I stumbled upon a fabulous repository of information at the Robin Hood Baking Centre; apart from a wee bit of product placement all of their information is well presented with helpful photos. I’ve altered the order of information so that there’s a more logical grouping and flow to it 🙂
BAKING WITH YEAST
When using active dry yeast, it’s important to make sure it’s still viable. Always follow the recipe directions, which will include dissolving a specified amount of sugar into lukewarm water (110ºF-115ºF/45ºC-56ºC). Then add the yeast and allow it to stand for 10 minutes. If the yeast bubbles up, it’s still active. If not, your bread or rolls will not rise.
Be sure the water is lukewarm. If the water exceeds 138°F (59°C), the yeast will become inactive.
KNEADING BREAD DOUGH
Kneading helps to develop gluten in the bread. Knead dough on a lightly floured work surface, adding more flour if dough is too sticky.
You’ll know kneading is complete when the bread is smooth and elastic. To test it, lightly slap the dough. If your hand comes away clean, it’s ready to rise.
When you let the dough rise, the ingredients activate and carbon dioxide develops causing the gluten to stretch. It will rise best in a warm place (75°F-85°F / 24°C-29°C) that is free from drafts. Make sure you place it in a greased bowl that’s large enough to allow the dough to double in size. Cover the bowl with a tea towel.Once it’s doubled in size and no longer springs back when pressed, lightly punch down the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten.
Once your dough is placed in or on its pan, it’s ready to rise again in a warm place (75°F-85°F / 24°C-29°C). Let your dough rise until it is again double in size.
If dough overrises, it may collapse in the oven during baking.
If you don’t have a place in your home that’s warm enough, try leaving it in the oven with the oven light turned on. If you like, you can also add a pot of hot water on another rack.
Letting the dough rise twice helps improve the flavour and texture even more.
RISING BREAD DOUGH IN THE REFRIGERATOR
Just finished making your bread dough but need to step away? Place your dough in the refrigerator for the first rising. This slows down the rising as yeast doesn’t like the cold. You can let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight.
When you’re ready to make the bread, take the dough out of the refrigerator, punch it down, shape the dough and let it rise a second time. Since the dough is cold, it will take longer than normal to rise.
SHAPING A LOAF
To eliminate large air bubbles, roll out your dough into a large rectangle (approx. 9” x 12” / 23cm x 30cm). From the shorter end, roll it up jelly-roll style, sealing the dough in the middle with the heel of your hand after each turn.
For a different look, bake your loaves free-form on a baking sheet that’s greased or sprinkled with cornmeal. Cornmeal will prevent bread from sticking and provide an interesting texture to the bread.
FREEZING BREAD DOUGH
Love homemade bread but don’t want to have to make the dough all the time? Plan ahead and freeze some dough. Use your favourite bread dough recipe but double the amount of yeast called for. Follow the recipe for the mixing, kneading and the first rising. Punch down the dough, shape into loaves that are 2” (5 cm) thick (this allows for quicker thawing). Place in air tight freezer bag and freeze for up to four weeks.
When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from freezer bag, place it in a greased loaf pan, and cover with greased plastic wrap. The dough will rise as it defrosts. Once thawed, follow your recipe’s baking directions.
Glazes may be used to provide different results in the bread crust. For a crisp crust, brush the dough with a mixture of one egg white and ½ tsp (2 mL) water. For a shiny, golden crust, use a whole egg beaten with 1 tsp (5 mL) water. If you’d like a deep brown crust, use egg yolks instead of egg whites. If you brush the dough with melted butter or oil, it will produce a soft velvety crust.
If you want to top your bread with nuts, seeds or grains, make sure to brush the dough with the glaze first, so it acts like a glue.
CRUSTS – FROM SOFT TO CRISP
Dough that is made with water will typically have a crispier crust, while dough made with milk will be softer.
To soften a crisp crust, brush it with melted butter as soon as it comes out of the oven.
For a darker, richer colour, brush the finished loaves lightly with butter and return them to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes.
HOW DO I GET A CRISP BAGUETTE TYPE CRUST
VERSATILITY OF BREAD DOUGH
PREPARING YOUR PAN
BAKING WITH PROPER HEAT DISTRIBUTION
Unless the recipe says otherwise, always bake your bread on a lower rack.
If you’re baking more than one pan, be sure they are not touching one another or any sides of the oven. You want the air to circulate between them so they cook evenly.
If your crust is becoming too brown too quickly, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN MY BREAD IS BAKED?
COOLING BAKED BREAD
WHY IS MY BREAD TOO SMALL?
Make sure your oven is at the right temperature. If it’s too hot, the bread may bake too quickly, causing a crust to form before the bread is finished rising in the oven.
Also make sure that your bread dough isn’t too cold. Make sure your bread dough has risen in a warm place (between 75°to 85°F/24° to 29°C).
When baking, leave a space between your pans so they are not touching in the oven, allowing for proper air circulation.
WHY IS MY BREAD COARSE AND CRUMBLY?
To keep your crust crisp, store your bread in a paper bag at room temperature. It should be good for up to two days. If storing bread at room temperature, avoid storing it in plastic wrap unless you want an especially soft crust.
Bread is best stored at room temperature or frozen. Refrigeration tends to dry out bread.
Bread freezes really well. To freeze, allow your loaf to cool completely, wrap well with plastic wrap, then place in a freezer bag. Be sure to remove all the air or ice crystals will form while freezing.
Thaw at room temperature in the freezer bag to allow the bread to re-absorb the moisture lost during the freezing process.
To freshen your loaf, place it in a 350°F (180°C) oven for 10-15 minutes.