Six Steps to Making Delicious Bread

Six Steps to Making Delicious Bread

Stumped by yeast? Confused about the focaccia? From the technical details of a successful rise to water temperature, here are some useful tips for delicious bread.

How Warm is 'Warm Water'?

Yeast is activated or resurrected at 100°F. For most breads (except for sourdough) that require a long, low-temperature rise, the water needs to be at least that temperature for the yeast to continue rising. If you don't have a thermometer, the water should be warm to the touch, not hot - if it's too hot, it will kill the yeast.

Make Kneading A Pleasure

Most breads require kneading to develop gluten and distribute the ingredients evenly. An easy way to do this is to hold the dough with one hand, roll it out on the work surface with the other, then return it to a ball and repeat with the other hand. Continue kneading until the texture is smooth and can be stretched without tearing - this usually takes 10 minutes. Turn on the radio and set a timer to relax.

If you're using a stand mixer, you may over-knead the dough. The gluten can get stretched too long and start to "break down," resulting in flat, heavy bread. If you’re worried, stop the machine after three minutes and finish kneading with your hands.

The Secret to Rising Successfully

Oil the dough or cover it with oiled plastic wrap while it rises or "proving" so the surface doesn't dry out and form a skin. Most recipes call for the loaf to double in size - this can take anywhere from one to three hours, depending on temperature, moisture in the dough, gluten development, and ingredients used. In general, a warm, humid environment is best for sourdough bread.

For deeper flavor and convenience, most doughs can be second-fermented in the fridge and left overnight. This sounds wrong since dough rises fastest in warm conditions, but it works. Place the shaped dough directly in the fridge and cover with oiled plastic wrap. It will start to rise but will slow down as the dough gets colder. In the morning, let it come to room temperature and allow 45 minutes to an hour to finish rising before baking as usual.

Is It Ready?

To check that your dough has risen to its full capacity, press lightly on the surface with your fingertip. If the dough springs back immediately, it means the gluten still has some elasticity, so you can leave it out longer. If the indentation you made with your fingers doesn't move, the gluten has been stretched to its limit and the dough is ready to bake. Don’t leave any longer, or the air bubbles will start to burst because the gluten will not be able to support them.

Knocking Back

It's a technical term for punching or pressing the dough after the bread's first rise. This process breaks up the tiny air bubbles that form in the dough, then forces them to reform into your desired final shape, resulting in a smoother texture. For some bread recipes, such as ciabatta, irregular holes are needed so the dough doesn't get knocked back.

When to Use A Bread Machine?

Theoretically, the first rise of most bread recipes can be done in the machine, scaling the quantities to your machine and following its timing instructions. However, you then need to finish, shape and bake the loaf by hand. Our recommendation is to use a bread machine for everyday bread, but craft something truly special by hand.

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