Yeast breads have a reputation for being notoriously difficult, because they take the better part of a day to create. However, I adore baking yeast breads. There is something very zen about kneading the dough until it changes under your hands, becoming smooth and elastic. Every year, I bake my family a big batch of cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting that are absolutely delicious. I use potatoes and flour to make a sponge for the yeast, which leaves the dough very moist and delicious. I also like to make rolls, pizza crust, focaccia, and all kinds of other breads. Today, I’ve got rosemary and sea salt bread rising on my counter top as I type this. But I digress…
Basic Bread Dough Proportions
Baking bread is not nearly as difficult as it sounds if you’ve got the time to spare.
- A basic bread yeast dough contains (by weight) 5 parts flour to 3 parts water, plus salt, yeast, and other ingredients you may wish to add.
- If you want to make a loaf of bread out of three cups of flour (each cup is about 4 oz), then you will need about 7 0z of water or some other liquid.
- I like to use about 5 oz of water and 2 oz of milk just to add richness to the dough.
- To that, add about a teaspoon of yeast and toss in a little salt (1/4-1/2 teaspoon).
Bread Baking Technique
When making your bread, use the following techniques.
- Sprinkle the yeast over a few ounces of your water. Use water that is about 110 degrees, and allow it to sit until bubbles form. I often toss a little sugar or honey in this mixture just to feed the yeast a little more.
- Whisk together your flour and salt. Then, add the water with the yeast, as well as your remaining liquid ingredients. Stir until it forms into a loose ball.
- Turn the ball out onto a floured surface. You will spend the next ten minutes or so kneading the dough, which develops the glutens and makes the dough much more elastic. To knead, fold the dough over, press together with the heels of your hands, turn the dough 1/4 turn, and repeat. Continue this process, and the dough will become smooth, soft and elastic.
- It is virtually impossible to overknead if you are hand kneading. If you are using a mixer to knead, you can overknead. How do you know when the dough is ready? Here are several tests.
- Press your hand firmly on the top of the dough and hold for 30 seconds. If the dough is even remotely sticky under your hand when you remove it, you need to keep kneading.
- Poke the dough deeply with your finger. If the divot springs back into place, the dough is ready. If the divot remains, keep kneading.
- Take a small piece of the dough and gently stretch. If you can stretch it thin enough to see light shining through the dough before it breaks, it’s ready. If you can’t – keep kneading.
- Place the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl. Cover it with a damp towel and set aside to rise. Typically, you can allow it to rise about two hours until it doubles in size. If you use less yeast, it may take longer to rise. If you use more or rapid rise yeast, it will take longer to rise.
- While many people prefer the convenience of rapid rising, the slower you allow your dough to rise, the more flavor it develops. If you want a really flavorful bread, use less yeast and let it rise for several hours until it doubles in size.
- After rising, punch the dough down.
- Knead briefly again and let sit for about 20 minutes.
- Shape dough into your baking shape and allow it to rise again, for about 60 minutes.
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
- Score the top of your loaf with a knife, and brush top with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little salt.
- Bake at 450 for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375, and bake for 45 to 50 minutes more.
That’s your basic bread baking technique. So what can you vary? Shape. Size. Ingredients. Add some olive oil, butter, or sugar. Turn it into pizza dough – it’s up to you! Today, I’ve got a bread dough rising with chopped rosemary in it, and I will sprinkle it with coarse sea salt before I bake it. Other things you can add:
- Roasted garlic
- Chopped rosemary
- Brown sugar
- Different types of flour
- Sesame seeds
- Poppy seeds
Some great combinations to try:
- Roasted garlic rosemary
- Cheddar jalapeno
- Caramelized onions and thyme
- Oregano and Asiago cheese
You are only limited by your imagination, once you know how to bake a basic lean bread dough.