How to Bake Bread


Around the world, bread is the "stuff of life." It's an important part of nearly every cuisine and almost every meal. And nothing beats the satisfaction of serving loaves of your own homemade bread.

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Bread Recipes
We've picked some of our best bread recipes so that once you know how to bake using the different methods, you'll have some tasty breads to show for it.
Making a bread recipe for the first time can be a bit scary, no matter how many cooking shows and famous chefs you've watched on television. But preparing your own yeast breads -- the familiar white, wheat, rye, or multi-grain loaves we slice for everything from our favorite French toast recipe to Cuban sandwiches -- isn't really difficult. It simply requires a few unique skills beyond those usually called for in other recipes.

So throw out that old bread machine and become a citizen of the bread-making world. In this article, we've broken the basic techniques down into simple steps.
  • Making Dough

    Yeast-leavened bread makes up much of the bread available in bakeries and supermarkets. It's also the bread we're going to talk about in this section. Yeast breads contain yeast as a leavening agent. There are two different kinds of yeast breads: yeast-batter breads and yeast-dough breads. Yeast-dough breads are what we think of when think about dough. To make dough, we must proof the yeast, knead the dough, and let the dough rise. Don't know what any of this means? No worries. In this section, we'll explain how to make yeast work for you, as well as teach you why it's a good idea to let the dough rise.

  • Baking Bread

    Yeast-leavened breads are among the most common. Once you've let the dough rise, you're just about ready to bake bread. The dough is filled with holes, so it's important to punch down the dough. We'll show you how in this section. Also, we'll cover baking another type of bread: quick breads. These breads are leavened with baking power, baking soda, or steam. As their name suggests, they are quick and easy to make. You're probably familiar with quick breads in the form of pancakes and muffins. We'll help you get re-acquainted.

  • Finishing Bread

    The yeast has risen, the dough has been punched down, what else can there be? While baking yeast breads can be very satisfying, it is a lengthy process. In this section, we'll show you how to shape and finish the dough. This step transforms a big ball of dough into the shape we recognize as "bread." There are as many different ways to shape and finish dough as there are different kinds of bread recipes. We'll teach you how to braid Challah, the Jewish festival bread that is as lovely for the table as it is delicious for the mouth.
Yeast is the start of any good bread. Click to the next section to learn how to put yeast to work for your favorite breads.

Making Dough

Okay, you know you want to make bread. You know that it involves yeast. The big question: what is yeast? And, what does it have to do with dough?

All About Yeast

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Here are a few bread recipes from our collection:
Bread contains yeast as a leavening agent. It's what causes the dough to rise and what gives the bread shape, volume, and texture.

The most common type of yeast used in bread making is active dry yeast. Each package contains thousands of microscopic living plants that are activated by warm liquid and fed by sugar and starch.

When activated, live yeast releases carbon dioxide gas bubbles. When these bubbles become entrapped in the dough, it rises.

Proofing the Yeast

Proofing the yeast makes certain that the yeast is still alive and active before going ahead with the recipe. Yeast that is not living cannot make bread rise.

To proof the yeast for baking bread:
  1. Check the expiration date on the yeast package. Replace if necessary.

  2. Heat the liquid to 105° to 115°F. Use an instant-read thermometer to determine if the liquid has reached the proper temperature. If the dissolving liquid is too cold, the yeast action is retarded. If the liquid is too hot, it kills the yeast.

  3. Measure out the specified amount of warm liquid and pour it into a small bowl.

  4. Sprinkle the specified amounts of yeast and sugar over the warm water; stir until the yeast is dissolved.

  5. Let stand 5 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly, indicating the yeast is alive and releasing gas bubbles.

    Proofing the yeast assures it is still working when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Proofing the yeast assures it is still working.

  6. If the yeast does not bubble, discard the mixture and start again with new ingredients.  
Alternative method to proof the yeast for baking bread:

If you are certain that the yeast you are using is alive and active, you can eliminate the proofing step. Combine the yeast with a portion of the flour and the other dry ingredients and then add warmer liquid (120
°F to 130°F) to speed up the action of the yeast. Quick-rising yeast also may be substituted for active dry yeast when using this alternative method. Rising times will be significantly reduced. Follow package recommendations.

If your yeast is active, it's time to start pulling all the ingredients for your bread recipe together. Follow the bread recipe to add ingredients to the mixing bowl.

Kneading the Dough

Once the ingredients have been combined in the mixing bowl, most yeast dough needs to be kneaded.

Kneading develops and strengthens the gluten, a protein in flour that gives the bread its structure. Gluten forms an elastic network that traps the carbon dioxide gas released by the yeast. Kneading also incorporates and homogenizes the ingredients and gradually makes the dough smoother and more elastic.

Bread dough can be kneaded using an electric mixer with a dough hook attachment or a food processor. These methods work well for stickier, batter-type dough that is difficult to knead by hand, such as sweet yeast breads that contain more sweeteners and fat. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

To knead dough by hand for baking bread:
  1. Lightly sprinkle flour on the kneading surface and your hands to make the dough easier to handle.

    Sprinkle flour on your hands to make kneading easier when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Sprinkle flour to make kneading easier.

  2. Flatten the dough slightly and fold it in half toward you.

    Flatten and fold dough in half when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Flatten and fold dough in half.

  3. Push the dough away from you with the heels of your hands in a rolling motion.

    Roll with the heels of your hands to push the dough when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Roll with the heels of your hands
    to push the dough.

  4. Rotate the dough one-quarter turn and repeat the folding, pushing, and turning steps for the length of time specified in the recipe.

    Rotate the dough and repeat, according to bread recipe when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Rotate the dough and repeat,
    according to bread recipe.

Letting the Dough Rise

Now that all the ingredients are thoroughly combined, the yeast needs time to do its work. Letting the dough rise allows time for the yeast cells to give off carbon dioxide gas. The process gradually expands and develops the dough in flavor, texture, and structure.

To allow the dough to rise for baking bread:
  1. Place the dough in a large greased bowl and turn it over so all surfaces are greased. This prevents the dough from drying out or developing a crust. (Leave stickier, batter-type yeast dough to rise in the mixing bowl.)

    Roll the dough around in the greased bowl to cover all surfaces when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Roll the dough around in the greased
    bowl to cover all surfaces.

  2. Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm place (80°F to 85°F) away from drafts.

  3. Let the dough rise until it has doubled or almost doubled in bulk. Use the time guidelines given in the recipe.

  4. To test if the dough has risen enough, lightly press two fingertips about one-half inch into the dough. The dough is ready if the indentations remain when your fingertips are removed.

    If the bread dough has doubled, the indentations from your fingertips will remain when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    If the bread dough has doubled, the marks
    from your fingertips will remain.


Alternative method to allow the dough to rise for baking bread:

Letting dough rise in a colder environment slows the process, offering the convenience of beginning a recipe one day and completing it later that day or the next. For the refrigerator rising method, cover the dough with greased plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator for 3 to 24 hours. Bring the dough to room temperature before shaping or baking.

Once the dough has doubled, it needs to be deflated. The next section tells you how to punch it down to size.

Baking the Bread

The dough rose. Now it's time to get out your aggression and punch it back down. Then, we'll show you how to create quick breads.

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Here are a few bread recipes from our collection:
Quick breads are breads that are leavened without yeast. Baking powder and baking soda are often used as the leavening elements. Steam can also be used to act as a leavening agent, as with popovers.

Punching Down the Dough

After the dough has risen, it is full of air pockets.

To work out the excess carbon dioxide and redistribute the yeast, the dough is punched down.

The most common way to punch down the down dough is to pound the dough with your fist. (A side benefit is that it helps people feel more calm after a stressful week.)

To punch down the dough for baking bread:
  1. Push down the center of the dough with your fist. (Soft, sticky dough is stirred down with a wooden spoon rather than punched.)

    Punching down the dough removes air pockets when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Punching down the dough
    removes air pockets.

  2. Push the edges of the dough into the center using your fingertips. The dough is now ready to rise again or to shape, depending on the bread recipe you are using.

    When baking bread, all the dough is rolled back into the center, it's ready to rise again.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    When all the dough is rolled back
    into the center, it's ready to rise again.


Quick Breads

Unlike the yeast dough above, quick breads contain baking powder or baking soda to make the dough rise. They require very little mixing or kneading and no rising time prior to baking. Bake these breads immediately after they are mixed so the leavening agents do not lose their power.

Quick Dough Breads

Biscuits and scones are the most common quick dough breads. Solid fat, such as butter, margarine, or shortening, is cut into dry ingredients to start the process.
These breads may be kneaded very briefly to bring the dough together for shaping. Too much kneading will make the breads mealy and tough.

To make quick dough breads:
  1. Cut the solid fat into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

  2. Add the combined liquid ingredients and stir the mixture just until the dough clings together.

  3. Biscuits and scones are ready to eat when their top and bottom crusts are an even golden brown color. Follow specific cooling instructions in each recipe.
Quick Batter Breads

Muffins, coffee cakes, tea breads, and pancakes are the most popular quick batter breads. Pancakes, also known as flapjacks, are one of the world's simplest and versatile forms of bread.

To make quick batter breads:
  1. Add the combined liquid ingredients to the combined dry ingredients and stir only until the mixture is evenly moistened.

    Stir until mixture is evenly moistened when making quick breads.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Stir until mixture is evenly moistened.

  2. Pour onto prepared pans. The batter should look lumpy; too much stirring or beating will give the breads a tough texture with lots of holes and tunnels.

    Quick bread batter should look lumpy when poured.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Batter should look lumpy when poured.

  3. If cooking pancakes, flip to cook on both sides.

    Flip pancakes for even cooking on both sides when making quick breads.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Flip pancakes for even cooking.

  4. These quick breads are completely baked when a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Follow specific cooling instructions in each recipe.
Storing Quick Breads

Quick breads can keep up to three months if stored correctly.

To store quick breads:

Store quick breads in plastic bags at room temperature for up to three days. Freeze them tightly wrapped in freezer bags or heavy-duty foil for up to three months. Reheat frozen breads wrapped in foil in a 300°F oven for 15 to 18 minutes.

The last steps before eating fresh bread are to shape the bread and finish the crust. The final section tells you how.

Finishing the Bread

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Here are a few bread recipes from our collection:
Baking bread from scratch isn't difficult when you know the steps to follow. You've seen the yeast from the initial stages to punching the dough. The final step is to shape and finish the dough.


Shaping and Finishing the Dough

Most recipes call for rolling, cutting, or shaping the dough after it has risen. This provides the bread with a structure -- which you can shape to your desires.

To shape and finish dough for baking bread:
  1. Lightly flour the rolling surface and rolling pin before working with the dough. If only a portion of the dough will be used at a time, keep the remaining dough covered with a towel to keep it from drying out.

  2. To change the look and texture of the crust, you can brush on a variety of ingredients either before or after baking.

  3. For a shiny crust, brush with one egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water before baking.

    Brush on beaten egg white for a shiny crust when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Brush on beaten egg whites
    for a shiny crust.

  4. For a soft crust, brush melted butter or margarine over the crust immediately after baking.

  5. For a crisp crust, mist unglazed breads quickly with water several times during the first 10 minutes of baking.

  6. Bake bread as specified in recipe.
Testing for Doneness

Once your bread is baking, you can sit back, chill out, and enjoy the blissful aromas wafting from your oven. But don't get too relaxed -- you need to make sure not to overcook your creation by testing for doneness.

To test breads for doneness when baking:
  1. To test breads for doneness, tap the tops of the loaves with your fingers or a wooden spoon. A hollow sound means the bread is done; a dull thud means that the bread is moist inside and requires more baking. Breads baked in loaf pans will shrink away from the sides of the pans slightly.

    Tap the bread top with your fingers. A hollow sound means it's done when baking bread.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Tap the bread top with your fingers.
    A hollow sound means it's done!

  2. Remove yeast breads from pans immediately and cool completely on wire racks to prevent a soggy bottom.
Challah

Challah is a beautiful, braided egg bread traditionally served at the Shabbat meal and during most Jewish holiday feasts. Braiding the dough is really quite simple and a delightful way to finish a bread.

To braid challah:

  1. Prepare dough according to recipe. Divide the dough into 3 pieces on a floured surface. Cut one piece into thirds; roll each third into a 16-inch-long rope using your hands.

    Gently roll the dough into a rope without using too much pressure when braiding challah.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Gently roll the dough into a rope
    without using too much pressure.

  2. Place the 3 ropes side by side and braid; pinch both ends to seal and place to one side on a large greased cookie sheet.

    Make a neat braid that is neither tight nor too loose when braiding challah.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Make a neat braid that is neither
    too tight nor too loose.

  3. Repeat with another piece of dough for the second loaf. Place alongside first loaf -- at least 5 inches apart -- on cookie sheet.

  4. Cut remaining piece of dough in half; cut each half into thirds. Roll each third into 17-inch ropes using hands.

  5. Place ropes side by side and braid; pinch both ends to seal.

  6. Carefully place braid on one of the braided loaves on the cookie sheet, stretching top braid if necessary. Tuck ends of top braid under bottom braid. Repeat with remaining dough.

    Gently stretch the top braid, if neede,d so you can tuck under both ends when braiding challah.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Gently stretch the top braid, if needed,
    so you can tuck under both ends.

     

  7. Cover braided loaves with clean kitchen towel. Let rise in warm place away from drafts per recipe or until doubled in bulk.

  8. Beat 1 tablespoon water into an egg yolk. Brush tops and sides of loaves with egg mixture.The egg wash gives challah its characteristic sheen.

    Brush with egg wash when braiding challah.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Brush with egg wash.

  9. Bake according to recipe until bread is brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped with a finger. Following cooking instructions from the recipe.
At this point, there's only one more step to go and it's the easiest of all -- slicing off a piece of your freshly baked bread and enjoying it with fresh butter or fruit preserves.

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