Test Kitchen Tips for Yeasted Bread

Here are some test kitchen tips that work with just about any yeasted bread recipe.

Core Techniques

Maximize Gluten Development

To achieve the proper texture in a loaf of bread, gluten development is essential, but there’s more than one way to go about it. The traditional technique involves physical manipulation, or kneading, during which the proteins link together to form gluten.

In our recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread (see related content), we replace elbow grease with a process called autolysis. As the dough sits at room temperature (covered) for 8 to 18 hours, enzymes naturally present in the wheat cut the proteins into smaller segments that link up readily, which means that less than a minute of kneading is sufficient to form enough gluten to make a pleasantly chewy rustic bread.

Develop (or Add) Complex flavor

Good bakery bread has a distinctly yeasty, slightly sour flavor, which comes from a fermented starter that contains a varied assortment of yeasts. You can certainly make or purchase your own starter, but we found an easier way: beer. Adding a mild lager to our dough produces carbon dioxide, alcohol, and sulfur compounds, which together create a subtle yeasty flavor. And a tablespoon of vinegar mimics the tang of acetic acid produced by a bakery starter’s bacteria.

Take Your Time

Resting the dough for a minimum of 8 hours before shaping is essential for proper hydration and gluten formation. For the rising after shaping, look
for visual and tactile cues: The dough should be puffed—nearly double its original volume—and a fingertip depression in the dough should fill in slowly, not bounce back immediately. When baking, we leave nothing to chance and use the interior temperature of the loaf as our measure of doneness; 210 degrees is the optimum temperature for perfectly cooked rustic bread that has a nice crust and tender-but-chewy interior.

Yeast Primer

Buying, Storing, Using

Yeast is a living organism that feeds on sugar and starch. Fresh yeast (or cake yeast), which you probably won’t come across in the grocery store, consists of drained and compressed yeast cells with about 70 percent water by weight. It’s highly potent, fast, and reliable but also highly perishable and impractical for most home baking.

The two kinds of yeast you’ll see in the grocery store are active dry yeast and instant or rapid-rise yeast. Both have been reduced to 95 percent dry matter for stability. Active dry yeast must be dissolved in a warm liquid before use, whereas instant yeast can simply be mixed directly into other ingredients, making it our first choice for most breads and baked goods. Both instant and active dry yeast are sold in 1/4-ounce packets, each containing about 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast, but don’t rely on the packets to be perfectly accurate—always measure yourself.

Anything higher than 120 degrees will kill yeast, so avoid adding hot liquids to your dough. Keep your dry yeast in the refrigerator or freezer, where it will last for almost two years unopened.

Good to know: To substitute active dry yeast for instant, use 25 percent more active dry (if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of instant yeast, use 1 1/4 teaspoons of active dry) and dissolve it in a portion of the recipe’s liquid that’s been heated to 110 degrees.

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