Thursday, April 14, 2011

Three Tips for Thursdays--Bread-Baking 101

I am far from a professional when it comes to bread-baking, but I have learned enough through trial and error that I can share a few tips with you.  Baking bread is worth getting right and trying again even after you've failed.  Nothing beats the smell of freshly-baked bread, and really, not much beats eating it either!

Use your yeast to its fullest potential!

There are two different kinds of yeast--Instant and Active Dry Yeast.  Each can be subbed for the other, but in slightly different ways.  Active Dry Yeast requires one more rise than Instant.  What does that mean?  If a recipe calls for Instant yeast, it will be mixed right in with the dry ingredients.  If you are subbing in Active Dry yeast for Instant, you need to first add it to the warm water and sugar/honey.  Stir together and let rest for about 10 minutes.  The yeast will activate, forming bubbles on the top of the water.  It is then ready to be mixed with the flour.  Likewise, if subbing Instant for Active Dry, you would just skip the step of letting it activate in the water, and add it right in with the flour.  I use Active Dry Yeast.

Warm water activates the yeast, which causes your dough to rise.  The temperature is very important.  Water that is too cool will not activate the yeast, and water that is too hot will kill it.  This used to really intimidate me.  I've found, though, that a good lukewarm temperature (moms, like you would use for a baby's bottle) works very well.  I used to use water that was too hot, and my bread did not raise like I wanted.  If you are not confident in just feeling for an accurate temperature,  use an instant-read thermometer. Most recipes require water between 100-110* F.  
*bonus tip--many recipes call for 1 pkg of yeast.  If you are like me, and buy yeast in a larger container, this can also get confusing.  No worries--1 pkg yeast equals 2 1/4 tsp.

Make sure you measure your flour correctly!

OK, I know this seems super basic, but this is Bread-Baking 101!  And this is important for getting a good-textured loaf.  Here is the basic flour-measuring form that my mom taught me:

First, keep your flour in a container.  It's much easier to scoop without making a mess!  Stir your flour in the canister.  Add flour by the spoonful to your measuring cup.

Fill until the flour mounds slightly over the measuring cup.

Using the straight edge of a butter knife, smooth the top of the flour, scraping excess flour back into the canister.

You now have a perfectly measured cup of flour!  This is very important for all baking, not just for bread!

Knead your dough to the proper consistency!

I think many doughs do not rise properly and do not have good texture because they are not kneaded enough, or are kneaded too much.  Where is the perfect consistency?  With stand mixers that have dough hooks, we are pretty spoiled when it comes to kneading dough!  However, it is perfectly acceptable to still knead by hand as well.  I like to say that the proper consistency for kneaded dough is tacky but not sticky.  Here is a way to test it:  Press two fingers lightly onto the dough, then remove them.  Is there dough residue on them?  If there is, sprinkle some more flour on the dough, and continue kneading.  If the dough feels tacky, but does not stick to your fingers when you remove them, it is ready!  The dough should also be elastic and pop back out after you press on it.

These are just three basic tips to get you started on your bread-baking.  Go ahead and try them out on this Honey-Wheat Bread , or on this Sourdough.  I have found that recipes seem intimidating until you just give them a try, and then you realize that they're really not so difficult after all!

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