Curious about yeast bread?: Old traditions, meet new techniques.

Ed. note: Irene Shover, our newest blogger, is a former home economics teacher, and now a member of our King Arthur baking resource team. Welcome, Irene!

When I was 12 years old, my aunt’s house held two things that piqued my curiosity… a bowl of yeast bread dough rising on the kitchen counter, and a copy of Peyton Place on the living room bookshelf.

Auntie was all too willing to share that yeast bread recipe; but I swear she and Mom conspired to catch me every time my fingers touched the cover of Grace Metalious’ novel.

Blame it on the evening soap opera version of the book – that heartthrob Ryan O’Neil, or that waif Mia Farrow. Wouldn’t you be curious that as soon as the music started, it was my bedtime?

Added to the mystery were the conversations Mom and her sister had in their Canadian French! Were there secrets about making yeast bread that were too sensitive for early adolescent ears – or were they discussing the Peyton Place topics of our time?

After visiting Auntie’s house, yeast bread became my new obsession – another skill to add to the domestic sciences. Even when Joe Sinibaldi, the Pepperidge Farm delivery man, came to our house with treats, I’d try to figure out why my homemade loaves and rolls were not at all the same as those thin slices of bread – either the crust, or the interior texture.

Inspired by a pamphlet whose cover featured lions, alligators, and even a woven basket of bread holding yeast rolls, I learned to make bread the old-school way – active dry yeast, kneading by hand, punching down the dough, listening for the hollow thump of readiness.

Now that I’ve completed my career teaching home economics, and have joined the King Arthur Flour team, I’d like to share with you the new-school methods of yeast-bread making.

Products like instant yeast, a variety of flours, and King Arthur Flour techniques have brought yeast bread success to home cooks, and to those who are striving to live an old-school life in this new-school world.

Let’s take the recipe for Back-of-the-Bag Oatmeal Bread and see how the old-school traditions have met the new-school techniques.

Every baking adventure starts with a recipe. We’re proud to say our test kitchen takes all the guesswork out of recipes before they hit our Web site or cookbooks. This recipe for Back-of-the-Bag Oatmeal Bread is straightforward – it uses ingredients you probably have in your pantry, and the easiest method of mixing – one bowl, which means measure all ingredients into the bowl, then mix!

Old school – active dry yeast.

This yeast needs to be proofed or dissolved before using. The process takes 10 to 15 minutes to produce the bubbly liquid you’ll use in the recipe. Some recipes refer to this as making a sponge.

New school – instant yeast.

No proofing required! Add it right along with the dry ingredients. It’s a time saver.

The one-bowl method of mixing is great for beginning bread bakers. Dump all the ingredients in (we suggest you place the ingredients around the top of the flour instead of atop each other). You can see the oatmeal, butter, honey, and yeast on top of the bread flour while we pour on the lukewarm milk.

In home baking, liquid is the constant; home bakers reserve some of the flour for the kneading process. In this case, we started with 2 cups of King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour – reserving the last cup for the kneading process. Whether or not we use all the flour or more than the amount called for in the recipe will depend on what the dough tells us. The finished dough should feel the same as pushing on your cheek with your index finger – soft and supple.

In professional bread baking, the flour is the constant. Professional bakers adjust the liquid along the way while mixing. They may  stop before all the liquid is added if the dough is the right consistency; or add more liquid if the dough seems dry.

Mix. Use a spoon or another King Arthur favorite, the Danish dough whisk.

Once the dough has reached the shaggy mass stage, you’re ready to knead.

Flour the kneading surface. The new-school method is to “veil” the kneading surface with flour – not dump flour on the surface and hope it all gets kneaded in, or push away the extra. A veiled flour surface is transparent, not opaque!

Kneading – think fold (toward you), push and roll your hands over the top of the dough, then turn the dough 90 degrees. Continue this soothing, rhythmic, stress-reducing process until the dough is soft and supple.

Clean the surface any time the dough sticks to it. Bear in mind that dough sticks to dough, and cleaning it up will prevent a gooey mess and also prevent frustration. Once your surface is dough-free, re-flour it with that veil of flour.

This dough is ready for the bowl. That veil of flour must be pretty important, to stress it once again!

Let the dough rest 1 hour, covered, in a greased bowl.

Old school – cover with a clean kitchen towel and keep free from drafts. I think this draft line is from the days when our homes had wind-holes before they had windows!

New school – cover with plastic wrap or even a shower cap!

After 1 hour, the dough looks like this – expanded, airy, and ready to shape.

New school – use a measuring cup for dough rising. You’ll be able to see…

…proof (no pun intended?) that the dough has doubled.

Old school – poke the dough to see if the rising is complete. If this leaves an indentation, the dough is ready to shape. If the hole rebounds, the dough needs more rising time.

New school – press the dough with your fingertip; the dough should bounce back. This is so much kinder and gentler than that poke!

Old school recipes may tell you to “punch down the dough.” While this might be fun for young bakers or the frustrated baker – you’ll expel all the carbon dioxide you’ve worked so hard to develop.

New school – degas the dough. This doesn’t mean an art appreciation class – rather, de-gas. Here’s a dough we mixed in the bread machine that’s ready for its final shaping.

Notice we’re using a silicone rolling mat here – more new school!

On a lightly floured surface (yes, still the veil here) press the dough with flat hands to de-gas.

To shape into a loaf, press the dough with a flat hand until it’s the same width as your loaf pan.

Fold the dough into thirds…

…think business letter here!

Seal the final fold by pressing it slightly under the newly formed loaf.

Gently place the loaf into the pan.

Gently press it to fill the corners and create a smooth, level top surface.

Old school – cover the loaf with a clean kitchen towel.

New school – cover the loaf with plastic wrap (grease first to prevent the risen loaf from sticking). PJ loves the shower cap idea, and so do we!

After 1 hour, or when the dough has crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, place the risen loaf in the preheated oven. One inch over the rim of the pan means at the center of the loaf; the edges of the dough may still meet the edges of the pan.

Bake per your recipe directions. The magic of oven spring (heat meets carbon dioxide, which expands to create a risen loaf) always amazes me! Pressing the loaf evenly in the pan before baking still yields a nicely crowned loaf.

If the loaf is browning too quickly, tent with a piece of foil to deflect some of the heat.

Next, we’ll test to see if the bread is baked through.

Old school – thump, snap, or tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it’s done.

New school. Test the bread’s internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. 190°F is the minimum for yeast loaves. Our bread is definitely ready to remove from the oven.

To create a soft, shiny crust after the bread is baked, rub with butter. To create a shiny crust before the bread is baked, use egg wash: 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water.

Voilà – a beautiful loaf of bread! Resist the temptation to cut it hot out of the oven. Slicing it now would squish the loaf and squash all your efforts!

New school. Can you use a bread machine? Sure!

Refer to the recipes to see if you should bake the bread in the machine or the traditional way in the oven. One important mixing tip is to check the consistency of the dough. Add flour if the dough is too wet, and liquid if the dough looks too dry.

New school – use a stand mixer! Just don’t walk away while the mixer is working its magic. It’s important you check the consistency as the dough mixes.

We use the paddle for mixing…

…then switch to the dough hook for kneading.

Another tip is to knead until the dough gathers all the dry bits from the edges of the bowl, then stop. Check for that soft/supple dough consistency. Many of our bakers’ hotline calls (802-649-3717) about disastrously wet, soupy yeast doughs are the result of too much mixing with powerful stand mixers.

On the left, bread whose dough was kneaded in a bread machine. On the right, bread from dough kneaded by hand.

If you prefer a lighter, airier bread, and have a bread machine, use the machine to knead your dough before baking in the oven. For a denser loaf, knead by hand.

Whether you prefer the way Grandma (or Auntie) taught you, or the new-school advances in yeast breads,  either method will produce a loaf of bread that will fill your home with distinctive aromas and memories. Plus, you’ll be making a nutritious treat for your family.

If we’ve convinced you to try these new-school methods, you can use the extra time you’ve saved to read a couple of chapters of Peyton Place!

Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Back-of-the-Bag Oatmeal Bread.

 

comments

  1. Nichael Cramer

    Wonderful post from KAF, as always (my loaf is in its final rise I type).

    A question about kneading “by hand” vs “by bread machine”…

    First, as per the pictures above, why is it that the “bread machine” version rises so much higher –and seems to be so much lighter– than the “by hand” version. What is it about one technique that seems to make this much difference?

    And second, more to the point, is there something I can do while kneading by-hand –some way I can change my by-hand technique– that would help my loaves to come out more like the bread-machine version? (E.g. Knead longer? Or “harder”? Etc.)

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, Nichael. The primary advantage of the bread machine isn’t so much in the kneading, but that it provides the happiest environment for the yeast to do its thing. With the lid closed and the heating element below, the dough is in an ideally temperature and humidity-controlled environment. Kneading by hand (more and harder is NOT better) is not as much a change agent for results as is the environment for the dough. We have the perfect substitute: our bread proofer. It does an amazing job. Susan

  2. Debbie T.

    Question: will a bread machine “dough” setting make a much better loaf than using stand mixer or by hand? I have a very small kitchen with little storage space and a household of two, and have been paring down excess stuff to only what is necessary.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Debbie, a bread machine doesn’t necessarily do a better job kneading the dough than a stand mixer or your hands. Ultimately, it’s about what you as the baker prefer. The benefits of a stand mixer and bread machine are that you don’t have quite the same urge to add additional flour (the dough doesn’t stick to your hands), and added flour can make a dry, heavy dough. The additional benefit of a bread machine is that you can add all of your ingredients and then walk away. However, some people find it therapeutic to get their hands in the dough. Perhaps you could try using a stand mixer and a bread machine (borrow a friend’s?) and then decide which method you’re most likely to use when it’s time to bake. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  3. Taryn

    The recipe does not specify the butter should be melted, but I don’t see how I could just stir all the ingredients together with my dough whisk if it was still solid. Should the butter in this recipe be melted? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Taryn, as long as the butter is soft to the touch, it will mix in fine when you assemble the dough. Susan

  4. mina

    I use the Active Dry yeast, and I rarely ever (almost never) bother to proof the yeast. Rather, I just mix it in with the flour. I’m not sure why these basic instructions here suggest that it must be proofed. Also, the hook used in many of these blog articles about this or that recipe not being like your mother’s whole wheat or whatever are strange. It seems to denigrate past cooks/bakers. Why? It would be better to say that cooking/baking methods, ingredients, and products have evolved. And, seriously, plastic wrap is preferred over a towel? That is a lot of waste. Otherwise, I do love this site’s recipes and the comments from readers.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      In the past, yeast was proofed to be sure it was good- definitely better than wasting the rest of the ingredients! If you’re not sure of the age of your active dry yeast, best to test it. And plastic wrap is entirely optional- it does help keep the dough from forming a skin while it rises. You can reuse a plastic bag, or try some beeswax impregnated fabric instead. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  5. Carolyn

    Interested to know why dough kneaded in a stand mixer rises higher than by hand. Can you explain why that is? In my experience, I haven’t noticed as dramatic a difference as the last picture in the post shows.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for asking Carolyn – the dough that was kneaded by hand was first mixed in the stand mixer. Even though the stand mixer will do all the mixing and kneading, I still like to get my hands on the dough to be sure it’s soft and supple. The higher risen finished product was mixed,kneaded and completed the first rise in the bread machine – the difference in rise may be there’s less flour in the bread machine dough and the dough is kept at a warmer temp. to encourage the yeast to feast and create higher rise. Happy Baking – Irene

  6. joanne leverone

    I am new to bread making and have tried different recipes.I have not been that successful.Today I tried the oatmeal bread recipe.I was somewhat confused as I followed the recipe which said add all ingredients which I did,Then I went on to read the step by step instructions which said add two cups of flour and add in other cup while kneading???I added all ingredients and found the dough difficult to knead and a little dry.What should I have done?It is rising now so we’ll see how it turns out.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Joanne, the goal is to create a soft and supple dough by the end of the kneading process. In her blog, Irene suggests that hand kneaders can start with less flour in the mixing bowl, and then use the remaining flour on the counter during the kneading process. It is meant as a tip to help new bakers from adding too much flour to the dough during kneading. The finished dough – whichever way you mix – should have approximately 3 cups of flour. I hope this helps. ~Jaydl@KAF

    2. PJ Hamel

      Joanne, sorry about that inconsistency; different bakers have their own personal favorite ways to bring together a yeast dough. Personally, I knead i a stand mixer, and combine everything at once. If the mixture seems dry, I drizzle in a bit more liquid with the mixer going. If you’re kneading by hand, it’s probably better to leave out 1/2 to 1 cup of the flour, then as you’re kneading, add it as necessary to create a smooth, soft dough. I hope you don’t get discouraged; yeast baking is a wide and wonderful world, once you get used to how it all works. If you have a mixer (hand or stand), and want to make a loaf that’s pretty much guaranteed to be successful, not matter how new you are to bread baking, try this English Muffin Toasting Bread. And remember, our hotline bakers are always ready to answer any questions: 855-371-2253. Best of luck – PJH

    3. Susan Reid

      Hi, Joanne. One of the most important things to know when learning bread baking is that the amount of flour varies; it’s important to give some of the recipe’s amount to the dough and see how it behaves before adding more. Many bread recipes give a range for flour amounts; it’s always a good idea to hold back 1/2 cup of the flour in a bread recipe to see if the dough needs it. Dough changes in texture as it’s kneaded; doughs that are dry and stiff take a LOOOONNNNNGGGG time to rise and can be crumbly when sliced. Hope this helps. Susan

  7. Vicky

    I’ve been making this recipe for awhile . I seems like the last few times the bread is not proofing above the pan and there’s no oven spring. In fact it seems to deflate. What am I doing wrong? I use my KA stand mixer.

    Thanks.

    Vicky

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel

      Vicky, there are so many things that could be affecting your bread’s rise, it doesn’t make any sense to try to answer here. Please call our hotline, 855-371-2253, so you can have a back-and-forth dialogue with one of our bakers. Good luck – PJH

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