active dry yeast, agave, airtight containers, beginning baking tips, biga, bread baking terms, bread elasticity, bread flour, buttermilk powder, compressed fresh yeast, crumb, dairy farmer's daughter, degassing, doh-see-doh, final bread dough, hard red spring wheat, hard red winter wheat, how to make bread, instant yeast, kneading, kosher sea salt, oven spring, pan sprays, proof, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Sears ranges, soaker, the new bread maker, wet hands, whole wheat
When I began to bake bread in 2009 there were a number of new things to learn and I didn’t always understand what the recipe was telling me. In case you are just starting out with bread making, I will explain the terms that I was puzzled about.
Active Dry Yeast is the yeast that is most often listed in bread recipes. I have learned that when I find a recipe that does not clearly identify which kind of yeast to use, I use Active dry yeast. This is a form of commercially prepared granule yeast. You can buy it in little jars, foil packets or in bulk at a natural foods stores. Active dry yeast must be activated in warm water (~110 F). Let the yeast stand in the warm water for several minutes, until it gets a little foamy looking. That way you’ll be sure that it’s good yeast. Often times, a recipe will call for the equivalent of one packet of active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp, or 1/4 oz. or 7 grams). The most important thing to remember about yeast is that it needs to be fresh. Check dates on the jar or packets before buying. Keep a jar in the refrigerator after opening and use it within 4 months or less. If it’s not fresh, discard it and don’t beat yourself up about it. It happens sometimes.
Recipes always tell you at what temperature to Bake bread and usually offer a range of time (e.g. 30 – 35 minutes) within which the loaf should be ready. I used to believe that when I set the temperature on the oven, the oven would actually go to that temperature and stay there for as long as I wanted. Oh, how naive of me! Part of the reason for the range of time allowed for baking, is that home ovens fluctuate in temperature as they cycle on and off in their attempt to maintain the constant temperature that you have selected. When I first started baking bread, I was checking my oven with a little oven thermometer, and I discovered some important things. Firstly, my oven NEVER rose to the temperature that I had set for it. Secondly, even after the oven was hot, it was erratic in its’ temperature regulation throughout the period of baking. I could have limped along and made some adjustments to compensate for the funky oven, but as we were not enamored with our electric stove anyhow, we opted to install a new oven and switch to gas at the same time. I also got a great lesson about how ovens work, from the installation guy. Thank you Sears!
Biga is a dough that is mixed a day ahead of your final dough and contains a small amount of yeast. It is refrigerated and therefore allowed to develop flavor very slowly. Peter Reinhart uses a biga in most of his breads in Whole Grain Breads. See “A Recipe for your First Bread” under RECIPES for an example of how a biga is used in a recipe.
Butter is not a novel word for anyone, and obviously, as a dairy farmer’s daughter, I know my fair share about butter. The reason I mention it here, is that sometimes people (including me) make substitutions in their recipes to cut down on fats or cholesterol–like replacing butter with margarine, or using margarine when the recipe calls for oil. All I want to say is that I encourage you not to alter these ingredients, unless the recipe specifically says that you can. When I first started baking bread, I did not truly appreciate the sensitivity of bread recipes and would throw in something that I thought would taste just as good as what the recipe called for. Eventually, I learned my lesson on that. Not a good idea. Different ingredients really do behave differently in bread.
Compressed Fresh Yeast is also called moist or “cake” yeast (meaning the yeast is in a cake-shape, not that you use it in a cake) and it can be purchased in bulk from a natural foods store and sometimes other grocery stores have it, too. Commercial bakers, I’m told, like to use cake yeast because it is very reliable. My mother always used cake yeast. BUT, cake yeast only keeps for a week or two in the refrigerator so home bakers don’t want too much at one time. Fresh compressed yeast is off-white and smooth-looking. If it’s grayed or it crumbles, it is not fresh. Laurel Robertson, The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book suggests that if you buy a large amount, that you cut it up into “one-baking-sized chunks”, wrap them in airtight foil and freeze them. I have no experience with compressed yeast, so I can’t offer anything more on that subject.
Crumb, (singular) refers to the appearance/texture of the bread inside the loaf. When someone talks about “the crumb” they are referring to some quality of the sliced bread. Maybe it’s a dense crumb, or an open crumb, or a light, airy crumb, or a very even crumb or very soft crumb. Just don’t call the bread “crumby”.
Elasticity comes about as gluten develops. Elasticity is quite evident when you’re trying to roll out dough, for example, to make cinnamon rolls, or to make braided bread. The initial reaction of the dough is to spring back to its’ prior shape. If you leave it alone (“let it rest”) for just a minute or two and come back to it again with further encouragement, it will have relaxed and be more willing to work with you. (Kind of like talking a friend into meeting a blind date. At first, she’ll say “No” but after a bit more gentle encouragement, she’ll probably come around).
Final Dough is the dough that contains the biga and the soaker and some additional final ingredients that will eventually be made into loaves. Peter Reinhart in Whole Grain Breads uses that term in his recipes. An example of this combination of biga and soaker is found in my post “A Recipe for Your First Bread” under RECIPES.
Flours probably number in the hundreds. At this point, I only want to point out that the kind of flour you want to use for bread making is not all-purpose flour, nor pastry flour. If the flour is labeled “bread flour” it means that it is higher in gluten than all-purpose flour, and therefore, would be an appropriate flour for yeast bread. White flour for bread making is about 12% protein. You wouldn’t want a white flour that has a higher protein than that because the bread will get tough. To make bread flour, they use hard red spring wheat, hard red winter wheat and hard white wheat. Flour should be fresh to make good bread. Check the date on the bag, or if you buy from a natural foods store, ask how long the flour has been on the shelf. Store it in airtight containers at home. When I started making bread, I was pretty confused about what flour to buy. There were so many options. Sometimes a recipe would call for “whole wheat bread flour” and so I looked around for a flour by that name. I can tell you that there isn’t one. Now I realize that the recipe simply is emphasizing that it calls for whole wheat flour and in so doing, it expects that that flour will have at least 12% protein content because that is the amount that is appropriate.
Honey, molasses, white and brown sugar all serve the same purpose in providing just a bit of sweetness into bread. Another option to use for that sweetener is agave nectar. I discovered that I really like to use agave because it is a bit thinner than both honey and molasses and so it is easier to measure. Agave nectar needs to be refrigerated, but even so, it is easily dispensed from a squeeze bottle. If you wet your spoon before measuring the agave, it will clean off easily.
Instant Yeast is a fairly new invention. It’s also called “bread machine yeast.” It is similar to active dry yeast in that it is also made in granular form and can be found in little jars or packets. It is different, however, in that it does not need to be dissolved in water so you can throw it right in with the rest of the ingredients. And it is designed to work faster than active dry yeast. You might wonder why all recipes don’t use instant yeast. It sounds so easy. However, flavor is affected when bread dough rises too quickly and therein lies the reason for many recipes using the active dry yeast.
Kneading simply refers to the mechanical process of pushing and pulling, or folding and pressing together portions of the dough. There’s no special magic to how it’s done. The whole point of it is simply to introduce one part of the dough to another part of the dough that it hasn’t touched before. “Frank, meet Sue.” Bakers seem to develop a style that feels comfortable to them as they knead. Some people find it therapeutic. I guess I’m one of them. But the specific style of kneading is not that important, as long as the dough on the right meets up with the dough on the left, and so on. Kind of like “doh-see-dohing” your partner. Hmm—dough-see-dough-ing. Exactly!
Milk is one ingredient where I make an exception in my rule about “No substitutions.” I will substitute 1% for 2% or even for whole milk in a recipe, and I will substitute buttermilk powder mixed with water in a recipe when I don’t have buttermilk on hand. There probably is some difference in texture between 1% and whole milk, but I don’t think there’s a noticeable difference between real buttermilk and the kind I mix up myself. I keep a can of buttermilk powder in the refrigerator and it stores well for a long time.
Oven spring is demonstrated here in a bread that was scored the length of the loaf just before going into the oven. The sudden heat of the oven caused the dough to expand rapidly creating this pretty finish. Good oven spring implies a nicely active yeast and the crumb is probably very nice as well. I am always so pleased when I see nice oven spring.
Pan sprays are not all created equal. Some are designed for high heat baking and that is what I suggest you have around, if you’re going to have pan spray in your kitchen anyway. I don’t even use the pan spray to spray the pans usually. That’s because I prefer to use an oil that I apply by hand to be sure I’ve covered all the pan. I do use the high heat spray however, to lightly spray the top of a proofed loaf before adding seeds or a dusting of flour. Then I can be assured that the spray isn’t going to darken and burn on the top of the loaf.
Preheat an oven well in advance of when you want to put the loaf in the oven. Even when the oven dings to tell you that the temperature has been reached, check it independently with your handy oven thermometer to be sure. I allow 35 – 40 minutes to preheat an oven to 450 F. More later about how I add mass to the inside of the oven to keep a more consistent temperature.
Proofing is what we call the final rise before the bread goes into the oven. When the loaf is allowed to rise for too long, we say it is “over-proofed” and the result can be seen by comparing the two loaves below. They are identical loaves, except that the one on the left sat too long before it went into the oven. Notice how there was very little oven spring. But the loaf on the right blossomed quite nicely when it came in contact with the hot oven air.
Punching down is also called “degassing”. The point of this is to remove some of the alcohol (or waste product) that forms when the yeast is growing. The carbon dioxide is trapped inside those pockets of air. Deflating the dough serves much the same function as kneading. It moves the yeast around, introduces oxygen into the dough and breaks up the bigger pockets of carbon dioxide. Doing all of that actually makes the dough stronger and helps to make a lighter bread.
The salt that I always use in bread baking is kosher sea salt. Regular table salt will tend to make the bread actually “taste” saltier than it needs to. The kosher sea salt lends a nice even flavor. Oh, and don’t use a salt substitute for bread.
Shaping – I’ll do a whole post about shaping later.
A Soaker is a portion of dough that is made the day before you intend to make bread. The soaker can sit at room temperature until the next day. The purpose of the soaker is to allow harder grains time to become well hydrated and to develop flavor slowly. Peter Reinhart uses soakers for most of his bread recipes in Whole Grain Breads. See “A Recipe for Your First Loaf of Bread”.
Spring water may be your preference if you don’t like the taste of the drinking water that comes out of your tap. I am fortunate in that our water tastes great and I am not afraid to use it for bread baking. You can also use filtered water, or buy spring water for bread, NOT distilled water. You can also boil tap water and allow it to come to room temperature for bread if that improves the taste enough for you. Another option, and I think this is stupendous, is to use the water that you have left over from boiling potatoes. Potato water has starch in it, of course, and when you use that as your liquid in a bread recipe, the texture of the bread is noticeably softer! (Also a little harder to slice because it’s soft). And the bread is a little sweeter tasting We love it!
Wet hands prevent the dough from sticking to them! I wish I had realized that a long time ago. Maybe everybody knew that but me. I don’t really care to have my hands masquerading as large clumps of shaggy dough with fingers as I do the initial mixing of the ingredients. A lot of people do that though and don’t seem to mind it a bit. I place a medium bowl of water next to me when I am going to mix the ingredients together the first time. As soon as the bits of the dough begin to become integrated together (after the first couple of minutes) I don’t wet my hands any longer because I don’t want to add more liquid to the dough AND it clearly becomes unnecessary as the texture of the dough changes. This saves me time, too. I don’t spend time later scraping dough off each individual finger and my hands wash up quickly at the sink.
Whole Wheat Flour has a protein content around 12 percent or even higher which is acceptable when it’s a whole wheat flour. Be aware that whole wheat flour is perishable, though, more so than white flour. If you have room to keep it in your refrigerator, it will keep pretty well for two months. At room temperature, it will keep for about one month. When whole wheat flour gets old, the natural oils in the flour get rancid. I don’t have room in my fridge to store my whole wheat flour and there have been times when I have opted to discard my remaining whole wheat flour rather than risk a poor loaf of bread. I feel like I can smell a slightly different aroma when the flour is no longer fresh.
Yeast is what causes the bread dough to rise or inflate. Yeast is a one-celled living plant! It needs food to grow, just like any other plant; just like you and me. It needs calories, vitamins, minerals, oxygen and water. Though there are literally millions of yeast species, the species used in bread baking and in brewing beer is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. When there is enough oxygen available for the yeast, it gets busy metabolizing (using) the available food and it grows the bread. The growth process produces waste products of alcohol and carbon dioxide. It’s the carbon dioxide that is making all those bubbles in the dough. If dough is not kneaded at all or punched down or shaped, too much carbon dioxide will collect in huge bubbles in the dough and eventually will kill the yeast. That is what happens when bread is over-proofed. Too MUCH of a good thing.
These were probably the most puzzling of the variables involved with bread making for me when I began. I hope this is helpful for somebody. Happy baking!