Three Essentials for Bread Bakers


secrets 3Three Things that Every Bread Baker Should Have and WhyHow to Bake 3D cover

Baking bread is not hard but it pays to know the essentials and the science about baking.  We’ve written a book by that title: How to Bake: The Art and Science of Baking.  If you are serious about baking, read that.  But it’s over 200 pages.  This is a five minute read, a good refresher.

You can get How to Bake free, by clicking here

Essential #1: A Kitchen Thermometer

You cannot bake bread without a good thermometer.

Yeast is very sensitive to temperature; you have to create the right environment for it to live and grow.

Most recipes are going to tell you to add water at 110 degrees.  (In a bread machine it’s a closed environment with heat coming from the motor and for our bread mixes, we tell folks to add water at exactly 80 degrees.)  But the goal is not to have bread dough at 110 degrees—that’s way too warm.  The ideal temperature for the yeast to grow in bread dough is 79 degrees.  Water at 110 degrees mixes with cooler ingredients and cools in contact with the air and, ideally, you have bread dough somewhere around 79 degrees.

How sensitive is yeast to temperature?  A ten degree difference in temperature can change the rate of yeast growth by 100%.

But dough is not the only thing you will measure with a thermometer.  You’ll use a thermometer to tell when the bread is baked.

For the bread to set, the internal temperature needs to reach 190 degrees for most breads.  The color of the bread isn’t going to tell you that.  Thumping the loaf will not tell you that.

To measure the inside temperature, turn your baked loaf out into your gloved hand or a kitchen towel.  Turn the loaf and from the bottom, stick the temperature probe into the center of the loaf.  It should read 190 degrees.  If not, set it back into the pan and bake it for another 5 minutes.

This is the kitchen thermometer that we recommend for bread bakers.

Essential #2: Dough ConditionerPicture 105

A good dough conditioner does three things: It “conditions” the protein strands so they are longer and more elastic  (I have no idea how that works), it then holds more gas and makes the bread lighter and taller.  Your loaves should be an inch taller.

It makes the dough more acidic.  Yeast grows better in a slightly acidic environment.  (There is a reason that our grandmothers added a tablespoon of lemon juice to their bread.  Not very precise but the idea works.)

Dough conditioners are hygroscopic. Hygroscopic materials attract moisture. I don’t think it’s much but it tends to retard staling.

This is the dough conditioner that we use in our bread mixes and baking.

 Essential #3: An Oven Thermometer

Ovens drive me nuts!  The temperature is all over the board. In my experience, they’re not very precise even when new.  But the mechanics of the heat and cool cycle means that they are too cool at one point and too hot at another.  They heat until they’re above target and then cool until they’re below target.

The solution is an oven thermometer.  Hang it off the rack with the provided hook and you know what the temperature is every time you open the oven.  Pretty soon you get to know your oven and your recipe and you’re a better baker.4

You’ll be surprised how long it takes your oven to recover between batches of cookies.

It’s worth a few bucks to know how hot your oven really is when you stick your bread in.

We use this thermometer in our baking

There you have it, what we consider the three essentials in our bread baking.

 What about other “essentials”?

Proofing Bags

I love proofing bags.  Sticking my bread dough in a giant, oversized bag beats the dickens out of stretching plastic across the top of a bread bowl.  It creates a greenhouse without restricting the dough.  I love it but it’s not essential.

Wheat Gluten

I use a high protein bread flour, at least 11% protein.  I don’t need to add more protein with wheat gluten.  If I’m using mostly whole wheat flour, I add wheat gluten.  Whole wheat flour is lower protein to start with and the bran tends to cut the gluten strands making it less effective in trapping gas.

Dough Relaxer

Don’t use it to bake loaves.  It relaxes the gluten and makes the dough more pliable and eliminates springback.  It’s wonderful for pizza dough and flour tortillas but not loaves.

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