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. snwprincez

    Good evening,
    Thanks for the great mixes and recipes! I’ve baked the Scottish toasting bread from the premixed packages with great success, but I ran out of the mix so I tried this recipe today. I have the same problem as hehays listed on the message above, BUT I have to confess, I did use Rapid Rise yeast. What difference does it make?
    Rapid Rise yeast is a different strain of yeast from instant. It is formulated to give you one fast rise, and won’t always give you two nice long steady rises. For best results, you’ll want to stick with the instant or active dry. ~ MJ

    Reply
  2. hehays

    I just tried this recipe–I had a great consistency and a great rise–however when I put the dough into the 350 degree oven it fell instead of rising more as I would have expected. Can you tell me what I did wrong?

    Check the yeast and rising time. Collapsed bread can be a sign that Rapid Rise yeast was used or the bread rose too long once it was shaped and before placing in the oven for the bake. If this isn’t the answer – do call our Baker’s Hotline at 855-371-2253 and we’ll trouble shoot with you. Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  3. sharonnewv

    I made this bread last nite. Turned out wonderful. I used my dough blade with my food processor (doubtful as I was) but gave it a try. I was a happy camper. Loved the FOLDING procedure showed for “new school” Best looking and tasting bread ever. Easy recipe. Thanks KA for this great tutioral.
    The staff of girls at KA are wonderful and pleasant. I definately stepped out of my box and was glad I did. I’m obsessed with making bread (anyone else like that?) I have one slice, the heel) thats it. The rest I give away. Thats the love of making bread. I’m my biggest critic. Love, love, love KA:) Happy baking
    Thanks! We are so glad that you are having so much fun baking. ~ MaryJane

    Reply
  4. Mss309

    This bread is terrific! I would like to make 2 loaves at a time? Do I just double the recipe? Do you know if a standard Kitchen Aid stand mixer can manage the mat. Of ingredients for 2 loaves? Thanks so much….?
    You can double this recipe to make two loaves. You will double everything EXCEPT the yeast and salt. Keep the yeast amount the same (2-2 1/4 teaspoons), and only use 2 1/4 teaspoons salt. You’ll definitely be giving your 5 qt Kitchen Aid a workout with that amount of dough, but it should be OK if you don’t do it very often. ~Mel

    Reply
  5. bazasho

    This is my first attempt to make bread, for some reason I was intimidated by the process. So far the first batch did not rise that great, and the second one was doing fine on the second rise but then on the second rise it stopped just short of the the top of the pan, not 1″ to 2″ above it. I think I will put it in the oven anyway, any thoughts?

    I think you have this loaf well in hand. Please give us a call on the Baker’s Hotline, 800-827-6836, after you have it cooled and sliced. We’ll be happy to help critique the loaf. Frank @ KAF.

    Reply
  6. DARA

    Can the mixing and kneading be done in a food processor?
    Unless your food processor has a dough hook, I would not recommend using one for bread dough kneading. ~Amy

    Reply
  7. Jessica

    To add a twist to the towel/plastic wrap debate — I’ve competely skirted the issue by doing my first rise in a lightly oiled, covered saucepan. It works great and creates neither garbage nor laundry!

    Reply
  8. aaronatthedoublef

    Hi,

    I know this isn’t about white bread but… I just made your 100% whole wheat bread. I used a quarter cup orange juice, three quarters of a cup of apple cider (my boys love this), and a quarter cup of water. I tried your folding technique here and the loaf fit the pan perfectly, had a good pre-bake rise, and a fantastic oven spring. It came out of the oven picture perfect. But when I held it in my hand something just felt wrong so I sliced it in half. It was completely hollow.

    Any ideas on what I did wrong?

    Thanks,

    Aaron

    This can be frustrating, I know! Perhaps the dough was not shaped properly or the dough rose too long before baking or the dough’s consistency was too wet. Try again and let us know how it goes Aaron! Elisabeth

    Reply
  9. Aaron Frank

    Fantastic! I’ve always had problems shaping a log. I’ll have to try the business letter way.

    I switched to instant yeast because it is about a quarter of the price of active dry yeast where I live. I still like to activate the yeast before hand. And this is my sons’ favorite part of bread baking (outside of eating it).

    I switched from plastic wrap to those plastic roasting bags for roasting chickens and turkeys after I accidentally rushed a loaf into the oven without taking the plastic off. And that is not even close to the dumbest thing I’ve done.

    Do you ever cold proof overnight (or longer) in the refrigerator?
    Hi Aaron,
    Love the idea of the roasting bags for proofing. Re-usable too. Overnight proofing is so handy, and makes for excellent taste and texture. It’s much easier to make the dough one day, give it the first rise, then degas, shape and rise in the pan in the fridge overnight. Have fun! ~ MaryJane

    Thanks,

    Aaron

    Reply
  10. askow

    I purchased a ‘little used’ bread machine from a friend and found it made such great bread that my husband begged me to PLEASE refrain from making bread for awhile. I gave many loaves away just so I could have the joy of producing such gorgeous loaves. One of my favorite KAF products is the diastic malt powder. I use a heaping teaspoon in each loaf and don’t know whether that is the reason the loaves raise extra high and turn our perfectly every time. They also stay very moist. I mix the loaves in the machine; then raise them in a ‘turned off’ 200 degree oven for 30 minutes. I cover with only a piece of paper towel which automatically curves to cover the loaf. I take the loaf out, turn the oven back on to the baking temperature and bake until my thermometer reads 190 degrees or above. I turn the loaves out onto a rack, let them cool, then use a Cuisinart electric knife to easily cut uniform slices. The loaf goes into a KAF bread bag for storage. One of my favorite loaves is an eight-grain, sunflower seed, honey bread. It stays moist until the last slice is gone. My freezer has an entire shelf devoted to a variety of whole grain flours. Thanks KAF for all your tips, great recipes and wonderful products.

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *