A Guide to Ingredients

Flour

Flours react differently in their ability to absorb moisture. Depending on humidity and temperature, the amount of flour needed in a recipe may vary by as much as a cup or two. Therefore, the amount of flour called for in a recipe is always approximate. It is best to start with a smaller amount of flour and slowly add more while kneading to achieve a smooth, satiny textured dough. There are several types of flours used for bread making. The primary difference between flours is their protein content. When mixed with liquid, certain proteins form gluten which gives an elastic quality to dough. Gluten provides the framework for dough to rise by stretching and trapping the gas bubbles given off by yeast as it grows. The type of wheat, where it is grown, and the milling process all influence the amount of gluten. The higher the gluten content, the more volume the bread will have. Secondary differences are taste and texture. The most commonly used flours for bread baking include:

Yeast

Yeast is the leavening agent which makes the dough rise. A living plant which breathes and grows, yeast thrives on the sugar added to dough, producing a gas which stretches the dough and causes it to rise. It is available in active dry or compressed forms and can be used interchangeably. Compressed yeast usually comes in .06-ounce cakes and active dry yeast comes in 1/4-ounce packages. (One .06-ounce cake is equivalent to one 1/4-ounce package.) Recently, quick rising yeasts have been developed. These finely ground yeast granules allow the dough to rise in half the time.

Proofing the yeast: Yeast should be "proofed" before it's added to the flour mixture to be sure it is active. To proof, dissolve the yeast in a small amount of warm water- approximately 105 degrees F to 115 degrees F for dry yeast; approximately 80 degrees F for cake yeast-for 10 to 15 minutes until the yeast is foamy. A small amount of sugar may be added to quicken the process. Note: If you are using the Rapid Mix Method where the yeast is added with the other dry ingredients, the water temperature must be 120 degrees F to 130 degrees F to activate the yeast. Quick rising yeast may be dissolved in water or added directly to the flour.

Liquid

Liquid added to a flour mixture turns to steam and helps create texture. Water yields a crusty loaf with a fairly dense crumb while milk gives bread a rich and tender crumb and a softer crust.

Sugar

Sugar is the ingredient that activates the yeast to make the dough rise. It also adds flavor, increases tenderness and helps the crust brown. Granulated sugar is generally used, but molasses, brown sugar and honey may also be used. Be careful not to add too much sugar as it can retard gluten development. A good rule of thumb is 2 teaspoons of sugar per 2 cups of flour.

Salt

Salt regulates the growth of the yeast. Salt-free bread rises quickly, while too much salt can reduce or destroy yeast action. It also enhances the flavor of bread and contributes to a finer texture.

Butter

Butter or shortening makes the dough stretch easily and makes the bread tender. It also contributes to flavor and aids in giving bread a longer shelf life.

Eggs

Eggs aid in gluten development and provide extra nutrients to bread doughs. They also add flavor and golden color desired in sweet doughs.


Making the Loaf

Kneading

Kneading develops the gluten in the flour to form a framework for holding the gases given off by the yeast. The KitchenAid mixer not only effortlessly tackles kneading but provides the constant rhythm necessary for best results. After all the flour has been added, continue to knead for approximately 2 minutes until the dough is smooth and satiny, not sticky. Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl. Brush the top of the dough with additional oil to prevent a crust from forming while rising. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm (70 degrees F to 85 degrees F) place, free from drafts.

Rising

Let the dough rise until double in size. To test the dough, depress two fingers into the center and if the dent stays, it has doubled. Punch the dough down by pushing your fist into the center of the dough and pulling the edges over to the center. Turn the dough over. Letting the dough rise a second time before shaping will yield a finer textured loaf.

Shaping

There are many ways to shape a loaf. Specialty breads, such as braids or rolls, will generally include directions in the recipes. Two simple methods for shaping standard loaves are as follows:

Baking

Place loaves in the center of the oven, leaving space for the heat to surround the pans. To check for doneness, remove one loaf from its pan and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow it is done. Turn loaves onto racks immediately after baking to prevent sogginess.

Bread Making Tips

  1. Always store flour in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. For long-term storage, store flour and yeast in refrigerator or freezer.
  2. To measure flour, spoon it lightly into a dry measuring cup and level with a spatula.
  3. Use the Grain Mill to grind whole wheat berries and other grains into flour. One cup of grain yields approximately 1-1/4 cups of flour, except for rolled oats which yields 7/8 cup of flour.
  4. Always check liquid temperature with an accurate thermometer.

  5. Allow bread to rise in a warm, draft-free place. Place bowl of dough on rack over pan of warm water. Or, set oven on lowest setting for 10 minutes. Turn oven off and place bowl of dough in oven.
  6. For soft crusts and extra shine, brush finished bread with melted butter and cool uncovered.
  7. For crispier crusts, brush loaves with a mixture of one egg white and one tablespoon of cold water before baking.
  8. Inverting finished bread onto racks immediately from oven prevents a soggy loaf.
  9. Some large recipes and soft doughs may climb over the collar of the dough hook. This indicates the dough needs more flour. The sooner all the flour is added, the less likely the dough is to climb the hook. Try starting with all but the last cup of flour in the initial mixing process. Then add the remaining flour as quickly as possible, never exceeding the total amount given in the recipe.
  10. Dough made with whole grain flour may not form a ball on the dough hook during kneading. However, as long as there is contact between the hook and the dough, kneading will be accomplished.
  11. Allow bread to cool completely before slicing.
  12. Baked yeast breads may be stored in the freezer for up to six months. Wrap securely in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. To thaw, let stand at room temperature for 3 hours.

Bread Machine Tips

  1. Use good quality hard wheat unbleached, unbromated flour that has at least 12 grams of protein per cup. (I like King Arthur)
  2. Use fresh, quick dissolving active yeast, not rapid rise.
  3. Open the machine and check the dough during the first 5 - 10 minutes of the first kneading cycle!!! Even if your manual says not to do it: flour acts as a sponge absorbing moisture on wet days and becoming dehydrated during dry weather. You'll have to adjust for fluctuating humidity and barometric pressure by adding small amounts of flour or liquid to the dough.
  4. If you've never made bread before and don't know what dough is supposed to look like, buy a package of frozen bread dough (available at your local supermarket), and let it defrost according to the package directions. Place it on a lightly floured surface and play with it until you are familiar with the consistency. This is what you're aiming for in the bread machine.
  5. Now, to adjust the dough in your bread machine during the first knead cycle: wait until the ingredients have been kneaded for 3-4 minutes. If the dough looks sticky and wet and is coating the bottom and sides of the pan, then sprinkle in flour, a tablespoon at a time (you may need up to an extra 1/2 cup) while the machine is kneading, until you have a smooth, supple ball of dough. If the mixture is dry and corrugated looking or the dough doesn't hold together then sprinkle in additional liquid, a little at a time, until the dough is smooth and pliable and forms a cohesive ball. If you've wandered away from your machine only to return to find a wet messy glob or a dry desert thumping around in the machine, press stop (you can do this at any time - except if the machine has gone into the bake cycle), add a small amount of flour or liquid and press start. Stick around and make additional adjustments, if necessary, until the dough looks right.
  6. I have found that when you are either making dough, or placing the ingredients in the machine to make bread at that time, you can add either the liquids first or the dry ingredients first. The major exception to this is the old dak (no longer made) where the yeast must be placed in the bread pan first in a position farthest away from the kneading blade. When programming ahead make sure to place any dried fruits away from contact with wet ingredients as they will absorb those liquids and throw off the recipe.
Extra kneads and extra rise times all contribute to the depth of flavor, character of the crumb and general personality of a loaf of bread. One of the reasons I dislike rapid rise yeast and rapid cycles on the bread machines is that the dough really requires the entire life span of the yeast to become the amazing miracle that is bread. If you are partial to whole grain breads and are winding up with lower loaves than you wish, then try a double knead cycle: place the ingredients in the machine and program for dough or manual. At the end of the final knead reprogram the machine for bread (of Whole Wheat) and press start. You've given the dough an extra work-out to develop the gluten - that will result in a higher loaf. For an even higher loaf you can (if your machine permits) program for a longer rise time, or simply remove the dough from the pan after the final rise cycle (but before baking) transfer it to a bread pan and allow it to raise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Then bake it in the oven.

Sweet doughs with lots of butter and eggs also respond well to a second long rise in a cool place. I remove my brioche from the machine after the dough cycle is complete. I place it in a large freezer strength zip lock bag and refrigerate it overnight. Then I place it back in the machine (my Zojirushi has flexible programming), program for 2nd rise and bake. If you can't program your machine this way you can place the dough in a bread pan after you remove it from the machine, give it a long, refrigerated rise, and then bake it in the oven. Even non-wheat and non-sweet doughs can benefit from this extra rise.