bread baking secrets
The way to make good bread, I mean seriously good bread, with a complex intricate and changing flavor, a crusty crackling crust and an irregularly shaped bubbly interior, is through both time and proper handling.
Time simply means giving the developing dough enough time to develop the flavors that will occur through natural enzymatic processes if allowed to occur. In bread baking…fast is always bad. Bread needs time, and in general, the longer the better. The great flavors of bread occur from the enzymes and acids that emerge as the yeasts slowly consume the sugars in wheat and release carbon dioxide.
Never use bread improver, and try not to use sugar in your dough's, both of these will speed up the activity of yeasts too much, and will make it hard to get the flavors you really want in a loaf of homemade bread. Bread dough should be made over a day, and not over an hour. It doesn't take more work, it just takes better planning, but when you can manipulate the activity of yeast by changing the temperature, the use of dough refrigeration allows you to control dough development to fit your schedule.
The second secret to great bread is through proper dough handling. Those gases that are forming as the dough develops and the yeasts consume the sugars are your friends, and you should never try to get rid of them. Once the dough has risen completely, the dough needs to be moved, to allow the yeasts to continue to feed on new sugars, and this is why we "punch down" the dough, but unless you are looking for an even textured crumb reminiscent of wonder bread, you should never actually punch down the dough. You want to retain as much of that gas as possible, while still moving the dough slightly. The French term of turning the dough is actually a much better phrase to describe what should be done, and gently folding the dough over on itself, and trying to keep as much gas as you can, is all that really needs to occur.
So the next tine you're making a loaf of country bread, let that dough rise a number of times, don't put any sugar or bread improver in, and think about using a lot less yeast than you might normally, to slow things down even further. Additionally, be gentle with the bread dough. It needs to be turned gently, but by retaining as much gas as you can, you are far more likely to end up with an interior crumb filled with irregular shaped holes, reminiscent of the great breads of the world, and the best artisan bakers.
Matthew Kirk on March 26, 2013:
Unfortunately I would agree with Mike, been making bread enthusiastically and own a ton of books. I have baked over 1000 loaves, if you get the process and measurements correct you should always punch down your dough.
An uneven crumb structure (large air holes) should be in a good sourdough, not in a fast action or any other added yeast recipe. I would suggest knocking back or punching the air out of sourdough too, the reason for knocking back in any bread is so that the air holes don't go out of control and so that you get a longer prove for the flavour to develop. The holes themselves (other than being a simple by product of the yeast) will have no effect on overall taste, just texture / crumb structure.
I whole heartedly agree that bread improvers should be avoided and to miss out the sugar though, and I also agree with a longer proving time :)
Sabitrisugrim@hotmail.com on December 16, 2012:
Making bread by u sung a blender give me a softer texture dough ....like wool. Always let it rise for 8. To 10 hours ....best bread
Tony Mead from Yorkshire on September 27, 2011:
I'm a devoted home bread baker and it is an art form to produce a really good loaf. Interersting ideas regarding reducing sugar and yeast.
it sounds as if you used far too much yeast, you need about 7g to 500g of flour, I don't understand you using ice cubes as bread needs warm to work, a flat top usually indicates too wet a mix. I bake at gm9 as hot as it will go for twenty minutes. Take a look at my hub on bread baking.
zubin on September 19, 2011:
can anyone help me i have a problem. i used seven cups of flour and 2 1/2 packets of yeast at 11gm each and put a cup of ice cubes (melted it down) to do mix the ingredients and the flour bloated more than double its size in one hour and when baked it the top did not come out curved but flat. the outer layer was hard.
Bo74 on May 29, 2011:
In my experience, less flour and more salt makes a better bread. A quite wet dough can rise a lot when baked.
Use a really hot baking plate to bake the bread on, so it gets lots of heat from below. That also works well for me.
Chris on May 02, 2011:
Thanks for the useless comment Mike! Better stick to making sausage.
Rudhayaini on March 04, 2011:
I've heard that it's actually better to drop the dough from a height of about 50 cm to release the gases, instead of punching it down. Does that work?
Mike on January 29, 2011:
Wow, completely wrong.
Tesseract on November 06, 2009:
John D--Thanks! I have been honing my bread loaves lately, and the one thing I cant seem to master is getting that delicious air bubbly texture inside--the crust is great and the bread looks awesome from the outside, but it's so dense. I'm gonna try again today. Thank you for disabusing me of the 'punch the dough down' notion!
John D Lee (author) on August 21, 2007:
I agree...there's something so satisfying about turning three ingredients into something so sublime!
It's also something that takes a LOT of skill to master (if it's ever possible even to do so?) and as such offers continual challenge and room for improvement. I don;t pretend to be anything close to a master...but learning a bit about making better bread has really imporoved the quality of my baked loaves.
Marye Audet on August 21, 2007:
mm..good advice in the difference between artesian breads and traditional breads. I have been makingbread since I was 13 and I am 47..and I really really love the entire process.