchen in typical Scottish weather it will take 30 - 40 minutes to get up to shape, less in the summer. But remember that you do have to get your oven up to a high heat, which can take quarter of an hour. I usually switch mine on 15 minutes after the dough has gone in the tin for the second prove.

I gave it the exact time in the recipe, but it wasn't cooked through

I'm assuming you let it cool before making the judgment? Your loaf continues to cook as it cools. If you did and it's still a bit raw, there's an issue with your oven, especially if it's a bit older. If you have the right equipment to do so, measure the actual temperature in your oven compared to its temperature gauge. Short of buying a new oven, you just have to adjust cooking times accordingly.

The dough/loaf just wouldn't rise

If your kitchen is cool, the first prove will take longer, sometimes even hours longer. Try leaving it in your oven with just the light on. Also check that you're not using out of date yeast. I find fast action yeast quite reliable (provided it's not out of date) but fresh yeast, if you're using it, is more temperamental. If using the fresh stuff with a recipe which stipulates fast action, double the quantity stated in the recipe.

Or maybe you disapprove of white bread. So let's look at some variations, but still based on last week's basic recipe. Let's try experimenting with different flours.

It may surprise you to learn that many brown loaves contain a majority of white flour. Try mixing the white with brown or rye flours - remember you still want the strong flour versions.

Basic Brown or Rye Bread

Follow last week's recipe, but combine 350g of white flour with 150g brown or rye. Experiment with the ratios until you get something you like. I have made a brown loaf with 100% flour. It was surprisingly nice if a bit solid. I wouldn't do this with rye, but try it for yourself.

Brown Seeded Loaf

Get your seeds ready. Sainsbury's used to sell bags of mixed seeds, but you can make up your own. I combine equal quantities of sunflower and pumpkin seeds with brown and golden linseeds. You will need 100g for your loaf. Use whatever you fancy, but beware - the smaller ones will go everywhere as you slice your loaf.

Make a dough in the usual way with 350g white and 150g brown bread flours. Give it the second knead in the usual way. Pick the dough up and let gravity stretch it out quite thinly. Put it on the bench and sprinkle about one third of the seeds on top. Fold a third of the dough up over itself, them repeat with the upper third. Roll the dough into a sausage then repeat the process twice, stretching and folding your dough to avoid little caves stuffed with seeds. You are trying to ensure that the seeds are evenly distributed - sometimes easier said than done.

Pop into the tin and finish in the usual way.


Tom Cooks! will return some time in March


  1. Janet Hood on 17th February 2023 at 8:33 pm

    To tell if bread is cooked take it out of the oven and tap it of it sounds hollow like a drum on all sides it is cooked

    If it is in a tin and top sounds hollow slip it out of tin and tap the bottom if it sounds hollow it’s ready if not slip it back in upside down for a few minutes till it does

    Use a cloth or you’ll burn your hands

    • Tom Johnston on 18th February 2023 at 10:31 am

      Yes and no. If it doesn’t sound hollow then it definitely needs more time; however, I don’t think the converse is true. With my sourdough I’ve been experimenting with the timings, My experience is that most recipes underestimate the time you need. On occasion I have found mine to be a little underdone, even when they’ve passed the tap test.

  2. Susan on 11th March 2023 at 11:11 am

    For the best mixed seeds, at reasonable prices too, can I recommend Wilton Whole Foods? When leaving Salisbury, this place was the one thing I knew I would miss more than anything, except good friends. They told me they did mail order and they weren’t kidding. As you add more and more, and it isn’t difficult, your P&P gets less until it’s free around about the £40 mark. We buy all our nuts, spices, bread fours, mixed seeds etc etc. Occasionally if ordered early in the day, the box arrives next day but it’s usually between 2-3 days. They also do delicious premium pastas of more unusual shapes, worthy of V&C. Should carry a credit card warning!

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