In my bread at home classes we will go in depth on troubleshooting bread fails at home – there are a few that in my experience, we all fall into now and then – here are my TWO most fundamental tips to get you started:
Killing yeast before you even begin:
If you proof your yeast in liquid that is hotter than 138 degrees, the yeast will be killed instantly, and your bread dough will never rise. Believe it or not, many home taps have water that at its hot setting comes out of the tap at 140 degrees – that is too hot. Also, if your recipe has you proofing your yeast in warm milk (croissants, brioche, and some white breads), beware again! Milk that is steaming is already 190 degrees. Take care and take the temperature of the milk or water before adding to yeast – AIM FOR 100-115 DEGREES.
Adding too much flour:
Be careful – for every bread recipe I add half the amount of flour suggested and continue to add flour as needed until a manageable dough is formed. A rock-hard ball of tight dough is not manageable – err on the side of very soft dough every-time.
You can add more flour if needed but you cannot take it away. If you do add too much flour, it may prevent the bread from rising, as you may have added so much that the volume of flour is now too much for the volume of yeast called for and yeast can only do so much. You will know you have added too much flour if the dough is first and foremost, hard and incredibly elastic. And, when you let it “rise” you will see almost zero movement.
Cooking at too low of a temperature: I bake almost all basic breads at 400. Some at 450. My basic baguette does best anywhere in between but not below 400. Try 425 to start and see how you do. The higher temperature is in part what helps create that crusty, brown exterior we all love in a good baguette.