The anatomy of baking

These are the “secret” processes that occur in your oven as bread bakes. If your preparations are exemplary, the finale of the process will be a resounding success.

The anatomy of baking (photo credit: Courtesy)
The anatomy of baking
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We call someone who makes bread a baker. It is an interesting term for the profession because the stage of baking is only the final one in a multiple series of preparations. Ingredients must be mixed, kneaded, shaped, left to rise and only then baked. The fact that we do not call this individual a mixer or a kneader but a baker seems to lend extra significance to this final stage.
In fact, the final stage of baking in the oven is the pinnacle of the entire process.
It is like an athlete who, after months of training, launches from the starting line or a singer who, after weeks of rehearsals, finally steps out on stage. This is the arena where everything comes together. Any mistakes made in the preparation stages will manifest themselves here for all to see; and if everything was correctly prepared, it will result in an encore.
This being so, it is surprising how few people actually know what happens during the final stage of bread preparation – baking in the oven. I will attempt to explore here the little-known secrets of the baking process and thus shed some light on the preceding steps of bread preparation.
During the first five to 10 minutes of baking, the increased temperature causes yeast cells in the dough to go into a metabolic and reproductive frenzy, producing the addition of CO2 gas. This is what is known as “oven kick” or “oven spring” and is visible as a swelling of the bread in the oven.
If your dough has insufficiently risen when it is inserted in the oven, this oven kick will be reduced, resulting in dense and heavy bread. If your dough has over-risen, the oven kick will push it beyond its elasticity threshold, and it will no longer be able to hold its shape and collapse.
It is imperative that bread be baked close to the equilibrium point between over and under rising (more information on this at Rise-to-new-heights-322485).
When the temperature of the bread reaches 50°, the yeast cells begin to die and the water-logged starch granules in the flour swell, finally exploding at 60°, releasing complex chains of starch that form the final matrix of the bread’s crumb. This process is called gelatinization At 65°, all yeast in the dough is now dead; however, the CO2 gas bubbles created during fermentation continue to expand from the heat, and the bread expands further.
Until this point, it is important that the outer skin of the dough remain moist and flexible and not dry out or the expansion described above will be retarded or, in the extreme case, stopped altogether. Another anomaly of dried crust (or insufficiently risen dough) is that the expanding inner dough may explode through the drying outer, crust resulting in unsightly cracks in the bread.
When 74° has been reached, the gelatinizing starch and gluten protein begins to solidify, similar to frying an egg. At this point, the final loaf volume has been reached, and it will expand no further.
At 100°, the moisture on the surface begins to vaporize, and the crust begins to form.
As the crust approaches 140°, the sugars in the dough begin to caramelize, and the crust begins to darken in color, undergoing a process called the Maillard reaction. In addition to giving bread its attractive color, it contributes greatly to the flavor.
When the center of the bread reaches 94°, the bread is fully baked. This can be checked with an insertion thermometer or by tapping the underside of the loaf. If you hear a hollow sound, the bread is fully baked.
Bread hot out of the oven is often a fragile creature and must be handled with care until it cools or else it may collapse.
These are the “secret” processes that occur in your oven as bread bakes. If your preparations are exemplary, the finale of the process will be a resounding success.
(Ciabatta [pronounced cha-batta] means “slipper” in Italian, the shape of the bread)
✔ 1 cup sourdough culture (see Grain-Sourdough-for-dummies-317813)
✔ 1¼ cups flour
✔ ½ cup water
✔ 1½ tsp salt
✔ ½ tsp. instant powdered yeast
✔ 1 Tbsp. oil Mix and knead dough for 8 minutes.
Dough is very wet and sticky. Leave to rise for 3 hours, punching down and folding dough each hour. With well-floured hands, shape into flat rectangular shape on a baking tray. Leave to rise again for 45 minutes.
Bake at 240° for 35 minutes.
Master baker Les Saidel, originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Ginot Shomron with his wife, Sheryl, and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (, a specialist in the art of baking handcrafted, organic, healthy, artisan breads and confectionery and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health and nutrition.