technique

Bread is magical. A simple combination of flour, water, and yeast (plus or minus a few things) comes together, with a bit of kneading and a little time, to create crusty, craggy, sliceable, toastable, delicious bread!

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Step by Step: Bread Baking

Every yeasted bread is different, but almost all yeasted breads follow the same basic steps to go from raw flour to finished loaves or rolls.

1. MIX

First, combine the dry and wet ingredients.

2. KNEAD

Then, develop the gluten structure through mixing and kneading, either with your hands or a stand mixer.

3. RISE

Let the yeast do its magic! The yeast creates gas bub­bles that cause the bread to expand and develop flavor.

4. SHAPE

If needed, form the risen dough into shapes such as rolls or pretzels.

5. SECOND RISE

The dough needs time to rise again after it’s been shaped.

6. BAKE

In the oven, the dough will turn into bread! It rises one last time in the hot oven (this is called oven spring) while it bakes through.

What Is Gluten, Anyway?

Yes, we talk about gluten all the time. But it’s very important in bread (it’s not just something people are allergic to). Why? Gluten is a protein. It is created when flour and water mix. The long strands of protein are kind of like elastic bands for your hair, and they have the ability to expand. This is particularly important when bread rises, because the network of gluten proteins can trap air inside the bread dough, helping it grow tall. Kneading or mixing helps the gluten develop into a strong network that can trap lots of air, which helps give bread a nice chewy texture.

Water, Water Everywhere!

One of the key ingredients in bread is flour, of course. But water is just as important! This is because gluten can’t be created without water. More water = more gluten = more structure in your bread. (Up to a point—­too much water, and it will just be a soggy loaf!) This is why many bakers spend a lot of time thinking about how much water they have in their bread in relation to how much flour. The calculation of hydration in a bread is called a baker’s percentage. We won’t calculate any percentages in our recipes here, but we do think it’s important to weigh the water in your recipes to make sure you have exactly the right amount.

Why Does Bread Get Stale?

Excellent question. Bread often gets stale, or dry and crusty, after a couple of days thanks to something called retrogradation. When bread is baking, the liquid in the dough hydrates the starch in the flour, causing it to soften and resulting in soft, pliable bread. But when bread sits out after it’s been baked, the starches start to crystallize, trapping a lot of that water within that new crystalline structure. There is still liquid there, but it’s hiding, making the bread feel all dry and crusty. One way to improve stale bread is by toasting it. The heat releases all that hidden water, reviving your slice of bread.

What to Do with Leftover Bread

Cooled bread can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 2 days. To reheat focaccia and za’atar bread, place bread on baking sheet and refresh in 325-degree oven for 5 minutes.