Bread Dough Facts and Other Essential Tips For Baking Bread

Bread Dough Rest

Dough rest is the amount of time that bread dough ferments after being mixed and before being shaped into loaves. Many bread recipes require only a single resting period. The more preferment and the amount of yeast generally determine the length and number of dough rests. The best breads use less yeast and have longer resting periods, some even overnight, in order to maximize the flavor that ultimately characterizes the bread. This is the stage where your signature as a baker is developed, and the richest and fullest flavors come from the longest fermentation sourdough starter.

Punch and Fold Method for Making Bread Dough

I like to call this technique “stretch and fold” since artisan bakers want to preserve the gases and bubbles rather than punching them out of the bread dough. The stretch and fold organizes the gluten and improves its ability to capture fermentation’s gases.

Proof Times and Bread Dough Rise

How long a bread dough rises or proofs will depend on a variety of factors. The amount of yeast in the recipe, the temperature of the dough and the ambient temperature all can increase or decrease the speed. As a young home baker, waiting for the bread dough to rise always challenged my youthful impatience. As the slow food movement has showed us, good food takes time, so follow the directions of the recipe, and know that cooler temperatures require more patience, and warmer temperatures will speed up the process.

Bread Dough Baking Temperatures

Bakers like very hot temperatures to guarantee oven spring and toothy crusts. After my apprenticeship in Germany, I found books for the home bakers specified too low of temperatures for bread doughs. I prefer to preheat my oven and start my baking at 500. After 10 or 12 minutes, I bring the temperature down to 375 to 425 to finish the bake. I use a baking stone in my home oven, and I sometimes brush bread with some water before baking. Unfortunately, there is no way that a home oven can generate steam like a commercial oven. The steam prolongs the oven spring and maximizes the volume of the bread dough and the color and the crispness of the crust. But don’t despair. What you can’t achieve in the crust, you can still guarantee in the crumb by the judicious use of a preferment!

Baking Odds and Ends

Salt Rising Dough

When I first read about salt rising bread, I wondered how the salt could make the bread rise, since salt restrains the yeast and thus slows the rise. Later, I learned that salt rising referred to a place to let the dough or starter rise. Rock salt makes good insulation, and home bakers would heat up a bowl filled with salt and then incubate the starter on top of this warm container of salt. The salt radiated heat and allowed the starter to develop faster and created unique flavors because of the warmer temperatures. Making salt rising bread is not as difficult as constantly feeding a sourdough, and a heating pad will work just as well as a bed of rock salt.

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