Hi, I am a bread baking newbie. I'm learning from Reinhart's Crust and Crumb. My problem is too-dense bread.
I made the first French bread recipe a number of times. Details that might matter: I followed the recipe to the letter (used the right flours and measured by weight, used instant yeast, malt powder, etc, water at the correct temperature, etc.)
I used a stand mixer (Kitchenaid Artisan) to knead the first batches of loaves, and did the last 2 by hand. Baked the first few as he describes (oven + water spray + tray of water), followed his time and temperature schedule, second rise overnight in fridge. Got very dense bread. Also, the crust rapidly became soft once I took it out of the oven. Next few I tried a dutch oven at 450, solved the crust problem but of course as dense as ever. I wanted to stick with one recipe to really learn it, but just to see, I made a pugliese (which uses a pre ferment). Super dense as well.
Internet searches said too much flour, not enough water (maybe) so last batch, I added a little water until dough was a little sticky/tacky. No help. By the way, I don't think I ever got a really good windowpane. I did knead for a varous amounts of time, checked that dough was in 77-80 deg range, windowpanes were never very -- windowpaney. (They tore a lot less when I was done though!)
My oven is a piece of crap (but I did check its temp with a thermometer) if that matters.
Suggestions? I realize there are other recipes and ways to bake, but I would like to nail this French bread recipe rather than give up and try another one.
Sorry about the long post. All help welcome.