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12 Steps for Trouble Shooting Bread Dough

Loretta SorensenIf you’re just beginning your bread baking adventures, you may benefit from understanding a few basic facts about what contributes to producing a satisfactory loaf.

These basic principles are true of nearly all types of yeast breads.

  1. You must use fresh ingredients to achieve optimum results. This is true of nearly any type of recipe, but don’t sabotage your baking efforts by using flour or yeast that is more than one year old. If either of these ingredients hasn’t been stored correctly, it will have an undesirable taste and will likely not rise or bake as fresher ingredients will.
  2. Yeast thrives in a temperature range between 105- and 110-degrees (Fahrenheit). It will function down to a temperature of 90 degrees. However, its activity will be much slower, and it’s not nearly as likely to reach its potential for boosting your final bread rise. Use a digital thermometer (or any household thermometer) to warm your recipe liquid to this range.
  3. Temperatures over 115-degrees (Fahrenheit) will kill the yeast. This is desirable during baking, but not as the dough rises.
  4. When salt comes in direct contact with yeast, the yeast dies. Your bread requires salt as part of the rising process. However, your recipe’s salt should be blended with the flour to avoid direct contact with the yeast.
  5. Gluten in your flour is involved in your bread’s rise and the final texture of your loaf. It needs to be activated by the action of kneading. You can use a bread machine, mixer or knead by hand.
  6. The advantages of a bread machine include the fact that you can prepare and add all your ingredients and allow the machine to do the work. A machine can knead far more thoroughly than either a mixer or a person. The bread machine also helps maintain the warmth of your dough throughout the knead/rest/knead cycle.
  7. Regardless of your kneading preference, you should knead your dough no less than 10 minutes for each kneading cycle. Don’t knead it more than 18 minutes, as over-kneading will negatively affect gluten action and your final rise.
  8. If you bake your dough in the oven, you must coat the pan with a non-stick product such as butter, oil, aerosol spray, etc. Keep in mind that a baked loaf will readily stick to a glass pan and slip out of a metal pan more easily.
  9. The size of your bread pan will affect the rise of your loaf. A pan that is larger than 9x5 will produce a more-flat loaf. An ideal bread pan size (for a two-pound loaf) is 8.5 x 4.5.
  10. During the final rise, give yeast every opportunity to reach its greatest height by keeping it in an environment (your oven is ideal) at a temperature of at least 80 degrees and not more than 120 degrees (Fahrenheit). Don’t keep your oven on during the rise. Just warm it prior to setting the dough inside it.
  11. Cool your bread on a cooling rack. If necessary, use a makeshift (rack) by suspending the bread over a pan or between a couple packages of food, etc. Otherwise, the bottom of your loaf will be soggy.
  12. Consider using a bread keeper stored in your refrigerator (because bags in the refrigerator can gather moisture.) 

Find more of Loretta Sorensen’s recipes, bread baking tips, bread-making videos and her book at Bake Your Best Ever Bread. Her book, Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! contains recipes and a wealth of baking pointers. Follow her on Facebook and Pinterest (Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever).

BREAD MACHINE RYE BREAD

Loretta SorensenHomemade Rye Bread Tips

Rye has many health benefits, and rye bread has a wonderful flavor – especially when it’s paired with cheese!

For all these reasons, I’ve worked hard to develop a satisfactory two-pound Bread Machine Rye Bread recipe.

The first thing I learned in my experiments is that I don’t like 100% rye bread. The rye flavor is too strong for me and the lack of gluten in the bread causes it to be quite heavy. 

My solution to those issues was simple: use a blend of white wheat and rye flour, with slightly more wheat than rye. And since rye flour has less gluten than wheat, I add 1 Tablespoon of wheat gluten to get a nice rise. If you prefer a heavier bread, you an omit the gluten. For a greater rye flavor, simply use a greater ratio of rye to wheat flour.

As always, I use my signature digital thermometer method to warm recipe liquid to a specific temperature range so my yeast has what it needs to work.

ryebread

Bread-Machine Rye Bread Recipe

Equipment:

  • 2- to 3-quart mixing bowl
  • 2-cup measuring utensil
  • Tablespoon
  • Measuring cups, from 1/4-cup size on up to 1-cup
  • Whisk or fork
  • Digital thermometer
  • Bread machine
  • Bread pan
  • Spatula
  • Butter, oil or no-stick spray to coat bread pan

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups water, ranging from 105 to 110 degrees
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon gluten
  • 2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups 100% white wheat flour (red wheat will produce a coarser loaf)
  • 1 3/4 cup 100% rye flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I recommend Himalayan pink salt)
  • 2 Tablespoons of melted butter or oil
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses 

Method:

If necessary (typically during the winter months), use hot tap water to heat your measuring utensil and bread machine canister before preparing your bread dough. This usually takes just a few minutes once the hot water is placed in the utensil. Pour the water out before measuring your ingredients. 

Place 1 1/4 cups of hot tap water in 2-cup measuring utensil. Add the sugar and stir it thoroughly to blend it with the water. Check the water’s temperature. If it’s below 105 degrees (Fahrenheit), warm 1 or 2 Tablespoons of the liquid on your stove top to boost the yeast mixture’s overall temperature (105-110 degrees); if too hot, allow it to cool for a few minutes. Once the mixture is within the desired temperature range, add the yeast and stir to dissolve it.

Allow the yeast mixture to rest for about 3 minutes. It will form a foamy “head” to indicate that the yeast is activated.

While you wait for the yeast, blend dry ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, measure flour, gluten and salt. Sift the ingredients together using a whisk or a fork. 

If using butter, melt it slightly or cut into small pieces so it blends thoroughly with your dough.

Once your yeast mixture is ready, pour out the water used to heat the bread machine canister. Carefully pour the yeast mixture into the pan, using a spatula to clear the measuring cup. Carefully add the flour mixture to the canister. Pour the oil or softened/chopped butter and the molasses on top of the flour. Select your machine settings and start the mixing/kneading process.

My bread machine completes a cycle of mix/knead (10-18 minutes), rest (20 minutes), mix/knead (10-18 minutes).  Observe the dough as it mixes. It should pull away from the side of the canister. If it doesn’t, it’s too sticky. Add flour 1-2 Tablespoons at a time until it forms a solid ball.

Before the last part of the dough cycle completes, prepare your bread pan. If necessary, warm the pan before coating it (spraying with a non-stick product, insert parchment, etc.).

Once the dough cycle is completed, gently place the dough into the coated bread pan, cover it and place it in a warm area (I use my oven, which I heat to close to as warm as 120 degrees). It will take 30-45 minutes for the dough to rise.

Once the dough is raised, place it in a preheated 350-degree (Fahrenheit) oven to bake for 30-45 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned. Remove from the oven and immediately place on a cooling rack. Try to give it some time to cool before you cut any slices! 

Once it’s completely cooled, store the bread in a plastic bag. In summer, home-made bread quickly spoils and should be refrigerated once it’s cooled.


Find more of Loretta Sorensen’s recipes, bread baking tips and her book at www.bakeyourbestever.com. Her recent book, Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! contains recipes and a wealth of baking pointers. Follow her onFacebook and Pinterest (Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever).

FLAX IN YOUR BREAD RECIPE

Those tiny flax seeds provide a powerhouse of nutrients that can boost nutrition in your homemade breads. 

You can replace either flour or eggs in your bread recipe with ground flax meal or whole flax seed. When using whole seed, soak it in water for a few hours before you use it. 

What does flaxseed add to your bread? 

Flax seed facts:

  • 40% fat (the healthy kind!)
  • 28% dietary fiber (beneficial for your colon)
  • 21% protein
  • 6% carbohydrates

The fat in flax is heart-healthy omega 3. As an excellent source of dietary fiber, flaxseed and flax meal contribute to colon health

The protein in flax is similar to soybean protein and helps vegetarians meet daily protein requirements.

Here’s a method to use flax meal as an egg replacement:

  • 1 Tablespoon of finely ground flaxseed
  • 3 Tablespoons of water

Soak seed in the water several hours and whisk briskly just before adding to your recipe.

To add flax meal to your bread, replace flour with flax meal. Since flax meal reduces the amount of gluten in your yeast bread, I recommend substituting ¼ cup of flax meal for ¼ cup of flour.

Here’s a recipe to get you started!

FLAXSEED

Equipment:

  • 2- to 3-quart mixing bowl
  • 2-cup measuring utensil
  • Tablespoon
  • Measuring cups, from ¼-cup size on up to 1-cup
  • Whisk or fork
  • Digital thermometer
  • Bread machine
  • Bread pan
  • Spatula
  • Butter, oil or no-stick spray to coat bread pan

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups water, ranging from 105 to 110 degrees
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar, honey or maple syrup
  • 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat flour (I recommend white wheat for the flavor)
  • 1/4 cup finely ground flax meal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I recommend Himalayan pink salt)
  • 2 Tablespoons of melted butter or oil

Method:

1. If necessary (typically during the winter months), use hot tap water to heat your measuring utensil and bread machine canister before preparing your bread dough. This usually takes just a few minutes once the hot water is placed in the utensil. Pour the water out before measuring your ingredients. 

2. Place 1 1/4 cups of hot tap water in 2-cup measuring utensil. If you’re using refrigerated syrup or honey, it will significantly cool the water’s temperature. Once you’ve added the sweetener and stirred it thoroughly to blend it with the water, check the water’s temperature. If it’s too cold, heat 1 or 2 Tablespoons (stove top) to boost the liquid’s overall temperature (105-110 degrees); if too hot, allow it to cool for a few minutes. Once the mixture is within the desired temperature range, add the yeast and stir to dissolve it.

3. Allow the yeast mixture to rest for 3-5 minutes. It will form a foamy “head” to indicate that the yeast is activated.

4. While you wait for the yeast, blend your dry ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, measure flour, gluten and salt. Sift the ingredients together using a whisk or a fork.

5. If using butter, melt it slightly or cut into small pieces so it blends thoroughly with your dough. 

6. Once your yeast mixture is ready, pour out the water used to heat the bread machine canister. Carefully pour the yeast mixture into the pan, using a spatula to clear the measuring cup. Carefully add the flour mixture to the canister. Pour the oil or softened/chopped butter on top of the flour. Select your machine settings and start the mixing/kneading process.

7. An effective cycle is knead 10-18 minutes/rest 20 minutes/knead 10-18 minutes.

8. Before the second cycle completes, prepare your bread pan. If necessary, warm the pan before coating it (spraying with non-stick product, insert parchment, etc.).

9. Once the second kneading cycle is done, gently place the dough into the coated bread pan, cover it and place it in a warm area (I use my oven, which I heat to close to as warm as 120 degrees). It will take 30-45 minutes for the dough to raise.

10. Once the dough is raised, place it in a pre-heated 350-degree oven to bake for 30-45 minutes or until the crust is nicely browned. Remove from the oven and immediately place on a cooling rack. Try to give it some time to cool before you cut any slices!

11. Once it’s completely cooled, store the bread in a plastic bag. In summer, home-made bread quickly spoils and should be refrigerated once it’s cooled.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth LivingGRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.

PANS: A MATTER OF SIZE

Loretta SorensenIt can be difficult to determine why bread doesn’t raise like you want it to. One surprising reason is that your pan may be too large.

Since I’m not a chef and learned all my cooking skills either at my mother’s elbow or through trial and error, I had no idea that some loaf pans aren’t really suitable for baking a two-pound loaf of bread. Until I started experimenting with my bread machine.

The front loaf in this photo clearly didn't rise as high as the second because it was baked in a 9x5 loaf pan. The second was in a pan measuring 8.5x4.5. 

One-and-one-half pound and two-pound loaves are typically what you bake in a bread machine. Flour amounts for these recipes are generally 4 cups or less. This produces a good-sized loaf that will easily provide at least 12 slices of bread.

If your recipe calls for 5, 6 or even 7 cups of flour, you can – and will want to – use a larger loaf pan.

PAN_SIZE
Photo by Loretta Sorensen

The  pans I use for my two-pound loaves are 8.5 inches long and 4.5 inches wide. For two-pound loaves, this size causes the dough to rise into a nice dome shape and gives the bread a light, soft texture.

If your don't have an 8.5x4.5 pan and purchasing a new pan is out of the question (at least for the time being), it doesn’t mean you can’t bake bread. Just know that your loaf may not turn out exactly as you hope.

If you need to replace your loaf pan(s), you may be able to do so very inexpensively (I’m not fond of the word cheap) by searching for a new pan at a thrift store, rummage sale or clearance sale. In doing so, I recommend avoiding glass or even Corning Ware, as bread dough sticks to these surfaces very easily, even when the pan is well coated with a non-stick product.

I also don’t advise use of pans with a non-stick surface. If that surface is damaged, undesirable toxins could potentially leach into your bread.

Aluminized steel pans are my favorite type of loaf pan. They are designed with a corrugated finish to be durable and provide a virtually non-stick surface without any added chemical coating. Aluminized steel loaf pans cost more than other types of pans. However, I’ve never had to dig a loaf of bread out of my aluminized steel pans. They do need a non-stick coating each time I bake, but they work wonderfully well. 

Because these pans quickly heat and hold the heat, I’ve never had a loaf of bread that was soggy in the middle because it didn’t cook thoroughly.

Since saving money is one of the main reasons most people bake bread, it makes sense not to go overboard on the cost of the pans we use. However, since my two-pound loaves of 100% organic bread costs about $1.50 to make, I’m saving a minimum of $2 to $4 per loaf each time I bake. Over a one-year period, my minimum savings is $104 ($2 x 52 weeks). That means I quickly recover the $15 cost of my bread pan, which has a lifetime guarantee.

Whichever loaf pan you choose to use – even a 9x5 size - just be aware that it will affect the final rise of your bread.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth LivingGRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.

YEAST: IT'S ALIVE!

Loretta Sorensen

Since failed yeast action is often the cause of poorly raised bread, master your understanding of how yeast works, and your home-made bread will always be outstanding! And understanding yeast is really quite simple.

IMG_0030
Photo by Loretta Sorensen

Fact #1: Yeast is a living organism. Freezing temperatures don’t harm dry yeast, which is why it remains fresh in your freezer for a long time. Fresh yeast, usually found in the form of a refrigerated bar, is very uncommon anymore, has a very short life and doesn’t improve bread quality or flavor (as bread baking experts will attest).

Fact #2: Temperatures over 115 degrees (Fahrenheit) will kill yeast.

Fact #3: Yeast thrives – is most active – in a temperature range between 105- and 110-degrees (Fahrenheit).

Fact #4: If yeast is “old,” or has been exposed to high ambient temperatures or moisture, its ability to break down sugar and produce carbon dioxide will be diminished or lost. Dry yeast left a room temperature loses its vitality within a couple of days. If refrigerated, dry yeast typically maintains its quality for 3 months. Dry yeast will stay fresh in a freezer for up to one year.

Fact #5: In storage of any kind, dry yeast must be sealed in an airtight container to preserve quality.

Fact #6: Yeast requires “food” in order to produce carbon dioxide, which is the gas that causes bread dough to inflate. The most common ingredients used in bread to feed yeast are sugar, honey and maple syrup.

Fact #7: Too much sugar in a bread recipe will cause a loaf to be flat and dense. That’s because the sugar and yeast compete for the water in the recipe. Without adequate water, yeast cannot break down the sugar and produce carbon dioxide. Flour/sugar ratios in a bread dough recipe should not exceed ½ cup sugar for every 4 cups of flour. If the sugar/flour ratio is higher than this, additional yeast (one packet) will be needed to achieve the desired rise.

Fact #8: When yeast comes in direct contact with salt, it will die. Salt in a bread recipe must be blended with the flour to avoid bringing it into direct contact with the yeast.

Fact #9: Unless you are delaying a mix/knead cycle in your bread machine, your dough rise will be much more satisfactory if you mix your yeast in recipe liquid that’s warmed to the 105- to 110-degree (Fahrenheit) range. If you activate the yeast this way, you must immediately implement the mix/knead cycle.

Fact #10: Once the yeast has been mixed into the bread dough ingredients, it requires a warm environment so it can continue to feed on the recipe sweetener and produce carbon dioxide. A warmed oven (up to 120 degrees) provides an ideal location for raising bread.

As you improve your yeast-handling skills, you may be tempted to push your bread dough to more lofty heights. Don’t do it!

You can over-proof your bread before baking it, which means it could fall as it heats up. Once you learn how to manage yeast, you’ll be able to complete your final rise in 30 minutes (I promise!) and enjoy loaf after loaf of perfect home-made bread!


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth LivingGRIT MagazineOur Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest, and Facebook.

Recycle Botched Bread

Loretta SorensenIf you’re baking bread on a regular basis, every now and then it will happen: a flop!

While a failed loaf of bread falls far short of an economic catastrophe, it still makes me wince to toss one out. So, I recycle it!

The simplest use for either a failed loaf or stale bread is to dry it and use it for bread crumbs, croutons, stuffing, etc.

Generally, my unsatisfactory loaves just didn’t raise well for some reason. The healthy ingredients – organic flours, Himalayan salt, milk, sweetener, etc. – are perfectly fine to use. Just not as a slice of bread!

If you’ve checked the grocery store recently, you know the cost of bread crumbs is plenty high. This greatly elevates the value of your disappointing loaf since you can make several cups of bread crumbs from an entire loaf.

You might also consider using the loaf as it is – without drying it – as filler for dishes like meat loaf, stuffing, bread pudding, etc. Some macaroni and cheese recipes and other types of casseroles call for bread crumb topping. The dried, grated bread also makes great breading for fried foods such as fish, chicken, etc.

If you can’t use an entire loaf at once, simply slice it, place either plastic or parchment paper between each slice, freeze, and use as needed. The slices will probably dry to some degree if they’re in the freezer very long, but that won’t have any adverse effect on your recipes!

To dry the bread, slice it or cut it up into crouton shapes/sizes or just small pieces. The small pieces are easier to work with when you shred it into crumbs.

It can take up to 48 hours to dry the bread. During that time, you can cover it with a light weight towel or paper towel. You can also warm up your oven a bit and set the bread in the oven to speed drying. I don’t recommend leaving the oven on very long or using a high oven heat. Just a little warmth to get the drying process started. 

If the weather is warm and humid when you’re trying to dry the bread, you may want to consider using the oven on low heat to avoid providing a resource for mold to start growing. 

Once the bread is thoroughly dried, you can shred it or break it up into the sizes and shapes you desire. Either a food processor or blender can be used to shred the dried bread.

After shredding, you’ll want to store it in an airtight container. If you don’t want to store the crumbs/croutons at room temperature, you can freeze it. Avoid storing it in the refrigerator as there is a significant risk that it will gather moisture and spoil.

It’s advisable to label and date the crumbs/croutons so there’s no doubt what you’re using and how long you’ve had it stored.

If you have no household use for dried bread products, you might consider feeding it to birds or chickens. 

No matter how you use it, always consider recycling left over or unsatisfactory bread products!

Don't throw out 'bad' or stale bread

Photo by Loretta Sorensen.

Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen, author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever!, regularly shares information and recipes for homemade breads. Find a link to her book on her blog site, www.bakeyourbestever.com and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured on her web pages and at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Pinterest and Facebook.

Organic Flour: Worth the Cost?

Loretta SorensenEveryone loves a bargain, and baking bread at a low cost has always been a priority for me.

However, healthy eating is also a top priority for both me and family. To balance these two goals, I’ve worked out the cost of baking with organic flour versus regular flours. 

If you’ve shopped for organic flours, you know that they cost approximately twice as much as flours that aren’t designated as organic. Basically, this means that a loaf of bread made with organic flour will cost around $2 per loaf. (See a cost breakdown for homemade bread here.)

Depending on how much bread you bake each week/month, this cost may or may not fit your budget. In our household, I select organic flour whenever possible.

If organic flours aren’t available in your local stores, there are many online buying options. Whenever possible, I search for free shipping to avoid increasing the overall cost of my breads.

In researching organic flour options, you’re likely to find multiple sources offering 25- and 50-pound bags. Typically, buying in volume like this is a benefit. However, check on shipping costs before submitting an order. In one instance, shipping would have added $90 to my bulk flour price.

If you’re able to purchase 5-pound bags of flour without any shipping charge, this may actually be the most economical option.

Purchasing organic flour in bulk may help lower your overall costs. You’ll want to store it – and any other type of bulk flour – in the freezer. This can be done relatively easy if you break down the bulk bag into smaller bags or containers. It may be helpful to place the smaller bags/containers inside a cardboard box or other container that will help keep the flour from disappearing in the freezer! The box would also catch any unexpected spills or leaks.

Be sure to label all bags/containers in regard to the type of flour they contain and the date you purchased them. This is very helpful when you inventory supplies and makes it easy to rotate containers, so you use the oldest stock first.

You can determine whether or not you need bulk flour by using these calculation steps:

  • Estimate the number of loaves of bread you bake each week, e.g. 2.
  • Each 2-pound loaf of bread requires about 3.5 cups of flour, right at 1 pound of flour.
  • Two loaves of bread per week will require between 2 and 2.5 pounds of flour per week.
  • A 25-pound bag of flour will make approximately 25 loaves of bread.
  • If you’re making 2 loaves of bread per week, 25 pounds will last for approximately 12 weeks.

Use this same method to calculate how long your flour supply will last. It can be very helpful in determining the true value of bulk flour.

Keep in mind that having information about how much flour you use per week can also help determine the true value of flour that is on sale.

If you opt to use organic flours, take time to verify that the company supplying the flour is certified organic to ensure you receive what you’re paying for.

organic flour costs

Photo by Loretta Sorensen


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

 







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