HOW TO MAKE BASIC BREAD:
I learned so much about what really goes into making bread and all the WHY's about it. It helped me to understand the recipes better and ultimately make really good bread. Here are some things I learned. If you have a question about something please ask!
1. Prepare the Ingredients & the Yeast
Yeast: It must be fresh when used in a recipe. If your bread is not rising well, this is the first ingredient to check.
You can test the yeast by adding a teaspoon of yeast to 1/4 cup warm water with a little sugar dissolved in it. In ten minutes the yeast should have dissolved and become a sludgy, frothy liquid.
If the dissolved looks like a gray-brown, thin liquid without foam, its probably stale or dead. Toss it in the garbage bin and buy a new batch, making sure to check the expiration date on the package.
2. Mix the Ingredients in a Foolproof Way
There are a couple ways to mix bread- most common is the stand mixer-
Using a stand mixer: In the mixer bowl, proof or dissolve the yeast in warm water or liquid.
Then, attach the flat paddle attachment, turn on the mixer to medium-low and mix in about half of the flour/dry ingredients, a handful at a time.
Then, switch to a doughhook for the rest of the mixing.
I have seen others use it from the beginning, but doing that will cause excessive stretching of the dough which will toughen the gluten too much.
Add the remaining flour, a 1/2-cup at a time, and mix thoroughly after each.
Kitchenaid company advises against exceeding speed 2 when kneading dough with the mixer.
When the dough starts to become smooth, add the flour in, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough becomes smooth and elastic -- you may not need all or you may need more than the recipe calls for depending on how fast the flour absorbs moisture because of its protein level. Don't be alarmed if a recipe calls for 5 cups flour and you use 7 cups!
Keep mixing on low for 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic, as well as slightly sticky. You should not have any dough sticking to the bowl, especially at the bottom center of the bowl.
If you see a small glob of dough at the bottom, your dough is too wet or the mixer didn't pick it up. With a rubber spatula, scrape the pieces left on the bottom and set them aside temporarily. Resume mixing and add the scraps to the bowl to incorporate them -- scraps usually contain a lot of flour. Afterwards, stop the mixer and see if you need more flour. If you do, add 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix after each addition until the dough is just right.
When ready, let the dough rest, covered, for 5 minutes in its bowl. It is now ready to be kneaded.
3. Knead the Dough
As you knead dough many important things take place: the gluten becomes developed so the bread can rise to its fullest, air bubbles are incorporated into the dough necessary for the dough's rise and the ingredients are redistributed for the yeast to feed on resulting in a more active fermentation. This enables the dough to expand to it fullest during the rising and baking steps.
Use both hands in an opposing position to form the dough into a ball also known as "rounding". Dough rises best when the top has been rounded and smoothed. The smoothness will come from proper kneading, while the roundness comes from rounding. A rough surface with breaks will allow the gases to escape and not achieve the proper fermentation.
So that the dough can rise properly, place it seam-side down in the well-greased bowl.
Spray the side of plastic wrap that will eventually touch the dough, and tightly seal the bowl. For extra insulation, you can cover the top of the bowl with a large, light kitchen towel. If the dough isn't correctly covered during rising, it will develop a dry surface which will give you are hard bread crust, will not brown correctly and may even separate from the rest of the bread when baked.
The dough is ready to go through its First Rise. Or, it can also be frozen for up to four weeks at this point before its first rising, shaping and the second rising. (Or, later after it is shaped).
4. The First Rise and Punch Down
Use a warm, draft-free rising place - best is a 75 - 85 degrees F:
Rising (Part 1) improves the flavor and texture of bread, and is an important step in bread-making. When the dough has risen sufficiently (Part 2) then, it is time to deflate it.
Rising is where the dough is placed in a warm place and allowed to double in volume. (Some peasant breads are allowed to raise to triple volume). Usually a dough goes through two rising periods, the first after mixing and the second after shaping, except for Artisan breads, which usually go through one. Those made with Instant Active Dry Yeast require only one.
Yeast is a living organism, so don't get discouraged Rising is influenced by how warm the rising place is, the amount of kneading, cold weather, barometric pressure and the use of cold ingredients. Recipes with a lot of sugar, whole wheat flour and grains, and add ins, such as raisins and nuts take a longer time to rise, too.
During rising, the dough will go through a magical transformation. From the yeast's fermentation, it takes time to accumulate a volume of carbon dioxide gas during the risings, strong enough to stretch a bread dough and to hold it high. On the outside, you'll see the dough expanding like a balloon, called rising (Part 1), but on the inside, where it's invisible to the eye, lots of things are happening, too.
During rising, the gluten, which is comprised of two different proteins, begins to repair and pull together, which also makes the bread dough easier to work with. Yeast, a single-celled live organism, feeds on the starches in the flour and doubles in number. All of these by-products are important when making bread: the carbon dioxide causes the air bubbles created in the dough to expand or rise, the alcohol contributes to the bread's flavor, and an organic acid glutamathione, relaxes the dough and gives it more elasticity. This allows it to absorb surface water, making the dough less sticky.
*Do NOT let your bread dough rise more than double. If the dough has collapsed, it has over-risen.
*If an emergency interrupts your rising session, punch down the dough, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it until you can get back to it. Then, transfer the dough to a warm bowl and let it warm slowly to continue rising.
TO DEFLATE THE DOUGH: Deflate the dough when it has doubled in size; it makes the shaping of the loaf, in the next step, a lot easier. This essentially gives the dough a fresh start, as it releases the build up of gasses that have accumulated in the dough; too much are toxic. Here, you are expelling the carbon dioxide, redistributing the yeast cells for more growth and relaxing the gluten. It also redistributes the yeast's food source, as well as the carbon dioxide for the final rise. This helps to improve both the texture and flavor of the finished bread.
A cool rise, also known as a refrigerator rise, is when yeasted dough, whether shaped or unshaped, is placed in the refrigerator to rise slowly. The cold slows the yeast's activity, allowing for more flavor and an interesting texture to develop.
When bakers use a sourdough or sponge starter culture, where the yeast is allowed to ferment over a long period of time or chill a dough and slow down its rise, the cold dramatically reduces yeast activity. The bacteria, on the other hand, function well even in cold temperatures, so they now have an opportunity to thrive, producing many more marvelously flavorful acids. However, there are a number of chemicals naturally present in dough that promote the breakdown of gluten. This is one of the reasons you cannot hold the dough infinitely long in a fermentation to improve its flavor.
5. Shape the Loaves & the Second Rise
After the bread dough has doubled in size from it's first rising and you have punched it down, it is time to shape the dough. Afterwards, it goes through a second rising and the bread is baked after it has doubled in size (on the shy side).
Shaping not only provides a decorative touch, but afterwards, a second rise takes place for the dough to produce more carbon dioxide and alcohol for better texture and taste. Shaping also forms the dough for oven-spring or rise when placed in an oven to bake and a shape so the dough won't drip and bake all over the oven.
HOW TO COVER THE SHAPED BREAD DOUGH AND NOT WRECK IT: (This used to always make me so mad!)
Most recipes instruct you to let the dough rise and cover the dough in its pan with plastic wrap, sprayed with vegetable oil on the side that touches it. When it rises, the top presses against and sticks to the wrap. When you take it off, the stuck dough goes with the plastic wrap, tears the dough and the bread deflates.
To prevent this from happening:
If you use a glaze before baking- you don't have to worry about covering. The glaze will prevent the dough from drying out. Which is why I always glaze!
Or, instead of placing plastic wrap directly on the shaped dough, use a large inverted glass bowl to cover the dough in its pan. Or, if just chilling a portion of the dough, place it on a greased cookie sheet and invert a glass bowl or rectangular glass pan over it. Make sure all inverted bowls and pans have been sprayed with cooking oil or greased with butter so the dough won't stick while rising; or,
6. Preheat the Oven, Final Touches, Bake, Cool & Store
When the loaf is first placed in a well-preheated and hot oven, the heat from it causes a final burst of fermentation and expansion called "oven spring". This gives the bread a nice rounded and well-risen top.
Oven spring continues through the first five to ten minutes of baking and stops when the loaf has reached 140 degrees F when the yeast dies. The flour's starches gelatinize and the gluten sets, making the loaf's shape permanent.
The bread's crust browns in the final stages of baking. The sugars that did not ferment during rising, caramelize from the heat of the oven, resulting in a nicely browned crust with lots of flavor. This is caused by the complex reaction between the sugars and the proteins on the surface of the loaf, called the Maillard Reaction.- I know, so technical!
Follow the recipe’s directions for preheating and baking.
When the loaf starts its second rise after shaping, it is a good time to PREHEAT the oven. This means you will have a good 30 to 45 minutes so it gets really hot before you put the loaf in for the best oven spring! Before you start, adjust the oven rack to the lower third of the oven (or as directed in the recipe).
FOR YEASTED BREADS: After you turn on the oven to preheat, it is time to give some finishing touches. Use a clean, soft pastry brush to apply a thin coating. Here are some of my favorites.
Glazing Before Baking: When applying a finishing touch before baking, be careful not to "glue" the loaf to the rim of the loaf pan or the baking sheet. This will make it difficult to remove the loaf from the pan after baking. If it does, use a sharp knife to the bread from the pan's sides if it does.
Glazing After Baking: Transfer the loaf or rolls to a wire cooling rack, then apply the prepared finishing touch using a soft brush while the bread is still warm. This is done to add flavor to the bread and to soften the texture of the crust.
Egg Wash: will give a shiny, golden look to the crust as well as make a harder crust. This is my favorite. Beat together 1 egg or 1 egg white and 1 tablespoon of water. (1 whole egg will impart more color because of the yolk.) Apply it right before baking. If you forget, you can brush your loaf five minutes before it's ready to come out of the oven.
Egg White Wash - Seeded Breads: Poppy, caraway, sesame seed or rolled oats are eye-appealing and tasty toppings. Whisked egg whites make a great "glue" and are used to glue one piece of dough to another.
Take 1 or 2 large egg whites beaten with 1 teaspoon water and brush on the bread dough before baking. Let it set a second and then reapply and immediately sprinkle on your seeds. You could try patting the seeds down gently. The egg white wash acts as a glue.
Butter: adds flavor and a nice brown soft crust to your bread. Brush top of loaf with about 2 tablespoons softened butter.
Honey: gives it a soft, sweet, sticky dark brown crust to a sweet dough if a few tablespoons honey are brushed on top of a loaf before baking. For a soft, sweet, sticky crust, brush a baked, still-warm bread from the oven with honey.
Milk: you'll get a slightly soft or tender crust, with a golden color if you brush loaves with warm milk before baking. For a slightly sweeter glaze, dissolve a little sugar in it.
Olive Oil: adds flavor and makes a nice golden crust with a slight shine. Do so immediately before and after baking.
Salted Water: makes for a light shine and crisp golden crust. Mix together 1 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons water. Brush on right before popping in the oven.
Cornstarch Glaze: For a chewy crust with a sheen, brush the dough with a mixture of cornstarch and water that has been cooked until translucent and then cooled. Professional bakers also use this glaze. Combine 1/2 cup cold water and 1 teaspoon cornstarch. In a small saucepan, with a small whisk, stir together water and cornstarch. Heat mixture to a gentle boil. Stir, reduce heat, until mixture thickens and is translucent. Cool. Brush on loaf about 10 minutes before baking is finished and again 3 minutes before bread is completely done.
FOR FRENCH, SOURDOUGH OR SPONGE ARTISAN BREADS:
Slashing: The scoring of some breads before baking is done for a couple of reasons. First, for a beautiful visual appearance and second, this scoring allows the dough to expand quickly during baking so it reaches its maximum volume. It also prevents a "blow out" from happening if bubbles appear under the crust and then burst. Slashing was used historically to also give a distinctive slash to a bread baked along with others in a French communal oven. Since the bread of each household would be mixed with others, a distinctive slash was one way to tell the loaves apart.
For regular and large-sized breads: After the shaped Sourdough or Sponge dough rises, glaze and slash top 3-4 times with sharp knife, lightly sprayed with vegetable oil, to prevent dragging. Cut each about 1/4 inch deep at a 30 degree angle.
To slash small breads, such as rolls, you can snip a crisscross with kitchen shears. Cut the dough about an inch deep into each roll. You can also slash it if desired.
Steam: For a crisp crust on a rustic or sourdough loaf, brush or lightly spray with water. Heat a pan in the oven while preheating and add hot water after you place the loaf in the oven. Quickly shut the door.