Many people are making bread these days and there’s nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the house. Here are some answers to frequently asked bread making questions.
Never allow salt to come into direct contact with yeast because it removes the water that yeast needs to live. Instead, add salt to the flour used to make the dough, so the flour can act as a buffer.
A heavy-duty stand mixer is a great appliance for making bread dough. You can use the dough hook for mixing and kneading. If the dough isn’t coming together with the dough hook, switch over to the paddle attachment and mix just until the ingredients are combined, then switch back to the dough hook.
After the dough is mixed, let it rest. Professional bakers call this period, autolyze. It lets the flour fully hydrate and strengthens the gluten in the flour before kneading. Cover the work bowl with plastic and let the dough stand for 20 minutes and then knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Dough made with a high proportion of whole-grain flour should feel tacky when you are kneading it. In general, moist or even sticky dough makes the best bread. Don’t add too much flour to the dough or the bread will bake up dry and tough.
How can you tell when the dough has been kneaded long enough? Use the windowpane test. Pull off a golf ball knob of dough and pat it into a rectangle. Pulling slowly and consistently from all four corners, stretch the dough into a thin, translucent membrane. If the dough tears easily, knead it longer. This technique won’t work with dough that includes seeds, nuts, or raisins, as they will tear the dough even if it has been kneaded sufficiently. If such ingredients have been used, check for stretchy and resilient dough.
Many bakers use a bowl to hold bread dough, but a straight-sided clear plastic tub is ideal for keeping track of dough as it rises. Mark the beginning level of the dough on the outside with a pen or a piece of tape, and then you can easily see when the dough has doubled. You can also use a glass bowl, but the doubling is a bit harder to define in a slope-sided container. Gently poke a finger into the dough. If the hole doesn’t refill, the dough has probably finished rising.
Many crusty artisanal are baked with steam to help keep the crust soft and pliable, allowing the bread to expand fully. Professional ovens have built-in steam injectors, but home bakers have to be more creative. One recommended method: When you turn on the oven to preheat it, place an empty heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet or pan on a rack near the top of the oven, When the bread dough is added to the oven, toss a handful of ice cubes into the pan and close the door. The ice will melt quickly and create a burst of steam. While the oven door is open, cover the glass on the door with a towel to catch any drips (the cold water could crack the glass) and remove the towel before closing the door.
A common way to test bread for doneness is to rap on the bottom of the loaf and listen for a dull thump. Using a thermometer is more reliable. Insert an instant-read thermometer in the bottom of the loaf, being sure to the tip reaches the center of the loaf. Butter and egg laden breads are finished when their internal temperature reaches 185 to 190 degrees F. Leaner and crispier breads are ready at 200 to 205 degrees F. For breads baked in loaf pans, insert the thermometer just above the rim of the pan, angling the tip down to the center of the loaf.
“Work With What You Got!”
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