by Jolene Adams, coordinator, LLCC Culinary Institute
I cannot think of a better way to spend a cold winter morning than baking fresh bread. The aroma fills the house, and the warmth of the oven takes the chill out of the air. The art of bread baking has been around for thousands of years, and there have been just as many books written about it. Award winning author of The Italian Baker,” Carol Field, once said, “Bread is made from just flour, water, salt and yeast. Just as the earth is made from just earth, air, fire and water.”
Bread can be easy to make yet difficult to master, so simple yet complex. There are hundreds of easy recipes to follow to make a loaf of bread, but knowledge will help you master the technique. Even a simple ingredient like wheat is complex. There are six major classes of wheat commonly grown in North America; however, there are thousands of varieties within those classes. The Wheat Foods Council is a great resource for learning about the unique characteristics and common uses of the different wheats. Of the six wheat classes, there are both hard and soft wheats. The hard wheats contain more gluten than the soft wheats. This is important to know when selecting flour to make bread. Hard red winter wheat is the wheat most often found in the packages labeled bread flour sold in grocery stores. Hard white wheat is the variety used to make whole grain wheat flour since it is lighter in color than the red. The soft wheats are used for cake and pastry flour. Several grocery stores are now stocking these wheats in the specialty food aisle. You can purchase a hard wheat variety as opposed to the pre-packaged flours.
There are also several types of yeast available. Fresh yeast is used most often in commercial bakeries. Fresh yeast is moist and perishable. Active dry yeast is most often used by home bakers. It is the type sold in individual packages and jars at most grocery stores. Active dry yeast needs to be mixed with a liquid to rehydrate. Instant dry yeast, also called quick-rise, is similar to active dry yeast, although it does not have to be rehydrated before use and it will cause the dough to rise more quickly during proofing. It’s a good idea to know the difference between the types of yeasts. If a recipe calls for a specific type of yeast, try to use that type. Substitutions can be made, but the measurements, mixing method and proofing time will have to be adjusted.
The information on wheat flours and yeasts are only part of the bread making process.There are also certain steps to follow when making bread, and knowing what these steps are and how they affect the quality of bread will help you to master the art.
Step 1. Weighing or measuring the ingredients
If you have a scale at home, weigh your ingredients. Look for recipes that list ingredients by weight such as 12 ounces of bread flour instead of by the cup. Weighing is more accurate than measuring.
Step 2. Mixing
Make sure to follow the mixing directions. If the recipe calls for the yeast to be mixed with water, then don’t skip that step and just add it to the flour or the dough may not rise. Also, during the mixing step, the dough is being kneaded, which develops the gluten and creates a smooth ball of dough. Do not under mix or over mix. Dough should be smooth and firm with no clumps of flour.
Step 3. Fermenting
This is the stage where the yeast starts to convert the sugars in the dough to gases, causing the dough to swell and rise. This step is important; this is where the flavor starts to develop.
Step 4. Folding
As the dough rises, it needs to be folded to help release the gases. This relaxes the dough and strengthens the gluten, which strengthens the structure of the bread. Sometimes this step is referred to as punching down the dough. You don’t actually punch the dough – be nice to it – just gently press the dough and it should collapse back down into the bowl.
Step 5. Portioning
Portioning is important. If the bread is to be baked in a pan, the right amount of dough has to be portioned out so it doesn’t spill over the sides of the pan while in the oven.
Step 6. Shaping
Bread can be baked on a cookie sheet; no loaf pan is needed. This is a little tricky, because it takes practice to shape the dough into a round or oval loaf. There are numerous videos online that can guide you through the technique. It really can’t be explained in words; it is a visual experience. Once you have mastered the round loaf, try a braid.
Step 7. Resting
This is an important step if you want to make a braided loaf of bread. As the dough is being shaped, the gluten is tightening up. This makes the long strands of dough shrink up after being rolled out. Once the strands have been rolled, let the dough rest for a few minutes. It will be much easier to roll out the long strands for a braid.
Step 8. Proofing
The yeast continues to ferment and the dough is still increasing in volume. This proofing step gives the dough a chance to rise again since most of the gasses were expelled during the shaping process. Also during this step the top of the bread can be scored or cut. The cut is not only decorative but it allows the bread to bake without splitting or cracking.
Step 9. Baking
Finally, it’s time to bake. Follow the directions of the recipe for time and temperature. Watch for a golden brown crust. If you have a thermometer, you can check for doneness. Bread is done when the internal temp is 180 degrees.
Step 10. Cooling
Remove bread from the pan and place on a cooling rack. If bread is left in the pan it will get soggy as it cools. Resist the temptation to slice into the hot bread. Give it some time to cool. The center of the bread will still be doughy while it is hot. By all means, eat it while it is warm, which is the best part of enjoying your homemade bread.
Step 11. Storing
Make sure the bread is completely cooled before wrapping it or putting it in a bag. Cooled and wrapped bread stores well in the freezer.
Bread is an art and it takes time to hone the skills. Just keep baking and trying new recipes. For a hands-on experience, sign up for one of our breads classes offered each semester.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry, and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu.
Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org