Many people find the idea of making bread daunting, fearing fallen loaves, doughy centers, or bread that stubbornly refuses to rise. Others who have been making bread for a while may struggle with achieving a consistent texture or avoiding a hole in the middle of their loaves.
However, creating a perfect wholegrain loaf is not an impossible feat. Bread making is both an art and a science, with flours and doughs reacting in normal and predictable ways. By learning the science behind bread making, individuals can ease into perfecting the art of creating beautiful bread. Here are some tips gleaned from years of experimentation to demystify the yeast loaf, followed by troubleshooting tips for perplexing problems and some excellent recipes.
Above all, remember two things: yeast is alive, and the dough is your friend.
Proofing the yeast
To ensure the vigor of your yeast and encourage its growth, proofing is a reliable method. Begin by measuring the recommended amounts of water, yeast, and honey for the recipe. Pour the water into a bowl and test its temperature with a thermometer or your hand; it should feel pleasantly warm, around 100°, akin to your body temperature, which is optimal for yeast growth and multiplication.
When yeast multiplies, it releases carbon dioxide gas, which gets trapped in the loaf, causing it to rise. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and let it sit for a few minutes, then gently stir it to dissolve completely. Add honey to feed the yeast and dissolve it as well.
Allow the mixture to sit in a warm place until it becomes frothy, typically around 10 minutes. By following these steps, you will provide your yeast with a solid foundation for growth.
Gluten is responsible for binding the dough and creating little pockets that trap carbon dioxide. Wheat contains the most gluten, with hard wheats having more gluten than soft wheats. Soft wheat is utilized to make pastry flour since it lacks sufficient gluten to become tough. When seeking flour for bread making, search for those labeled as “bread flour,” which are made from high-gluten wheat.
If you cannot locate whole wheat bread flour, or if your bread recipe requires a high proportion of low-gluten grains such as rye, you may add gluten flour, a highly refined product, in a ratio of one tablespoon per cup to increase the gluten content. Although this refined gluten flour is not necessary for baking bread, it can cause your bread to rise higher.
Add the flour to your dough gradually, one cup at a time, and beat it thoroughly. Continue adding half a cup of flour at a time until the dough develops strands between the spoon and the bowl, indicating gluten strands. Once the dough forms a ball and separates from the sides of the bowl, it is ready for kneading.
Prepare your counter by sprinkling a layer of flour, and keep your flour close by in case you require more. Transfer the dough onto the floured surface.
To knead, use the heels of your hands to push the dough, then fold it over at the crease. Rotate the dough by a quarter turn and repeat. Remember to treat the dough as your friend. Knead it vigorously and joyfully, and it will respond in kind. Do not beat, pummel, or mistreat it in any way.
Once you have kneaded the dough for 5 to 15 minutes and it is ready to rise, it will have a smooth, satiny stretch and spring back with great life from any impression. Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, with the oiled surface facing up, cover it with a cloth, and leave it in a warm, draft-free area to rise.
Once the dough has doubled in size, it is ready to be shaped into loaves. However, if you prefer a finer texture or are short on time, allowing the dough to rise again could be beneficial. To release the air from the risen dough, vigorously slap it with the flat of your hand and let it rest for a minute or two. If you plan on letting it rise again, cover it and place it in a warm area.
To shape the loaves, turn the dough out onto a smooth surface, and either allow the oil from the dough to coat the surface or use flour to prevent sticking. Divide the dough into two or more parts and work each into the desired shape. For easy removal, lightly oil the loaf pans before placing the shaped dough inside. Cover the loaves and let them rise again in a warm location until the dough has doubled in size and feels soft and pliable when poked gently.
Preheat your oven before baking and note the original size of the dough. After the specified baking time, check the crust’s color and tap the bottom of a loaf to see if it sounds hollow. If it does, the loaf is done. If not, place it back in the pan and bake for an additional 7 to 10 minutes. If necessary, cover the loaf with foil to prevent excessive browning.
Adding salt or not?
To include salt or not in your bread is a matter of personal preference. For sourdough bread, omitting salt has no noticeable impact on flavor or rising. However, for sweet dough bread like oatmeal bread, removing all salt results in large holes in the center of the loaves. This effect may be due to the altitude; for instance, at 5000′ elevation, this happens, while at 1000′ elevation, the bread rises fine without salt.
Therefore, it’s recommended that you experiment to find the right amount of salt to suit your taste and rising preferences. If you’re on a salt-free diet and dislike the holes in your bread, try reducing the rising time.
If your bread molds or sours quickly (within two days or less), storing it in the refrigerator or using a preservative like salt or vinegar can help. For example, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt per loaf (if you omitted salt), or 1 teaspoon of mild vinegar (such as rice vinegar) per loaf to the wet ingredients.
If the texture of your bread is uneven, with bigger air bubbles towards the top of the loaf and denser bread at the bottom, it’s likely that you need to knead the dough longer. Kneading wholegrain doughs for at least 7 to 10 minutes, until the dough is springy and smooth and does not stick to your hands or the board, can help to fully develop the gluten and trap air bubbles throughout the dough.
If there are big holes in the center of your loaf, adjusting the ratio of sweetener in your recipe and checking your salt levels may help. If your dough sticks to your hands when kneading, try beating the dough well before adding all of the flour or kneading with cool hands and a firm stroke.
If your loaves are flat-topped, it may be because the dough was allowed to rise too much before baking. To test if your dough is ready to bake, poke it gently with a fingertip – it should be springy and lively with a small depression remaining where you touched it. If a deep dimple forms, your dough may be over-risen.
Now, let’s move on to some bread recipes:
Beginner’s Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
This versatile bread is perfect for sandwiches, toasting, or serving with sweet or savory toppings. The recipe makes two loaves, so you’ll have plenty to enjoy and share.
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6-7 cups whole wheat flour
- In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon honey in the warm water. Let it sit until the mixture is foamy, which should take about 5 minutes.
- Add the oil, 1/4 cup honey, salt, and enough flour to make a thick batter or thin dough. Beat the mixture vigorously until the dough forms long, elastic strands.
- Gradually add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough becomes too stiff to stir. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for at least 7 minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until it becomes smooth and springy.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it so that the oiled side is facing up. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until it doubles in size.
- Punch down the dough and let it rise again for a second time, if desired. Then, shape the dough into two loaves and place them in lightly oiled pans.
- Cover the pans and let the dough rise again until it doubles in size. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Bake the loaves in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let the bread cool before slicing and serving. Enjoy!
This bread has a lovely texture and a sweet flavor due to the oatmeal. If you want more tender oats, use hotter soaking water; for chewy oats, use cooler. Makes two loaves.
- 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
- 2 cups hot tap water (120-130°F)
- 3/4 cup lukewarm water
- 1 Tbsp. dry yeast
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1/4 cup oil
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 2 Tbsp. molasses
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbsp. gluten flour (optional)
- about 5 cups whole wheat bread flour
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats and hot water. Let soak for 10 minutes.
- In a two-cup measure, dissolve the yeast and honey in the lukewarm water. Let sit for 10 minutes or until it foams up.
- Add the oil, honey, molasses, and salt to the oat mixture. Stir in the proofed yeast.
- Mix the gluten flour with the first two cups of bread flour. Gradually beat the flour into the oat mixture until the dough begins to form strands.
- Add more bread flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough becomes too stiff to stir.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for at least seven minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough should be slightly sticky.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turn to coat all sides, cover, and let rise until doubled in size.
- Turn the dough out and form it into two loaves. Place them in two oiled 5×9-inch loaf pans and let rise until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake the loaves until golden brown on top and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (about 35 to 40 minutes).
- Remove the loaves from the pans and cool on a wire rack. Once thoroughly cooled, they can be stored in an airtight container or wrapped and frozen.
Two loaves of bread with a delightful texture and sweet flavor are achieved thanks to the use of oatmeal. Adjust the texture of the oats to your preference by using hotter water for more tender oats, or cooler water for chewier oats.
This hearty sesame bread is a perfect complement to Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisine. Makes one ring-shaped loaf.
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 to 5 cups whole wheat bread flour
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons raw sesame seeds
- Proof the yeast with honey in warm water. When the yeast foams, add the egg, oil, dark sesame oil, and salt.
- Beat in two cups of the whole wheat bread flour, and continue beating vigorously until the batter is smooth and elastic.
- Add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough is stiff enough to knead.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until it is very elastic and smooth, about five to seven minutes, adding flour to the board as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning once so the oiled surface is on top. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
- Punch down the dough and let it rest in the bowl for a minute. Knead a few times and form it into a smooth ball.
- Working your fingers through the center of the ball, pull and work the dough into a ring.
- Place the ring in an oiled pan that leaves room for the dough to expand. Cover the ring and let it rise until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Brush the top of the ring gently with beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle the top of the ring with a layer of raw sesame seeds.
- Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the ring is golden-brown on top and sounds hollow when removed from the pan and tapped on the bottom.
A final word
Whole wheat bread is a nutritious and delicious choice for those looking for a healthier option than white bread. It is made from flour that contains the bran, germ, and endosperm of the wheat grain, which provides more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whole wheat bread can also be customized to suit different tastes and preferences, with various additions like nuts, seeds, or dried fruits.
Additionally, it can be baked in different shapes and sizes, from a traditional loaf to rolls, bagels, or even pizza crusts. By incorporating whole wheat bread into your diet, you can enjoy a satisfying and wholesome staple food that provides numerous health benefits.
Useful resources you may like:
A DIY Project to Generate Clean Water Anywhere
How To Make Bannock Or Indian Bread, The Food Of Mountain Men
The vital self-sufficiency lessons our great grand-fathers left us