If 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Temperatures over 115-degrees (Fahrenheit) will kill the yeast. This is desirable during baking, but not as the dough rises.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The size of your bread pan will affect the rise of your loaf. A pan that is larger than 9×5 will produce a more-flat loaf. An ideal bread pan size (for a two-pound loaf) is 8.5 x 4.5.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).