* Tried and True Bread Making Tips
1. To Knead or not to Knead
A. Quick breads usually don’t require any kneading. Think of them as sort of “cake mix” variety only in bread form that doesn’t use yeast but rather utilizes other ingredients to do the work of yeast to give quick breads a beautiful rise.
B. Yeast breads, on the other hand, obviously use yeast. These require some kneading–some a lot, while others a little.
2. Properly Store Your Baking Ingredients
When storing your baking ingredients, place them in a dry place at room temperature. Never refrigerate.
3. Use the Right Type of Flour
For most baking needs, you can get by with all-purpose flour. It is just as the name implies–it’s a well-rounded flour that can be used for a variety of baking needs. However, in more specialized baking–like making bread, for example, you will want to purchase bread flour. The reason? It’s ground specifically for this purpose. And, if you are making a mixed grain bread, say multi-grain, rye, oat, bran, etc., type of bread, then you’ll want to incorporate some bread flour to keep the loaf texture light and airy.
4. Always Use Fresh Yeast
Regardless of what brand yeast you use, always check the expiration date. If the date has passed, dispose of the yeast and replace with fresh. This is true in all cases when you need yeast for baking. Yeast is what gives rise to the dough and if your yeast isn’t fresh, you will find that your loaves will not rise properly. Whenever I need yeast, my go-to brand is Active Dry Red Star Yeast. Even so, you can use other yeasts like Fleischmann’s, which is a good alternative if Red Star Yeast is unavailable.
5. Use Fresh Baking Powder
Baking Powder is another ingredient that needs to be fresh in order to work well in your baking.
What you may not know is that baking powder is a mix of baking soda, a bit of cornstarch and cream of tartar. The combination that is created allows for a “double acting” which in layman’s terms gives the dough a longer rise time than with just baking soda and a simple acidic ingredient. If you are making soda bread, you will definitely want to use baking powder. It gives you the benefit of both lift and consistency of loaves. It also makes for a beautiful outer crust.
6. Use Fresh Baking Soda
In certain batters and doughs, you only need one rise versus two. That’s where you’ll find baking soda is used as a leavening agent alongside, say, another acidic ingredient like Cream of Tartar. Together they give rise to your batter and doughs once, not twice. And, so to get the best rise from baking soda, it needs to be fresh. Make sure that it has not passed its expiration date. This date is usually located on the outside of the box. In order to keep your baking fresh is to properly seal your open box. To do this, I usually suggest enclosing your baking soda in a self sealing storage bag. This will keep your baking soda fresher longer.
7. Use the Right Salt When Baking
There are differing thoughts on whether to use Iodized Salt versus Kosher Salt or even Sea Salt when baking. Many cooks find iodized salt works best, although others will swear by kosher salt.
Personally, I always use Morton Iodized Salt for all of my baking needs. It always gives me the best results.
8. Check the Temperature of Your Liquid Before Adding to Yeast
If the temperature of your liquid is too cold, the yeast won’t be activated. If it is too hot, then the yeast will die in the process. The ideal temperature range is between 95 degrees F and 115 degrees F. When in doubt, use a candy or stick thermometer.
9. Don’t Use Too Much Flour
Bakers know that flour can be the bane or boon of bread making, so start with the minimal amount of flour and then knead in more, if needed. Using too much flour makes for some “heavy” and “dry” loaves. I like to go by the rule to stop at a half cup shy of the recipe’s recommended flour amount. If the dough is really sticky, then add one-half cup at a time. Remember, you can always add more flour, but removing it isn’t an option.
10. Stick to the Prescribed Rising Times
As is often the case, home bakers may get caught up in another project and lose track of time when allowing their dough to rise. Don’t let that happen to you. Stick to the prescribed time(s) and use a kitchen timer. Too long of a rise time, you might end up with a sour-tasting loaf, or it may be too dry, or gasp, it might even have an abundance of “holes.” That being said, if the temperature in the space where you are rising your dough is chilly, chances are the dough will rise slower. The opposite can be said if the environment is too hot. What you do want is to provide an place where the yeast can rise slowly and steadily.
11. Elevations Affect the Timing and Consistency of Your Loaves
Just as with boiling water and cooking other types of food, when living in higher or lower elevations (think mountains or sea level), this will affect the timing and consistency of your bread loaves. I like to suggest when in doubt check with other bakers in your area to see how they account for the difference in altitude. You can also check with your local extension office to see what best practices they suggest.
12. Know Where in the Oven to Place Your Loaves for Best Results
Believe it or not, you will have differing results if you place your loaves on the top, middle or lower shelves. It is always best to follow your recipe’s directions where to place your loaves in the oven. And, never overcrowd your oven with too many loaves, otherwise you risk the chance that your loaves will not brown evenly or cook properly through.
13. Beware of the Time of Year and Weather when Baking Bread
You might not know this, but the time of year can affect the size and density of your bread loaves. This also goes for changes in weather, too. Professional bakers will tell you that from the amount of humidity to even a slight frost in the air, you will see changes in the rise or composition of the loaves. Why?
Humid weather causes bread to rise too quickly; too dry of weather, causes bread to rise too slowly. The same applies to the four seasons. The culprit is yeast. Yeast needs a certain amount of humidity and warmth to rise properly.
14. Store Your Bread Properly
Once you bake your bread, you will need to store your bread properly. Heat and humidity are two of the most important factors in causing fresh bread to mold quickly. That is why it’s essential to allow your bread to cool completely before placing it in an airtight plastic bag or a bread keeper. Also, store your loaves at room temperature no more than 2-3 days.
If you are not going to be able to eat your bread right away, slice your bread (once completely cooled), bag it well (in two bread bags or a freezer bag), then put it in the freezer. You can then opt to take out the whole loaf or several slices at a time. Freeze bread only for 2-3 months max.