A Few Pointers for Perfect Yeast Bread

 Posted by on May 17, 2011  Add comments  Tagged with:
May 172011

Several readers have requested more information about breadmaking, so today, I would like to share a few tips.

Perfect yeast breads are:
High, and evenly shaped
Uniformly golden brown
Even in texture, with no large air holes
Moist, silky, and elastic

Here are some common problems, and possible causes:

Bread is not high
Water is too hot for yeast
Too little flour
Not enough kneading
Rising period too short
Pan is too large

Coarse texture
Rising period too long
Too little flour
Not enough kneading
Oven too cool

Dry and not silky
Too much flour
Not enough kneading

Strong, yeasty taste
Rising time too long
Temperature too high during rising time

Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to remedy most problems, and consistently turn out a quality loaf of bread:

– I use my bread machine to knead the dough, and then I shape it by hand, and bake it in the oven. As you may have noticed above, many yeast bread problems are caused by insufficient kneading, but the bread machine solves that problem, and baking the dough in the oven insures a beautiful shape, and a golden-brown crust. (For more information, please see Breadmaking for the Not-so-Kneady).  If you don’t have a bread machine, and would like one, check your local thrift store. I frequently see several at a time, priced at around $10-$15. A good quality stand mixer with a dough hook will also work well, but it will involve a bit more work on your part. My mixer is a Cuisinart, and I highly recommend it because it’s powerful.

This mixer was an extravagant gift from my husband, who knows how much I cook, and always tries to make my life easier (he did buy it on sale though, for about $150 less than the Amazon price). If you prefer to make bread the old-fashioned way, you can find traditional instructions for my honey wheat bread here.

– When dough comes out of the machine, it’s usually slightly sticky, and needs a bit of flour so that it can be easily handled. I sprinkle on just enough so that it doesn’t stick to my hands. Don’t get carried away, because too much flour will make your bread dry and brick-like.

– Measure your ingredients carefully. In breadmaking, accuracy counts.

– Vital wheat gluten improves the texture and “spring” of whole-grain loaves, and extends the shelf life. Use one teaspoon per cup of flour in the recipe. It adds about 12 cents to the cost of a homemade loaf, but it’s worth it. Before I started using it, my bread would start to get stale after only a day’s time, but now it stays soft and fresh for at least three days.

– An inexpensive baker’s blade makes dividing and shaping dough a piece of cake. Mine is a Wilton blade, and it was around $8 at Wal-Mart.

– A kitchen scale makes it easy to weigh dough for uniformity when baking rolls, or when a recipe calls for a specific amount of dough. I always use mine to measure pizza dough, because I know that 16 ounces makes a thin, crispy crust, just the way we like it. I divide the extra dough up among my children, and let them make their own individual pizzas.

– To easily determine whether your bread has risen long enough, mark the height of the dough on the side of the pan with a piece of tape, at the beginning of the rising period. This makes it easy to tell if it’s doubled in size (but make sure to remove the tape before baking).

– The oven is a perfect, draft-free rising place. Cover your dough with oiled plastic wrap or a clean, flour-dusted kitchen towel, and place it on the top oven rack. Place a large bowl of hot water on the bottom rack. This creates the warm, humid environment that yeast organisms love, and it insures a moist, silky, high loaf of bread.

– Set a timer at the beginning of the rising period (30 minutes is usually adequate) so that you don’t forget about your bread. If it rises too long, it will be coarse and yeasty, and it may spill over the sides of the pan. You don’t want to have to clean up that mess, believe me.

– Make sure your oven is preheated to the proper temperature before you put the dough in to bake. An oven that is too cool will result in a coarse, dense loaf.

– Remove bread immediately from the bread pan after baking, and allow it to cool on a wire rack. If you leave it in the pan, the trapped steam will make it soggy.

– Bread is easier to slice if you turn it on its side. You can cut perfect, straight slices, without smooshing the top.

– When slicing a fresh loaf, cut a thin slice off one end, but don’t eat it! Use it to cover the cut end of the loaf, because it will help keep it moist and fresh.

– Brush the top of your bread with egg white, for a delicious, crispy crust, a glossy sheen, and beautiful presentation. Aren’t these bread bowls gorgeous?

They were yummy too!