Singapore Climate

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Anonymous's picture
Singapore Climate

Hi Jacob (and everyone else here),
First of all, thanks a lot for your very good website. Not just for baking, although that's what I need most help with considering I'm kinda new at that. It's always good when a chef explains his/her thought processes, almost like a magician explaining magic tricks. I was a kitchen hand in a fancy restaurant back when I was a teenager, and I learnt a lot by just asking "why are you doing that?" instead of "what are those ingredients you need again?". I get the same ah-ha feeling with your videos & podcasts, so keep up the good work!
So, anyway. I've baked a few "ok" breads when I was living in The Netherlands. But I've moved to Singapore, and I haven't managed to bake anything reasonable. My oven's better than the one before, so that's not the issue. I think the climate is spoiling all the fun!
This is the jungle, so it's always around 33 degrees Celsius around the house with 100% rel. humidity. Here's my issues:

  • Doughs with "normal" amounts of yeast rise very very quickly, but have no oven spring at all (might be because of other factors too).
  • Doughs with lower amounts of yeast rise normally, but bread still ends up too dense & wet (like wet cardboard, even though there are bubbles & lots of air).

In general the crumb doesn't "crumble", it still resembles dough after baking. The crust is perfect though, especially with your ice cubes method. I've used varying amounts of whole grain wheat and plain bread flour. I'd like to use whole grain as much as possible, but I know that might be problematic considering hydration ratios etc. (mostly I've tried ~60%). I've tried stretch & fold instead of hand kneading; that increased air bubble size but not cardboard-iness. I don't have a probe thermometer, so I don't know the internal temp of my bread, but with the oven set to 230 C at first, then 180 C for half an hour it should be ok, right? I do allow it to cool, might be not enough since it's really slow.
I'm willing to experiment, so throw anything at me that you think might help :) ... should I just reduce the amount of water? Proof in an air conditioned room? Proof only in the fridge? Add sugar? Less salt? Different oven temperature?
Thanks a lot for your help!

jacob burton's picture
jacob burton
Joined: 2015-05-25 20:37

There are a few different things that can give you the outcome that you're experiencing, but I think these issues are fairly easy to trouble-shoot.
1. Dough rises fast at room temperature but no oven spring:
At a room temperature of 33C (91F), your dough will rise extremely fast and exhaust the yeast. When the yeast gets exhausted, it doesn't have any energy left for the final explosion of activity that causes oven spring. Even if you use less yeast this will be a problem because the yeast will grow so quickly at this temperature you'd have to time your baking perfectly. Also, when yeast grows too fast, it can give some off flavors.
Prime room temperature for fermenting dough is 21-24C (70-75F). If you have an air-conditioned room at this temperature, I would recommend fermenting and proofing your dough in this room. Also, mixing your dough with cold water will help to keep the internal temperature from rising too rapidly, but again, at a room temp of 33C, you're fighting a losing battle.
There are other factors that will cause poor oven spring:

  • Under-proofing (which I don't think is an issue for you)
  • Over-proofing (which is what's most likely)
  • Forming weak seems when shaping the dough
  • Having the initial oven temp too low
  • Also, using a baking stone helps to transfer heat to the dough which will give you superior oven spring.

2. Dough is Dense and Undercooked:
This I think is being caused by a few problematic issues that are related. First, you're getting poor oven spring which is most likely being caused by over proofing. If you follow the suggestions above, then this will help immensely.
Also, you're cooking temperature is too low. 230C (446F) is an OK temp to start, although when using the covered steaming technique, I'll usually start at 460C/500F. The finishing temperature however is too low. At 180C/356F, 30 minutes is not enough time to finish cooking the crumb. I would recommend raising your oven temp to 204C/400F to finish the bread.
This is also where a little bit of experimentation kicks in because everyone's equipment and kitchen environment is different. When baking bread, it's all about finding that balanced temperature that lets you achieve a dark brown crust and crumb that is fully cooked and set.
But no matter how perfect your bread is cooked, if you don't let the loaf properly cool off before slicing, the crumb will always seem "wet" and under cooked. For baguettes, let cool at least 30-45 minutes before slicing and for large rounds (boules), allow them to cool for 1-2 hours before slicing.
Also, if you thump the bottom of the bread with the side of your thumb it should sound hollow. If it doesn't, then it needs more time in the oven. With a little experience, you'll be able to tell if the bread is done just by picking up the loaf because you'll become accustomed to its weight when the proper amount of water has been cooked off.

Anonymous's picture

Thanks for your extensive reply, Jacob!
I figured that the temperature of the dough is most important (yesterday it was 34 degrees C indoors, a good 10 degrees above the max recommended 24 degrees; or 93 F instead of max recommended 75 F) so I thought it might be a good idea to use the fridge to chill the dough while resting, and constantly check if the dough still feels cool to the touch while it's proofing outside the fridge.
What I didn't realize is that a lot of condensation forms after getting the dough out of the fridge (duh, the temperature difference is like leaving a frozen coke out in "normal" room temperature). That made the dough incredibly sticky and hard to work with. Crap... It might still work out ok though, it's in a loaf tin now and I'm at least expecting a good oven spring so who knows. I'll post back here.
I guess I'm really going to need to convert my air conditioned home office into a bread proofing room :)

GreenBake's picture
Joined: 2011-05-15 22:37

I wonder if a heavy (try-ply stainless steel or well-seasoned or enamel cast iron) pot chilled a bit would provide a cooler environment for the bread to proof?
Or maybe some ice bags on top of a heavy (oval?) pot would provide enough cooling power to help the proofing.
Just a thought. If I have a chance to try the technique, I’ll post the results.

Anonymous's picture

Wow, it actually turned out quite well, after all! After a clumsy extra stretch & fold inside the loaf tin my sticky dough proofed well while still feeling cool to the touch. Good oven spring, nice crumb. A bit chewy though, which is probably because of the higher hydration rate (condensation mixed in) and possibly too short baking time at high temp..? Reminds me of chewy Italian white bread, the kind you see on the Nutella jar ;)
I prepared 50% whole grain dough the same way, which obviously made a denser loaf, but not bad either because of the improved oven spring (higher temp difference between cold dough and hot oven). It looked horrible and uneven before proofing, but made a very handsome loaf after baking. Weird.
For the whole grain loaf I covered the loaf tin with tin foil and two towels to keep it as cool as possible while proofing, and avoided mixing in the condensation. @GreenBake, your solution probably works better, I'll try it next time.
The white bread was very, very crusty though. Maybe because of the humid air? So what do I do in terms of oven temp/time if the crust is too hard & thick while the inside is only just cooked?

Zalbar's picture
Joined: 2011-05-16 06:20

Do you mean chewy as in not baked enough, or chewy as in dense? Are you slashing your dough before popping it into the oven? If your crust is too thick, in my experience, that comes from the dough being too wet, spraying the outside too much, or just overcooking it.

Anonymous's picture
Wisconsin Limey

There might be a reason that French bread is big in France and that Naan bread is big in India!
My memories of the three years I lived in Singapore ( 1972-1974) are Nasi Goreng, Satay, and grilled duck!  Chinese soft buns were the best bread!
Today (June 18th) is my birthday and the best food I had at the 5 restaurants I ate at today was the vegetarian Indian cuisine at Indian Bazaar in Milwaukee!
When in Rome, drive like a maniac!

labradors's picture
Joined: 2011-05-16 04:52

Happy belated birthday, Limey!  Sorry for not responding sooner, but I've had power and Internet problems.

Anonymous's picture
Wisconsin Limey

Thanks Labs!
JEPCO acting up again huh?  (Jungle Electric Power Company)

labradors's picture
Joined: 2011-05-16 04:52

LOL!  It's called ENEE: Empresa Nacional de Energía Eléctrica.  In other words, the National Electric Company.  Despite my having cable TV and Internet and a few other luxuries, one must remember that this IS, still, a third-world country.

Anonymous's picture

@Limey: hope you had a great birthday (sounds like you did, unless you eat at 5 restaurants every day). Indeed, the local food here is definitely enjoyable, but not the healthiest! There's pretty good European bread in shops nowadays but those loaves are tiny, expensive, and impractical to have every day... Just like cheese, olives, pork sausages, it's more of a delicacy that curious locals might try once in a while and expats are able to spend good money on anyway. Hence my quest to turn (cheap) bread ingredients into the delicious everyday staple that it is outside of this jungle, all by myself.
So, I'm back after some experimentation, and I'm happy to report that I've had great success in the end!
What didn't work: varying the amount of yeast. Also, I couldn't get controlling the air temperature to work without serious side effects (aircon/fridge too dry, condensation afterwards), and starting with cold ingredients had little effect on its own.
What seems to matter most is the elasticity of the dough. Kind of makes sense, since it ferments so quickly, I'm guessing it actually breaks easily on the molecular level if it's not elastic enough. Plus other chemical reactions might also happen more quickly in warm humid environments and ingredients. So I added a lot more cold water than before, and I'm using a hand mixer with dough hooks to beat the crap out of the dough quickly and develop the gluten, instead of manually trying to get the wet dough to slowly behave.
@Jacob, you were right too, the oven temperature was too low or the time too short; now I just keep it at 230 degrees Celsius (max for my convection oven) for at least 30 minutes and it's cooked.
Also, all this experimentation gave me a much better feel of what's happening inside the dough just by touching and looking at it, and comparing it to what I see in online videos of other people working with dough. That's probably the most important factor, and something you really don't get from a plain ol' recipe! :)

Nina's picture
Joined: 2011-06-14 08:06

Happy belated birthday Limey!  Sounds like you know how to party! Mangia!

"People who love to eat are always the best people." -- Julia Child

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