Troubleshooting Notes on Making Breads

The following notes will help you make that perfect bread. At the bottom of this list are special notes for rye breads.

1. Always measure flour correctly. Whisk the flour so that it is not packed and then spoon it into the measure followed by leveling the top with a straightedge. If you measure packed flour either by spooning packed flour into the measure or by scooping the flour from the bag, you will have too much flour. If you have kitchen scales, each cup of flour should weigh about 5.5 ounces.

2. We use instant yeast in all our baking. It is easy, convenient, and nearly foolproof. It is designed to hydrate almost instantly, that is the starch modules that encapsulate the yeast begin to dissolve upon contact with water. To assure the immediate dissolving of these nodules, we mix the water with the 1/3 of the flour and yeast to create a wet slurry and then add the remainder of the flour and other ingredients.

3. Add the salt after the yeast has been mixed into the flour. Salt in concentrated amounts kills yeast on contact.

4. The single biggest problem that folks have with yeasted breads is water temperature. That is especially true when using a bread machine. It’s hard to make great bread without a thermometer; it is easy with one. Most recipes call for the water temperature to be 100 degrees to 110 degrees. The theory is that with water that warm, the ensuing dough temperature will be somewhere in the eighty degree range where the yeast will thrive. (Of course, if you bring your flour in from the garage in the middle of the winter, your dough won’t be warm enough either.) Bread machine recipes usually start with a much lower water temperature because of the longer cycle for mixing and rising.

5. Make sure that you have an accurate measuring cup for measuring liquids. We are amazed at how inaccurate many measuring cups are. We’ve calibrated enough of them to know. For example, a measuring cup may be short at the one cup level, right on at the 1 1/2 level, and over at the two cup level. And we’re not talking about being a little off; the error may be 15 to 20 percent or more.

6. Protect your flour. Flour should be protected in tight containers where it is not exposed to the air. If your flour is exposed to the air of a humid kitchen, it will absorb water. If your flour is in a dry kitchen, it will dry out. The water content in your flour may affect your recipe results.

Notes on Rye Breads

1. Rye has a different type of protein than does wheat flour and does not create the elastic strands of gluten that makes our breads chewy. Without this protein, rye flour must be heavily supplemented with wheat flour to form a proper bread. Usually only 30 to 40% of the total four is rye. Additionally, wheat gluten is often added to the recipe to strengthen the dough.

2. The protein in rye flour tends to feel gummy. Over mixing tends to exacerbate that gummy feel. When we make rye breads with our stand-type mixer, we usually mix for three to four minutes only. If the dough feels gummy, handle it with lightly floured hands and bake anyway. Your bread will taste fine.