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Bread Baking, At a Glance

Every yeasted bread is unique, yet virtually all follow the same progression of steps that take it from raw ingredients to finished loaves and rolls. Think of these steps as the key movements of a dance. As you touch, observe, and manipulate more and different doughs, you’ll become more in tune with the rhythm of bread baking, and these core steps will become second nature. Each new bread will introduce new twists and flourishes to a pattern you know well and can execute fluidly, giving you a lifetime of better baking. Here, we spell out the essentials of these steps; in the pages that follow, we’ll break each one down into more detail, so you’re armed with all of our test kitchen knowledge.

bread-baking-at-a-glance

The step that gets it all started is mixing (1). This is where you combine your dry and wet goods in the stand mixer to create a shaggy amalgamation of ingredients. This rough mass of dough then becomes smooth during kneading (2). You increase the mixer speed and knead until the dough is elastic, signaling that it has developed an adequate gluten structure. At this point, the dough is ready for the first rise (3). It is during this fermentation period that the yeast creates carbon dioxide bubbles that cause the bread to expand. Once the dough grows to the size indicated in the recipe (usually the dough doubles in size), dividing and shaping (4) takes place. You start by pressing down on the dough to deflate it. Then you either divide it (for rolls, buns, or multiple loaves) or shape it whole. The shape will depend on the type of bread you are making; here, we’re featuring a basic round boule, which you roll between your cupped hands on a counter until a ball forms. Forming a taut shape ensures an even, lofty final loaf. Then you rest the formed loaf again for a second rise (5). The yeast is redistributed during shaping, so the loaf achieves more volume at this point before baking, when the hot oven causes the bread to expand one more time to its final height. You can test that the loaf is done rising with your knuckle. During baking (6), starches gelatinize to set the crumb, and sugars and proteins caramelize to create a browned, crusty loaf. But the process doesn’t end here; there’s cooling and storing (7). Most breads must cool fully before you slice and eat them so that the crumb sets to the perfect texture. And if you don’t eat the loaf the day you make it, there are guidelines for storing it to ensure that it maintains the best texture.

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