I’m going to take it a step back this week with an informational post. Boring, I know, BUT this means I’ll be able to share more of my favorite recipes with you without long, drawn-out instructions. My goal is to provide you with a great go-to reference all about bread making to make your lives a little easier and your stomachs a little fuller.
I know I say a lot of things are “my favorite” but making breakfast dishes is pretty far up there. Not just your eggs and bacon, but I’m talking about some quiche, cinnamon rolls, and good old from-scratch pancakes. There’s so much room for experimentation and you really can’t ever go wrong.
Homemade cinnamon rolls are made a few times a month in my house and I can’t wait much longer to introduce them to your kitchen. So here you’ll find the basics of bread making and hopefully the confidence to give it a shot yourself.
Remember – Stay Hungry
Yeast seems super scary. I mean it’s literally a LIVE ingredient. But with a little attention and care, you shouldn’t have any problems.
Yeast needs to be activated to be “brought to life” and able to work properly. All it needs is some warm water and a little whisking. This will generally be the first step in each of your bread making recipes. I like to activate my yeast before any other steps to ensure its all ready to go when its time to mix with the rest of the ingredients.
Yes, yeast needs to be activated in warm water, but too hot of water will actually kill your yeast. Your ideal water temperature is going to be 110 degrees. 110 degrees, how are you supposed to determine this? You want your water to be cool enough that you can stick your hand into it, but not too hot that you can’t hold it in there. Yeast dies at 140 degrees, which is decently hot. As long as you can place your finger in the water without pain, you’re good to go.
There is one other way to kill yeast, and that is too much salt. Without salt your bread will be flavorless and you’ll probably end up throwing it away. The harmony of perfect amounts of yeast and salt will bring you the perfect bread. Some recipes call for mixing your salt and yeast in the same step. I don’t suggest this. I always begin mixing my dough and add my salt in after a few stirs, so the salt and yeast don’t come into direct contact with one another.
There are so many different types of flours on the shelves now, there are endless possibilities in bread making. Most recipes will call for you to sift your flour, but don’t feel required to do so. With breads, you don’t need an extremely fine flour like you would if you were using powdered sugar for making frosting.
The flour used in the majority of all recipes, bread and others, is all-purpose flour, or AP for short. This is the most generic flour and works in any recipe. However, when being processed, all-purpose flour isn’t as refined as other specific types of flour, so you aren’t always 100% positive of what you’ll be getting. This really won’t be a problem for any home bakers, don’t stress.
I’m a big fan of bread flour. I use it in a lot of my cookies and most of my breads. It creates a denser and chewier texture to your items. If a recipe you’re using calls for bread flour and you don’t have any on hand, substituting it with all-purpose won’t make too much of a difference.
Cake: You won’t see cake flour used too often in recipes aside from cakes. You’ll notice the flour isn’t as light as other flours, which will create a denser cake. However, if you’re in a pinch and need cake flour, substitute 1 tablespoon of flour for 1 tablespoon of cornstarch per cup of AP flour.
Mixing & Kneading
This may be the most important step in your bread baking process. Properly mixing and kneading your dough can make all the difference.
Almost all recipes will call for you to activate your yeast, mix your dry ingredients together, and pour your yeast into the dry. Sometimes you’ll have recipes with extra or enriching ingredients such as milk, butter, and eggs. These ingredients will be added at their own time, straying a little from the simple 3-step mixing procedure. You may see one cinnamon roll recipe differ in procedure from another, but as long as everything comes together, you shouldn’t see any problems.
Like I said in the yeast section, I’m always weary about adding in my salt too early. I try to avoid placing it into direct contact with my yeast to avoid any confrontation. I mix my dough a few times before adding it in.
I know not everyone has a mixer at home but that’s nothing to worry about. Yes, it’s a little messier and more time-consuming, but mixing bread by hand usually gives you a better result. Always give yourself a bigger bowl than you think you will need; you’ll be thankful for the extra room in the end.
Kneading can make or break your dough. Kneading activates the gluten in the flour, providing you with the nice airy structure of bread we all know and love.
Don’t be nervous, this step is fairly simple. You just need to be patient and gentle with your dough. That is the most important tip I can give you. Being gentle and taking care of your dough will allow it to bake up into a fabulous bread. Once you begin kneading, pay attention to the section of dough that is against the surface you are working on. If at any point it begins to tear or seems to have small holes in it, you want to take a break. This means you’re beginning to overwork your dough. Even if you have just started kneading, listen to the dough and let it rest. Simply throw a towel over it for 10 minutes and then come back and continue kneading. You’ll know when your dough is kneaded well when it’s soft, consistently smooth, and feels light.
If you begin to knead and your dough is sticky, throw a little flour down on the surface and continue. Add as much as you need, but be careful to not add too much to your dough. This will create a denser dough and will throw off your ingredient ratio.
If you’re using a mixer, feel free to completely mix your bread in the bowl. However, I like to take mine out and knead it by hand for 5-10 minutes before I let it rise. I have always had a better bread bake up because of it. Your dough just needs a little love and attention.
Rising & Proofing
Rising and proofing are basically the same thing. This period generally happens twice, once right after kneading your dough (bulk proof) and once after your items are shaped (final proof). During any step of rising, make sure your dough is sprayed or brushed with water. This will help prevent it from forming any type of crust on the surface.
After your dough is kneaded, you want to place it in an oiled bowl and cover it with a damp towel or plastic wrap. You’ll want this bowl to sit in a warm area until your dough has about doubled in size. This step is important; you want to make sure your bread has risen enough that will achieve the correct texture when baked, but not too long that your dough is past the point of return. You know when your dough is proofed enough when you can stick your finger in and the dimple will come back about halfway. If it pops back all the way, your dough is under proofed. If it doesn’t come back at all, your dough is over proofed.
The final proof is fairly easy and often shorter than the bulk proof. Shape your dough into the desired pan or shape and brush with water once again. Let your dough sit until it has about doubled again. At this point you know you’re ready for baking.