Ten commandments of bread baking

With over 40 years’ baking experience, you pick up some things along the way, and today I am happy to share with you my top 10 tips for baking bread.

dough kneading (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
dough kneading
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
1. It doesn’t matter which yeast you use
All bakers yeast is the same strain of yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it is just processed in different ways. The fermenting yeast foam is scooped off the top of the vat and compressed into cubes or granulated into fresh granulated yeast, or dried and covered with a protective layer for instant dried powdered yeast. They all work very similarly in the dough. As long as you keep all yeast in the fridge (not freezer) and the yeast is still viable, it does not matter which type you use and you do not need to make conversions for different types. To check viability, add some yeast to a cup of warm sugar water and see if it froths up.
2. Warm your water
Lukewarm water is not warm enough. If you want your bread to rise well use water that is a little hotter than lukewarm. It should not be scalding hot. If you scald your finger, it is too hot and it will kill the yeast cells.
3. Knead longer
I don’t know if our grandparents just had more patience or were physically stronger than us, but most people today do not knead the dough long enough. The longer you knead the higher your bread will rise and be lighter in texture. You should be kneading the dough for at least 10 minutes (by hand) or 8 minutes on medium speed (machine). Flatten the dough with the palm of your hand and fold in half. Repeat for 10 minutes or more.
4. Don’t add too much flour to the dough while kneading
It is OK if the dough is sticky! Many people deluge the dough with too much extra flour while kneading and upset the balance between flour and water in the dough, making it heavy and dense. If you cannot work the dough because it is too sticky, the rule is flour the hands, not the dough!
5. Separate halla from the dough
Even if you are not religious, you should separate a portion (a small handful) of dough from the main dough, wrap in it foil and burn it in the oven during/after your bake. The sages attributed mystical protective powers to this commandment. God looks after His own!
6. Cover dough while rising
It is a good habit to follow, whatever the humidity level. Best to use plastic cling wrap, but a moist cloth will work just as well. Leave to rise in a warm place away from cold drafts.
7. Prod your bread before baking
With your finger, lightly prod the surface of the bread before putting it in the oven to bake. If the indentation springs back completely and leaves no trace you should let your bread rise longer. If the indentation doesn’t spring back at all, the bread is over-risen and will flop during baking – better luck next time. If it partially springs back it is the right time to bake the bread.
8. The baking temperature in the recipe is not written in stone
Everyone’s oven is different and you need to learn your own oven. If your breads come out anemic-looking, bake at slightly higher temperature. If the breads are overdone on the outside but still raw inside, reduce the temperature and bake for longer.
9. Don’t eat bread hot, straight out of the oven
However tempting it may be to grab and eat bread straight from the oven, let it cool somewhat before eating. This gives the bread crumb time to solidify and the eating experience will be enhanced if you eat the bread when warm, but not hot.
10. Cool bread on wire or perforated rack/tray
After baking, when bread cools, water migrates from inside outwards. If there is insufficient ventilation around the bread, water will pool in that area and the crust will get soggy.
The writer, a master baker originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, lives in Karnei Shomron with his wife Sheryl and four children. He is CEO of the Saidel Artisan Baking Institute (www.saidels.com), that specializes in training and education in the field of organic, healthy, artisan baking and the inventor of Rambam Bread. He also lectures and works as a consultant in the fields of cereal chemistry, health, nutrition and authentic Jewish bread