How Do You Make Bread?

Are you looking to learn how to make bread? With the vast amounts of information available on Internet forums I know it can sound like a hard task sometimes. Especially if you’re hearing about temperature, rest time, over spring, autolayse etc for the first time...

...Baking bread can easily sound like a minefield that’s best left for the professionals.

But while there is an element of chemistry to baking, fantastic bread can be made without having to know everything.  

Learning a simple bread recipe is easy. After you have cracked recipe number one, then two, then three, you may want to learn the advanced stuff. But it’s not essential.

Before you get to that stage let’s cover:

The basics of baking bread.

If you are a bread baking beginner this article is going to explain what happens.

I'm a lover of demystifying bread baking. There’s so many bakers that try and over complicate baking and I’m sure most of them don’t really understand why they do the stages that they do.

On this site I teach bread baking for beginners through to advanced home bakers. Professionals gain understanding as well, especially if they are setting up a baking business.

When it comes to baking in the UK I’ve been in the industry for years now, preferring to teach these days rather than get up in the middle of the night!

But, enough about me and before you get carried away (or lost) in the science of breadmaking, let’s go over some bread making basics for beginners.

First off, let’s find out what bread is.

What is bread?

To make my favourite food product a handful of ingredients go through some simple processes.

It starts with flour, water and a levain (typically yeast).

These are combined and develop a structure to retain gas. It does this by going through fermentation. This is usually done by a combination of kneading and allowing the dough to rest.

After the dough has developed a sufficient amount, it’s moulded and ready to final prove.

The final proof stage is when the dough is allowed to rise until its ready for the oven.

The surface of the risen dough is often cut with a blade before being placed in an oven.

Let’s take a look at the stages in more detail.

Choosing ingredients to make bread

To make bread you need flour, water and a levain.

Salt is almost always added as well. This gives strength to the dough structure alongside improving flavour.

The levain

All types of bread need to rise. A leavin is the name which categorises all types of raising agents.

The most common levain to make bread is yeast, there are other types too.

These include sourdough, pete ferment, bicarbonate of soda and variants of these.

(Here’s a post that explains more about levains.)

A levain works by reacting with the flour in the dough to release gas.

The gas gets trapped inside the dough structure and as it multiplies the dough expands, forcing it to rise.

Flour

The flour that is used to make bread has a higher protein content than ordinary cake flour.

The protein in the flour reacts with water to create gluten. The gluten strands capture the gas created and stretch to form several air pockets.

As more and more gas is produced the air pockets expand and the bread dough raises up.

Water

Flour needs water to relax the protein so that it can turn into gluten.

Any type of water is ok, no need for bottled. Tap water is great!

Salt

Salt controls the behaviour of the levain making it almost essential.

Without salt, bread becomes tasteless and unpleasant. It also lacks strength in the dough which leads to an irregular crumb and crust.

Without salt, bread tends to be bland and uninteresting. Some people believe salt is just as essential to making bread as flour, water and yeast are.

Then again I dispute this as there are a handful of recipes that don’t require salt.

These include a Tuscan saltless bread which can be very nice with a salty pairing.

Foods like Parma ham and olives compliment saltless bread very nicely. 

The bread baking stages for beginners

Weigh the ingredients

To make bread, we start with weighing the ingredients.

Using a scale to weigh each subject in grams. This includes water which is also weighed, never measured in a jug.

A baker must ensure the most accurate measurements possible are made.

Then the mixing begins...

Mixing dough is divided into two stages.

A slow phase at the start of mixing followed by a faster second kneading period.

During the first stage, the aim is to equally distribute the mixture to create an even mass.

A long slow mix will encourage gluten to develop into nice and long strands, perfect to support artisan bread. Slow mixing typically lasts for around 2-10 minutes.

In the second stage, the dough is kneaded aggressively. Doing this accelerates the doughs fermentation rate, in particular the gluten development.

The gluten becomes stronger so that it is ready to form a structure later on in the process.

The structure retains gas in small pockets which expand to force the dough to rise.

Fermentation

As soon as the flour is hydrated and matched with the ingredients it starts to ferment.

This involves forming a gluten structure and creating gas.

But, there’s more to it!

Fermentation influences more complex elements of the flour to develop too. Flavours, aromas and keeping qualities and improved from a long fermentation period. These enhance the look, taste and smell of the bread.

Bulk fermentation

Most artisan bread dough gets left to rest after the mixing stage, which is also known as bulk fermentation. The rest period (or bulk fermentation) will last between one to 24 hours.

Pretty broad d’ya think??!

I know! Some bakers make bread without any rest time. This is by following the Chorleywood bread making  process (is white bread good for us?).

Many Modern bakers skip the rest stage. Their recipes contain additional ingredients called enzymes, emulsifiers, flavourings or improvers to advance the dough.

But we don’t really talk about those cowboys here…

What happens when dough rests.

The rest time allows more complex elements of the flour to ferment. These add new flavours and aromas which enhance the look, taste and smell of the bread.

Dough mixing is classed as a stage of fermentation. Actually, kneading can be skipped completely in a no-knead bread method.

A No-knead recipe simply involves lightly incorporating the ingredients and then setting aside the mixture to rest. This is  classed as a natural fermentation.

It creates a unique type of bread that has an irregular soft crumb. It’s a very popular way of making sourdough.

Stretch and folds

Sometimes to improve the strength of the dough I’ll include stretch and folds into the dough during the rest period.

This is where the dough is squared up and then stretched and folded on each side.

It doesn’t look that dramatic, but it makes a massive difference to the finished product.

To do a stretch and fold you take the rested piece of dough, shape it in a kinda rough square or rectangle, then stretch out one side and fold it over.

Then repeat the stretch and fold on each of the four sides.

Doing a stretch and fold whilst the dough is resting gives the dough more strength.

There are more detailed instructions on how to do a stretch and fold if you follow this link.

They are really easy!

Adding some stretch and folds effectively knocks the dough down, making the whole second rise, a quadruple (and often more) rise. So another reason the second rise doesn’t really exist!

Final rise

After the dough has been developed for the necessary period it’s ready for its final rise.

This is the bit where the dough is moulded into its shape and encouraged to rise.

Once it's risen to the right size its ready to be cut (usually) and baked.

But there’s a stage or two before this!

Scaling 

Here the dough is scaled into the correct weights. A batch of dough often makes a variety of type and size of bread.

Therefore after the dough has finished its bulk fermentation it’s then divided into individual pieces determined by weight.

A large 800g loaf will be scaled at 950-965g

A small 400g loaf will be scaled at 485-495g

A long bread like a 400g baguette will be scaled at 550g

These weights aren’t definite and can be changed to improve yield from the dough mix or to improve the appearance/enjoyment of the bread.

Some artisan cobs are scaled at 650g giving a larger alternative.

It’s then degassed.

Degassing the dough

After the dough piece has been divided into the correct weight its degassed. This is where the dough is pressed on the table by the bakers hands.

Degassing is done to release as much of the air as possible from the dough. Doing an effective job of degassing will create a more even crumb structure.

Moulding

After degassing, the bread dough is moulded into a round or oval shaped piece. Its then left to rest on the table for 5 to ten minutes. This allows the dough to relax so that it can be shaped.

After the dough has rested it is moulded. A baker uses one of many moulding techniques to shape the bread.

There is about 10 key moulding routines for bread, discover them in the bread baking course here. 

Proofing

After shaping, the piece of dough is placed in a tin, basket or tray to prove straight away.

This stage is often referred to as the second rise, but personally i grate at calling it that!

If you class the final proof as the second rise then the first rise must be the rest period. During this first rise the dough is going through fermentation, there’s no need for the dough to go up.

So why call it first rise?

I prefer, calling the first rise the fermentation or development time.

This is followed by the final proof stage (or simply prove).

None of this first and second prove stuff around here!!

What to prove bread in

The final proof doesn’t have to be in a tin or basket. The baguette and ciabatta breads use a couche. This helps to give them their characteristic shape.

A couche is a piece of cloth that acts as a barrier between the breads. It allows the bread to rise upwards and not sideways.

Alternatively, the final proof can take place on a wooden tray or baking sheet.

Cutting the bread

Before entering the oven, bread tends to be cut. An incision is made with a sharp knife called a lame before the dough goes into the oven.

This allows some excess gas to escape which would otherwise burst through the surface.

If the dough is not cut there’s a good chance that during baking the surface will not be able to withhold the gas created during oven spring.

This causes the surface to explode or “rip” as the structure of the dough is not strong enough to retain the air kept inside it.

Dough with strong structure is created using high protein flour, extremely good quality flour or long mixing & fermentation periods.

Due to their reinforced makeup it’s not always necessary to cut these breads as the gas is retained.

Bake the bread

Most bread baking methods call for a baking stone and steam to be used. The stone will be preheated before the bread hits the oven. These help bake the underside of the bread.

Baking stones help the heat enter the bread rapidly causing a cool thing called oven spring.

This is where the bread springs up in the oven during the first 5-10 minutes of baking.

Oven spring is great for a lighter crumb in the bread and essential for a nice crust too!

The addition of steam in the oven is a key element as it allows the surface of the dough to resist hardening straight away so the bread can spring up.

Steam is not needed for soft crust breads but is necessary for anything crusty.

Here’s an article that it explains oven spring in more detail:

https://www.busbysbakery.com/how-oven-spring-works-and-what-happens-in-the-oven-to-make-bread-rise/

Cooling

Hmmn… The amount of times I’ve tried to skip this stage and regretted it!

Cooling is necessary for making bread. Not allowing the bread to cool will affect the quality of the bread.

During the cooling stage the gluten gelatinises and forms the crumb structure.

Moisture gets retained in the crumb so it’s a good idea to have it as good as possible. Cutting into a hot loaf damaged the structure and allows moisture to escape.

It’s also not good for the stomach to eat hot fresh bread. Even a small amount can make you feel ill!

After the cooling is finished, typically between 2 and 4 hours the bread is ready to be sliced and eaten (or just bites into if you have no knife, or patience).

Take a photo before!

Beginner bread baking FAQ’s

How do you make different types of bread

To create each breads unique characteristics the baker will make variations to their methods and/or ingredients.

These including changing the ingredients, techniques used and duration at each stage of the baking process.

Where to go to learn how to make bread

There are so many ways to learn how to bake bread. There are bakery schools, online like this one or ones you can visit and take a day or weekend course.

You can also grab a bread recipe book and give them a go yourself. But having more visual training or over the shoulder coaching is often beneficial.

Is it cheaper to make your own bread?

The ingredients needed to make a large loaf of bread will cost around 50p plus the electricity cost of running the oven. A loaf like this that’s bought from a bakery will cost between £2 - £3.

Buying a supermarket sliced loaf costs less than this admittedly, however an artisan product is much more healthy and tasty. To reduce the cost of electricity or gas used to heat the oven at home consider baking in batches and freezing the extra loaves.

When you consider the enhanced quality you will receive from baking an artisan loaf, it's good value. Plus, very rewarding!!

Why is my homemade bread hard and dense?

It’s a common problem when beginning to bake at home that the bread comes out of the oven with a consistency of a brick.

We call these bullets!

What’s happened is the dough has not been allowed to develop fully. Typical reasons for this include:

learn to bake bread

To resolve these issues an experienced baker will start with getting a dough consistency they are happy with.

The right balance of ingredients and mixing time is usually the reason for bread problems. After this they will focus on the final proof, before focusing on what’s going on in the oven.

Using a baking stone and adding steam to the oven make a massive difference to the bread. If you’d like to know more about steam, check this article out.

How long does it take to make a loaf of bread?

The time it takes to make bread depends on the type and structure of the desired bread you wish to make. Some fast breads can be made in under 1 hour, other more complicated breads can take 2-3 days.

Faster breads are usually softer and lighter tasting whereas longer developed bread will have more flavour and keep for longer.

Why does my bread not rise?

When trying to make bread for the first time there can be a few issues that arise when getting your first bread recipe to work.

Every brand of flour absorbs water at a slightly different rate to another. Even the same brand can alter from season to season due to the growing conditions of the wheat.

Temperature and the type of yeast used will also have an effect on the quality of the dough and therefore the rate of fermentation.

Despite following a bread recipe to exact measurements like, perhaps your Mother told you when baking (well, mine anyway!)it can go wrong.

Reasons for your bread not rising usually fall into the following statements.

  • The dough is too dry and heavy

  • The temperature is too cold

  • Or the yeast/levain is inactive

  • Not left to rise for long enough

To stop this happening, learn what a good dough should look like, don’t bake in very cold temperatures and try a new packet of yeast or use fresh yeast as it’s faster acting.

To speed it up further, increase the temperature of the area it’s rising in. However, cool temperatures and long rising times typically create more tasty bread.

Why would you want to learn how to make bread?

Learning to make bread can be quick to pick up and has unlimited possibilities of recipe and technique. It’s also much better for you and your family to eat home baked bread than supermarket sliced stuff.

There’s no right way, there are many ways. That’s why I think learning how to make bread is really fun!

Check out the new Facebook page for more bread based stuff:

https://www.facebook.com/gareththebreadbaker/