bread · fail stories

A story about failed bread

The good news is, that I eventually got it!

I think from time to time, I’d like to bring you stories about things that has gone quite a bit more wrong than usual. Because, why have a fail story when you can’t tell others about it?

When I got my bread book one of the first bread that caught my eye is Pain d’Epi. It is a very unique looking bread. I had no idea whether or not it is a different flavour, I just liked the way it looks. That baking project was been pushed aside so far in favour of perfecting basic loafs and other bread with sweet stuff in it. But the time has come, I am going to make this bread!

The recipe is actually relatively basic. It is just a little extra work involved in the shaping. The dough makes 3 ficelles(left) and 3 epis(right). That’s not bad is it? They are not the best, especially the Ficelles really need some work. I’ve found shaping to be one of the more challenging aspects in bread making. Maybe that’s why I keep making round loafs. I shaped the Epi before finish proofing so they look a bit … lumpy. But, they looks to have the potential to be nice looking. I was quite pleased.

All the Christmas and New Year dinners must have dripped all sorts of things in my oven. When I started to pre-heat the oven, a foul smell slowly filled the kitchen and I opened the oven to have a look and smoke was filling the oven up quickly. This has happened to me before so I just switched it off. I waited for it to cool, and wiped it down hoping to eliminate whatever spills I did.

It started doing the same thing at around the 100c mark and steadily got worse again as I brought it to 160c. As much as I wanted to just ignore the smoke and bake the bread anyway,  I knew from experience that whatever is baking in the oven will take on the taste and smell of smoke. Once I kept some tarts in a smoky oven and the tarts, despite of my hard work, were the single most disgusting thing I have ever eaten. The smell lingers and burps up 10 hours after the initial consumption of said tarts. NOT THIS TIME! I knew I wouldn’t be able to bake the breads that night, and I have no idea if they’d keep in the fridge since they are all ready to be going into the oven. Only one way to find out though, so I stuck them into boxes and shoved them in the fridge.

When we inherited the oven with our current residence, there were some black baked on stuff on the bottom of the oven. I have no idea how much more of the black stuff I have since contributed to, and at this point it is impossible to find out. The oven does have a “self-cleaning” function. A few clicks on Google revealed no one ever recommend using that function. Something about blown circuit boards, bad for your oven, might have to replace your oven afterwards. So we tried the baking soda method instead.  I caked the entire oven with baking soda paste and called it a night.

Wiping the baking soda paste next day turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Baking soda disappears with water as a wipe the oven walls down with a wet clothes. Many times I thought I had cleaned all the baking soda off only to have it dried up and revealed all the white specks again. Anyway, after a much longer time than I anticipated, we turned the oven on to try baking the bread again.

Smoke came back as if we haven’t done a single thing at all. I sighed and agreed with BKBF that we need to give the self-cleaning function a try. The oven manual says smell is normal. Fire in the oven is normal. Just keep everything ventilated and it’ll be alright.

So let’s give that a try.
The program for light soiling is 2 hours at whatever inferno temperature is necessarily. The oven door is locked for the entire time plus one more hour after that for the oven to cool down to a safe temperature. We have an open kitchen that is right next to our living area and TV. BKBF sat down at the couch and continued to watch TV after we switched the oven onto self-cleaning mode. After just about 10 minutes I was finding it really challenging to breath, even with the hood fan going at maximum the burnt grease smell was really nasty. I didn’t care it was freezing outside (a rare occurrence for us to have such a long cold spell) I opened all the windows to their full 4 inches (they are those ones that are on a hinge and super annoying) and insist we evacuate to a different area.

We ended up staying in the computer room, closed the door and wait for the worst to be over. I can still smell the grease from the room but I think the combination of hood fan and the windows helped getting rid of the smell. Also, I think after the initial burning of the grease was done the smell got better. It was just really really cold. I was quite worried whatever was left in the same area as the oven was going to take on the smell. The tart incident I mentioned earlier? After that the kitchen and every single cabinet and wall smelled like smoke for a month straight even after various cleaning.

The oven had overnight to cool down. I had a peak the next day before heading into work and all the black baked on bits are now gone. At least that was worth it.

Which means, by the time I took my bread out to finally bake them, they would have spent 2 extra days in the fridge.

And this is what they looked like.

Flat and sad.
What even are these anymore. :<

I felt as sad as they look. The once beautiful shapes are now just flat and … pancake like. They still smell alright so we thought, why not bake them and see what happens.


Turd 1

They spent the correct amount of time in the oven and are definitely cooked. The surface is really pale and has a very rubbery quality.

Turd 2

They tasted…..well they tasted like bread. Not great. The crust was very chewy and they certainly are not the most enjoyable bread to eat.

Well it was quite clear that these are over proofed. The pale crust, the flat shape of the dough. Something about the yeast has eaten up all of the available food and then the gluten structure we have worked so hard to develop in the bread got destroyed. It can no longer hold the air bubbles that keep bread nice and fluffy.

On the left, some oversized Epi. And on the right, flat rubbery turd.

So compare this to the Epi I tried to make the next day. Forgive the very chubby Epi. The recipe I have says it will make 6 Epi but I thought they looked a bit scrawny so I made 3 instead… and this is why you follow the recipe on how to divide up your dough. Hah! Lesson maybe learnt…. maybe. In terms of flavours, once I have something to compare to I realized how sour the over proofed turd bread was.

Turd bread on left, properly baked loaf on right.

You can also see the inner structure of the turd bread. There is a huge gigantic tunnel that separates the top half and the bottom half. It was really only held together by the terrible rubbery crust. On the slightly-mishapen but properly baked loaf, you can see air holes distributed evenly throughout.

So what have we learned?
Refridgerating a bread dough for 3 days will not work. I have previously put doughs in the fridge to sit for a few days and that was why I thought it would have kept the dough. The difference being:

  1. Enriched doughs. If the dough was loaded with sugar and butter it would have slowed down the rate yeast was consuming food anyway. With the cold environment the action slowed down even further and so those doughs were good to keep for a a few days at least
  2. Doughs with minimal yeast. I have a recipe for pizza dough that called for like 1g of yeast. Pizzas don’t really need to rise that much, so 1g of yeast in 500g dough is way more food than 100g yeast in 500g dough.

So we will make sure we keep the oven clean and doughs will never have to wait to be baked, again! …. unless they are supposed to.

When baked properly, Epi is dammmmn tasty!


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