yeast breads

Baking Hints From Chris

Hints and Tips for Better Yeast Breads

What's more glorious than a beautiful golden brown loaf of homemade yeast bread, fresh out of the oven and smelling heavenly? Nothing for my money, here are some hints and tips to help you achieve a lovely loaf.

Photo by Lisa Fagg

General Hints on Yeast Bread
  • Check out the baking cupboard for hints and tips on the ingredients and equipment you need to bake yeast bread.
  • Before you begin a recipe be sure all your ingredients are at room temperature.
  • To increase nutrition in any bread, use the Cornell formula – put 1 T each soy flour and nonfat dry milk and 1 t wheat germ in a Measuring Cup , fill with bread or all purpose or bread flour and level off, do this for each cup of flour.

Kneaded Yeast Bread
Yeast breads have to be kneaded to develop the elastic gluten network that holds the gas (CO2) formed by the yeast causing the bread to rise and have a good texture. Low gluten flour doesn’t work well for kneaded yeast bread, it doesn’t rise well.
  • If you’re using a low gluten flour like rye, double the yeast, it will taste a little yeastier, but that’s not a bad thing.
  • Most yeast bread recipes give a range of quantity for flour 3-1/2 to 4 c, etc. Start with the smaller amount, add enough to make the dough workable, a slightly sticky dough makes a better loaf, too much flour makes and dry dense loaf.
  • Most yeast breads have at least a little sugar, it feeds the yeast. Too much sugar will slow the growth of the yeast so rich breads with a lot of sugar, eggs, butter often need double the yeast.
  • Kneading bread is good exercise, and it’s good for the soul, the warm yeasty smells and the soft malleable texture make kneading bread a true pleasure.
How To Knead Bread - after you’ve mixed in most of the flour to make a firm dough, dump it out on a clean, lightly floured pastry board, Marble Pastry Board or counter top about waist high. Let it rest for a few minutes, get your bowl ready for the first rising, the gather it in a ball, press down and away from with with the heels of both hands, fold in half, give it a quarter turn and repeat until the dough is smooth and elastic. A Pastry Scraper is a real help kneading soft doughs, you scrape the dough up and over with the scraper in one hand and push it away from you with the other. As you knead you'll feel the dough begin to develop a surface tension, you don't want to break this film so don't tear the dough. When the dough is thoroughly kneaded poke a couple of fingers deep into it, if the impression stays you've kneaded enough. This can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Don’t skimp on kneading, this is what develops the gluten that holds the gas from the yeast that makes your bread rise. You may need to add a little extra flour, especially on a very humid day. Properly kneaded dough is smooth, resilient and not at all sticky
  • You can also knead bread in a heavy duty Food Processor with the dough blade, or a heavy Stand Mixer with the dough hook, check your owner’s manual for your particular machine. Even if I knead yeast bread by machine, I always finish with a few minutes of hand kneading.
  • As you knead, layers of dough will build up on your hands, don’t rub this off back into the dough, do it over the sink, or wastebasket you don’t want these dry particles in your bread.
  • If the yeast dough you’re working with is very sticky, like rye or some sweet doughs, oil your hands before beginning, or spray or brush some oil onto the dough hook/blade of your machine.
  • Seems like a given, but TAKE YOUR RINGS OFF before you start to knead bread. Yeast bread dough in ornate jewelry is a real pain to remove. If you can’t take them off or don’t want to, wear thin plastic gloves or slip your hands into plastic bags.
  • After you have kneaded the dough, clean the Mixing Bowl you mixed it in, fill it with very hot water to warm the bowl, drain, dry and oil it lightly or spray with non stick spray, and use it to let the dough rise. Cover it with a clean slightly damp Kitchen Towel or plastic wrap.
Raising Yeast Bread Dough
  • Yeast bread dough needs a warm place to rise. If you still have an oven with a pilot light, that works well, any place that’s warm (about 80º if possible) and where you can create some humidity, an electric oven barely warmed then turned off, set a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven to create humidity.
  • You know how steamy your microwave gets when you use it boil liquid for Jello, etc, put this to use to raise your yeast bread, boil some water in the microwave, take it out and put your yeast bread dough in this warm steamy atmosphere to rise. Don’t turn the microwave on.
  • Be sure wherever you pick to raise yeast bread is as draft free as possible, yeast just doesn’t like drafts, it won’t rise evenly.
  • Well risen dough should be double in bulk, jab two fingers about 1/2 inch into the dough, if the indentations remain, the bread is double in bulk.
  • After the first rise, the yeast bread dough has to be punched down, sock the middle of the dough with your fist, turn it out and knead it a few times to remove air bubbles.
  • At this stage you can shape your loaves, or you can let it rise a second time in the bowl, this will give you a finer texture, and I think a better flavor.
  • After the first rise, you can punch the dough down, cover it tightly and refrigerate for a day or two, punch it down daily and be sure to bring it to room temperature before shaping your loaves.
  • After the first, or second rise, shape your loaves as the recipe directs, put into greased Pan , cover again with a damp towel and let rise again until not quite double in size.  You’ll have to judge this by eye, the jab method won’t work here.
  • If you raise your dough in a straight sided clear Glass Bowl you can mark the level of the dough when you put it in and easily tell when it's doubled.

Frozen Bread Dough -After the first rise you can also freeze the dough, punch it down form into a loaf, line a
Bread Pan with lightly oiled plastic wrap, put in dough, seal wrap and freeze till solid. When frozen repackage in foil or bags (or a Vacuum Sealer ) and freeze for up to 2 months. Remove from freezer, unwrap, put in a pan, thaw covered overnight in the refrigerator. When thawed cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place, Bake as recipe directs.

How to Shape Yeast Bread –you can shape bread any way you want, just a plain loaf in a pan, a flat loaf on a
Cookie Sheet , or a fanciful loaf for a special occasion. For the basic bread pan bread, grease your pan, handle the dough gently, there’s an invisible elastic film on the surface of the dough you don’t want to break. Just shape the dough into an oval about the same length as the pan, tuck the sides under, pinch the seams together on the bottom and ease it into a pan. The dough should fill the pan about 2/3 full.
Yeast bread baked on a sheet can be shaped in any number of fanciful ways, you can twist it, braid it, make rings, be sure you leave a lot of space in the center, they tend to close up while baking. You can make ovals, rounds, teddy bears, any thing you can come up with. These shapes require a firm dough, don’t try to do these with a soft dough, it won’t work.
  • Preheat your oven about 15 minutes before you think the bread will be ready to bake. If you let it rise too long while the oven is heating it may collapse during baking.
  • Don’t open the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking time, this is when the bread does most of it’s rising in the oven, a sudden draft can inhibit this rising.
Glazes for Yeast Breads - can be applied with a Pastry Brush before baking, different glazes produce different results;

Water – crisp crust, brush with water before it goes in the oven and again about 10 minutes before baking time is up. You can also place a pan of hot water on the bottom of the oven. This is good for French type breads where you want a very crisp crust.

Egg – shiny crust 1 egg + 1T water, this glaze will also hold seeds or nuts in place while baking

Milk or melted butter – soft tender crust, this is my favorite for buttermilk bread and other white breads.

Honey or Maple syrup, 1 t syrup to 2 t water. This is great on whole wheat or mixed grain bread, crust is soft, shiny and a little sweet.

How to To Tell When Yeast Bread is Done, remove from oven, take out of pan and tap on the bottom, if it sounds hollow, it’s done. You can also test with a
Instant-Read Thermometer , a temp of 180º in the center of the loaf is done.
  • A Baking Stone or pizza stone, is wonderful the producing a crisp brown crust. Especially with breads that are baked on a sheet not in a pan.
  • For a golden bottom crust remove bread from oven 10 minutes before baking time is up, remove from pan and set loaf directly on the oven rack for the last 10 minutes of baking.
Brown and Serve Bread -You can underbake bread about 10 minutes, cool in the pan 10 minutes, remove from the pan, cool completely on a rack. Wrap and freeze. Let it thaw at room temperature, bake at 350º for about 20 minutes, until brown. This is one I got from a professional baker friend of mine, I’ve been looking for this one for about 10 years, fresh home baked bread without the fuss or mess – yumm.

Try, at least try, to resist the urge to cut a freshly baked loaf until it is cool, at least 2 hours out of the pan, on a rack, and use a proper
10-Inch Serrated Bread/Slicing Knife or electric serrated knife to cut it. Slicing hot bread can make it gummy and ruin the texture, but, hot freshly baked bread is sooooo good, I often take the chance.

Batter Breads
Batter breads need more yeast and vigorous beating, but no kneading, they’re quicker to make than kneaded bread but yeastier and coarser in texture.
  • You mix the bread in a bowl, let it rise in the same bowl, the stir it down, put it into the pan, let it rise again and bake.
  • A straight sided Souffle Dish is especially nice for baking batter bread/
Storing Bread
  • Bread made without fat, like French bread will dry out faster than bread with butter or oil in it, keeps about 2 days regular bread made with fat will stay fresh 5 to 7 days if wrapped tightly if it lasts that long, mine never does.
  • Don’t reheat yeast breads in the microwave, they turn to rocks as they cool, sprinkle with a little water, wrap loosely in foil and heat in a 300º oven. For crusty bread brush with water and heat uncovered at 350º.
  • Freeze bread, wrapped airtight or vacuum packed for up to 6 months. Don’t try to vacuum pack fresh bread, freeze it first on a tray, if you try to vacuum pack unfrozen bread you’ll end up with pancakes.

What to Do With Leftover Bread –you can-
  • Make breadcrumbs, one obvious solution – for fresh breadcrumbs lightly toast bread, whirr torn pieces of bread in the Food Processor . Use fairly fresh bread for this, stale bread will make your breadcrumbs taste stale.
  • Use fresh breadcrumbs for meatloaf, toppings (melt a tablespoon of butter sauté 1 c. breadcrumbs, tossing till coated and golden, use to top casseroles etc)
  • Breading meat, fish or vegetables, Dry the food to be breaded, dredge in flour, dip in beaten egg or milk (egg sticks better) dip in bread crumbs, pat the crumbs to make them stick. Your breading will stick better if you refrigerate the food for half an hour before frying.
  • Thickening soups, stews, sauces
  • For dry breadcrumbs – dry the bread out in a 300º oven till dry and lightly brown, whirr in a processor, Blender , or put in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
  • Use dry breadcrumbs to make seasoned breadcrumbs, just add herbs, grated cheeses, whatever strikes your family. You pay an arm and leg for these in the market.
  • Make your own stuffing mix, for 4 c breadcrumbs (not too fine)use 1/2 t garlic powder, 1/4 c dried celery leaves, 2 T dried onion, 2 T dried sweet pepper, 1/2 t thyme and 1/2 t sage, add 2 T dried boullion ( I use MBT brand, it comes in envelopes and doesn’t seem as salty as other brands, a little pricy but you don’t use it that often). Mix this all up and store in a plastic bag in the fridge or freezer. When you want to make stuffing, boil 1-1/4 c water and 4 T butter (you may want more water depending on how moist you like your stuffing) stir in crumbs and mix till moist. I make this up in batches when I have extra breadcrumbs and store in the freezer, lots better and cheaper that the market. You can of course vary the seasonings. I often leave out the dried celery and onion, and when I’m ready to make the stuffing sauté about 1/2 c each chopped onion and celery in the butter before I add the water, tossing in some mushrooms certainly wouldn’t hurt.

For leftover bread slices you can –
  • Make croutons, cut the bread in cubes, dry in a 300º oven, sauté in butter, tossing often till brown. You can season with herbs, ground cheese, whatever works with what you will be serving the croutons with.
  • Make Crostini, cut in thin (1/4 in) slices, brush with olive oil, broil until lightly browned, serve with soup, salad, or top with a dip or spread for an appetizer.
  • Make garlic bread, slice Italian or French type bread fairly thickly, spread with butter, sprinkle with garlic powder, add cheese if you like. Brown under the broiler or in the Toaster Oven (my preference).Or you can melt the butter, lightly saute the garlic in it and dip the bread in the melted butter before broiling.
  • Make French Toast, This is especially good with cinnamon raisin bread. Beat together a cup or so of milk, a couple of eggs, a tablespoon or more sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Now you can either dip the bread in the mixture on both sides and sauté in butter for a dryer French toast or let the bread soak in the mixture, remove it carefully with a spatula and sauté in butter for a custardy French toast. Top with butter and syrup or your favorite fruit topping, or just dust with confectioners sugar. This is one of my family’s favorite breakfasts on a cold Sunday morning.
  • Make bread pudding, breakfast stratas, all kinds of goodies.
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