Okay, you've done everything right, but the next day you look in a horrified manner at the dough that has been working overnight. It is an unsightly, runny mess.
You've done everything right, but we can usually narrow the problem down to two possibilities.
If you've been making no-knead yeasted bread, there is a very good chance that your proofing temperature was too high. Higher than 70º F. is too high. A long cool proof is best, and that is between 60 and 70ºF.
If you've been making sourdough bread and you experience this problem, there are a couple of possibilities. Temperature control is important just as it is in the yeasted bread. Go with the long cool proof. The other factor is the duration of the proof. If sourdough proofs too long, then the proofing dough tends to become sourdough starter! It is sharp smelling, sharp tasting, and it has no glutenous structure, simply falling apart when worked. The remedy is to cut back on the duration of the proof.
Just yesterday everything changed for me. I finally learned how to bake bread in my small brick oven. The problem I was having in the past was the result of not enough mass and not enough insulation, and the breads were terrible. I simply could not get the oven to retain enough heat for bread baking. Yes, I could make pizzas and flatbreads because I could maintain a fire in the back or on the sides, but without the constant flames, the oven would soon lose its heat.
I decided to try something different. Instead of firing the oven to a desired temperature, sweeping out the hot coals, peeling the loaf or loaves in, closing the door and finally, keeping my fingers crossed, I thought I'd work with my Dutch oven.
Dutch oven preheating
First the Dutch oven was preheated in the flames. Then The bread dough went into the Dutch oven, and I slid it over to the edge of the fire. I baked the bread for 45 minutes with the cover on and then 10 minutes with the cover off.
After the first 15 minutes I lifted the cover off to check the bread. There was good oven spring, the crust was starting to develop, and I knew I would be okay.
After the allotted time, the bread was beautifully baked.
Bread beautifully baked
The oven temperature? That's hard to say, but I tried to keep it around 500º F around the Dutch Oven. Here you'll have to experiment.Using this technique to make just one or two breads at a time is perfect, even if your oven is not, and I highly recommend it.
I've always said that you need a roof over your outdoor oven, but I'm trying to prove myself wrong. Building a roof over your oven is no simple chore, and that's why so many ovens are left roofless and are damaged by rain and snow.
oven by pond
A couple of weeks ago I added more insulation to my brick oven, and I changed my ratio of perlite to Portland cement. Normally I use 6 parts perlite to one part dry Portland, and the perlite holds together because of the Portland,but it's not terribly robust. Over this layer I used 6 parts perlite to 2.5 parts dry Portland. This cuts way back on the insulation value because all that Portland provides highly accessible thermal boulevards for the oven heat to escape through the dome, but here, I was interested in creating a rugged exterior that wouldn't require a stucco or a roof. Time will tell, and I'll let you know how things hold up.
If you're not baking sourdough breads, then there's a good chance your breads are rather bland tasting. Of course, you could always jazz them up with molasses, toasted sesame seeds, honey or whatever. Instead try this. Simply add about a quarter cup of sourdough starter to your flour, yeast, salt and water mixture. I used to think that the sourdough fought a nasty battle with the domestic yeast and no one was the winner. Now I believe that they get along fine and can benefit each other. The domestic yeast (and we're only talking about 1/4 teaspoon per 500g loaf) will take some of the guess work out of the process when added to the sourdough starter, and everything becomes more predictable.
Bread First is a book for beginners. Everything a beginner needs to know can be found here. You can expect to bake great bread the first time. The process is simple, and the ingredients are readily available. "No knead" baking is for everyone. No experience is required. Clear instructions with photos make everything extra easy.
Bread Earth And Fire: Earth Ovens And Artisan Breads
For the past couple of years I've been revising my book, Bread Earth And Fire. I've added the subtitle Earth Ovens And Artisan Breads because I feel this more fully explains what the book is about. Along with the photos, you'll now find drawings that better illustrate the oven building process, new ovens to build as well a history of bread from the "beginning of time."
Bread Earth And Fire: Earth Ovens And Artisan Breads is available as an ebook or print copy from Lulu.
I write about bread and wood-fired bread ovens. Sourdough bread baking is my specialty. While the dough is rising I have time to make art, lots of art. Each winter I travel to Guatemala to build energy efficient stoves for the Mayas.