White Bread 101

I promised a bread making blog last week, so here it is! This is not a recipe for bread, because you can find that anywhere. This will give you techniques, tips, and insights into bread making. There are also a plethora of variations for a loaf of white bread, but in its simplest form it is just flour, water, and yeast. Most recipes add other ingredients like salt and sugar for taste and eggs, milk powder and butter for a softer loaf.

One of my responsibilities at my job is resident sandwich bread maker. This is a great loaf for the beginner bread maker and I’ve included lots of photos to help illustrate each step. The concern that most people have with bread is the yeast. First, I should say that I always use active dry yeast and that needs to be proofed. Proofing just means letting it sit in warm water for about 5-7 minutes to check that it is alive. If your yeast gets little bubbles, it is alive and ready to go. If it doesn’t, it has probably expired and you need new yeast. You also want to put your sugar in with the proofing yeast so that it has time to dissolve and provide a food source for the yeast to feed off of. Now for the temperature of the water. What I always tell people is that yeast is a living organism that enjoys conditions similar to those enjoyed by humans. If the water is too cold for you to want to take a bath in, then it’s too cold for the yeast. If it scalds you when you stick your hand in the sink, it will kill the yeast. You’re aiming for a temperature between 95-110 for most yeast; that’s about the temperature of the water in your typical hot tub. You have to get the water all the way up to 130-140 before it kills the yeast. You may feel safest using a thermometer the first few times and then just going by touch after that.

A very bubbly sugar, yeast, and milk powder mixture proofing in warm water.

A very bubbly sugar, yeast, and milk powder mixture proofing in warm water.

You can then add your flour, salt, and any extras to your yeast mixture. An important note on salt: most bakers agree that salt actually slows down yeast growth and consequently, will add it to the recipe last.

I highly recommend investing in a stand mixer if you plan on making bread with any regularity. It makes the next step much simpler. You can proof your yeast right in the stand mixer bowl, add the remaining ingredients, and then use the dough hook attachment to knead your bread. If you’re intent upon doing it by hand though, that is also completely fine. Either way, you need to completely mix and knead your dough and then place it in a lightly oiled bowl to rise for 1-2 hours. A piece of plastic wrap fit loosely over the top will trap the heat in. The length of time your bread takes to rise will depend upon the temperature of your room. Your bread will rise slowly in a cool room, and quickly in a warmer room. You will know your bread is done when it has doubled in size.

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You should then form your dough into a loaf and place it in an oiled bread pan to rise for a second time. There are several different ways to form your bread; feel free to pick your favorite technique. I personally start by creating a small rectangle out of the dough and place it on the table with the shorter end at the top. I then fold it half way down, tuck the ends in like a burrito, and then fold the bottom half up so that it forms a log. Make sure to pinch the dough together so that it seals nicely. The crease it creates won’t matter because you’ll place that side down into the bread pan. Then all you have to do is cover it again with plastic wrap and let it rise. When the bread has filled up the pan and created a dome, it is ready to be baked.

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For a great tutorial on how to form your loaf, go to: http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-shape-a-sandwich-loaf-o-108773

Kelley Ruhl

About Kelley Ruhl

A new baker in town, getting to know the local bakers and bakeries. Always searching for the perfect cupcake, bread, cookie or pie. Eager to share my insights and reflections on what it takes to be a baker and what Portland has to offer the baked-good obsessed.