Bread Baking Tips
I have been asked a lot of questions about baking bread. Here are some of those questions answered.
- How do I half the recipe? This is the most frequently asked question. If you work with weights halving a recipe is very easy. If you work with volume it can get tricky. I would say half all the ingredients but when mixing the dough reserve a little of the liquid. Use the reserved liquid only if needed.
- Is leavened bread good for you? Our body does not have the ability to digest whole grain without help. Soaking, fermenting and cooking help release enzymes that break down the complex carbohydrates and proteins in a form we can digest and absorb. All ancients cultures recognized the value of fermentation. Leavened bread is dough fermented with the help of yeast and bacteria. When soaked the enzymes in the flour start to break down the complex carbohydrates and proteins. The yeast and bacteria work on these further to convert them to flavorful forms we can easily digest. They also release carbon-di-oxide which helps leaven the bread.
- NEVER PUNCH DOUGH. This is a very common instruction for home recipes, but don't do it. If you need to punch the dough and have it rise again to double the volume you probably used too much yeast. Be gentle with the dough. There is really no need to punch it down in order to shape it.
- Watch the amount of yeast you use. A loaf with three cups of flour should have no more than a teaspoon of yeast. Adding more yeast does not improve the texture of the bread but cuts down on the flavor. Remember, you are trying to break down the grain and develop flavor. You are not trying to create an aerated mass. If you are in a hurry use lukewarm liquid and proof the dough in a warm place. That will help the yeast.
- To get well risen bread you need flour with a high gluten content. Gluten fibers form a network in which the gases released by the yeast are trapped. It is a lot easier to get the large uneven 'holes' of an artisan bread using high gluten flour. You can bake with low gluten flours but expect a denser bread.
- If you choose to use refined flour ensure the flour is not bleached (bromated). Try to find unbleached aged flour. In the US some brands of refined flour are bleached. Read the labels. Almost all the ready to eat bread available in the supermarket is made with bleached flour.
- Is maida the same as all purpose flour? This is the question most asked by new bakers from India. The answer is no. Maida can be compared to cake flour or pastry flour which is a much softer refined flour than all purpose flour. And maida is almost always bromated.
- Why long rise times? As mentioned earlier, soaking releases enzymes already present in the flour. These enzymes break down the complex carbohydrates into simpler sugars. This takes time especially for whole grain flours. That is the reason a resting period for dough is recommended even for unleavened breads. The yeast feeds on this sugar. Giving this process time not only helps to develop flavor but breaks down the dough in a form that our body can absorb. The resultant bread not only tastes a lot better than the one hour wonders but is good for you. Take your time baking the bread.
- Using whole grain flour. Wheat is the most commonly used flour to bake bread. Bakers use a lot of different flours, spelt, einkorn, rye, semolina just to name a few. The rise and crumb size may depend upon the gluten content of your flour/flour blend but if you control the quantity of yeast and give the dough time you can make flavorful and healthy loaves with any flour you choose.
Don't be afraid to get those hands dirty.