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The Fundamentals of Breadmaking

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

© Provided by DKBooks

The Fundamentals of Breadmaking

Making bread requires little more than a pair of hands, an oven, and patience. The recipe for success is simple: time and warmth are all it takes to transform a few basic ingredients into a springy, silky dough that bakes to a crackly, crusted loaf. It is like most things – easy when you know how, with practice making perfect. If we had to choose one single phrase that we feel is essential to breadmaking, it would be this: bread is alive. It is a living, growing entity and, above all, the product of its ingredients and its surroundings; it responds, just as we do, to its environment – “treat rising dough as if it were human” advises an old English farmhouse cookbook. While we advocate the use of scales, timers, and thermometers, remember that observation is the baker’s traditional tool. The more you make bread, the better your bread will be. Your mistakes are rarely irreversible or inedible.


Essential ingredients and techniques

Flour is the main ingredient of most breads, accounting for about three-quarters of the finished loaf. The flour you choose will give your bread its individual character. Mass-produced, highly refined brands will make an honest loaf, but we urge you to seek out organic flours from independent mills to experience the taste and texture of truly great homemade bread.

The choice of flour affects not only the quality of the baked bread but also the breadmaking process. Flour will absorb more, or less, liquid depending on the variety of wheat that it was made from, the place where it was harvested, and the way in which it was milled. Such variables are compounded by the humidity in the air – on a damp day, flour will absorb less liquid than on a dry one. The quantities of liquid given in the recipes can never be more than guidelines. Our mixing technique suggests that you hold back a proportion of liquid and add it as needed. This method acts as a safeguard against overly wet dough and the consequent need to add extra flour, which upsets the balance among flour, salt, and yeast.

If you require a little more liquid than stated in the recipe, do not hesitate to add it; your aim is to produce a dough conforming to the consistency specified in the recipe, be it firm, soft, or wet. Observing and understanding the condition of your dough, and what it requires, is the key to successful breadmaking.

Flour is the main ingredient of most breads, accounting for about three-quarters of the finished loaf. The flour you choose will give your bread its individual character. Mass-produced, highly refined brands will make an honest loaf, but we urge you to seek out organic flours from independent mills to experience the taste and texture of truly great homemade bread.

The choice of flour affects not only the quality of the baked bread but also the breadmaking process. Flour will absorb more, or less, liquid depending on the variety of wheat that it was made from, the place where it was harvested, and the way in which it was milled. Such variables are compounded by the humidity in the air – on a damp day, flour will absorb less liquid than on a dry one. The quantities of liquid given in the recipes can never be more than guidelines. Our mixing technique suggests that you hold back a proportion of liquid and add it as needed. This method acts as a safeguard against overly wet dough and the consequent need to add extra flour, which upsets the balance among flour, salt, and yeast.

If you require a little more liquid than stated in the recipe, do not hesitate to add it; your aim is to produce a dough conforming to the consistency specified in the recipe, be it firm, soft, or wet. Observing and understanding the condition of your dough, and what it requires, is the key to successful breadmaking.


Successful breadmaking

The golden rule for measuring all baking ingredients is to choose one system and use it for the entire recipe. Both nonmetric and metric measurements are given in this guide, and it is important that you do not mix these up.

All spoon measurements are level: 1 teaspoon equals 1/6 fl oz (5ml); 1 tablespoon equals 1/2 fl oz ( 15ml). All eggs used in the guide are large unless otherwise specified. Unsalted butter should always be used for breadmaking unless otherwise specified.

Make sure that all the ingredients used are at room temperature; be sure to take eggs, butter, and milk out of the refrigerator in sufficient time.


The importance of temperature

A warm kitchen is a perfect place for making bread. Ideally, ingredients should be at room temperature before mixing – except the yeast, which should be dissolved at body temperature, 98.6°F (37°C). A summer heat wave or a cool pantry must be brought into the equation, and you may find it necessary to use cooler or warmer water to correct the balance – bearing in mind that yeast is killed by temperatures over 130°F (54°C).

In the days before central heating, people used to take their dough to bed with them! Less eccentric rising spots during cold weather include a warm bathroom, an oven with the pilot light on, and a position near, but not too close to, a radiator, an open fire, or a stove. Choose a glass or plastic bowl for rising dough; metal conducts heat too efficiently, and you may find the dough rising unevenly and drying on the side closest to a nearby heat source. Use temperature to control the baking timetable. Decrease the water temperature and leave the dough in a cool spot in order to slow down the rising process to fit in with your schedule; the refrigerator is ideal for all-day or overnight rising. Remember to allow several hours for the dough to return to room temperature .

A warm kitchen is a perfect place for making bread. Ideally, ingredients should be at room temperature before mixing – except the yeast, which should be dissolved at body temperature, 98.6°F (37°C). A summer heat wave or a cool pantry must be brought into the equation, and you may find it necessary to use cooler or warmer water to correct the balance – bearing in mind that yeast is killed by temperatures over 130°F (54°C).

In the days before central heating, people used to take their dough to bed with them! Less eccentric rising spots during cold weather include a warm bathroom, an oven with the pilot light on, and a position near, but not too close to, a radiator, an open fire, or a stove. Choose a glass or plastic bowl for rising dough; metal conducts heat too efficiently, and you may find the dough rising unevenly and drying on the side closest to a nearby heat source. Use temperature to control the baking timetable. Decrease the water temperature and leave the dough in a cool spot in order to slow down the rising process to fit in with your schedule; the refrigerator is ideal for all-day or overnight rising. Remember to allow several hours for the dough to return to room temperature .


Baking at high altitudes

Altitudes above 3,500ft (1,067m) have low atmospheric pressure, which causes bread dough to rise and proof more quickly than is indicated in the guide's recipes. No adjustments are needed to the ingredients, but keep an eye on the dough and do not allow it to increase in volume more than is specified.

Breads that rise too quickly will not develop. To prevent this, allow the dough to rise twice before shaping.

At altitudes over 3,000ft (914m), increase the baking temperature by 59°F (15°C). This extra heat is needed to help form the crust in the initial stages of baking and to prevent the bread from over-rising during its final minutes in the oven.


The joys of breadmaking

Breadmaking works miracles on all levels. The slow, rhythmic kneading is therapeutic, opening up the lungs and rib cage and releasing stresses and strains with gentle efficacy. Watch as the warmth and pressure of your hands bring the yeast to life and transform a few commonplace ingredients into a growing dough. Everybody loves the smell of bread that is being made. The yeasty fragrance of the rising dough permeates the kitchen, only to be superseded by the delicious aroma of the bread baking. Enjoy the process of breadmaking as well as the results.

Breadmaking works miracles on all levels. The slow, rhythmic kneading is therapeutic, opening up the lungs and rib cage and releasing stresses and strains with gentle efficacy. Watch as the warmth and pressure of your hands bring the yeast to life and transform a few commonplace ingredients into a growing dough. Everybody loves the smell of bread that is being made. The yeasty fragrance of the rising dough permeates the kitchen, only to be superseded by the delicious aroma of the bread baking. Enjoy the process of breadmaking as well as the results.

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