A cold, leisurely day is the perfect time to bake a loaf of yeast bread and enjoy the comforting aromas that fill your kitchen. Once you’ve mastered a few basic techniques, yeast breads are easy to prepare at home. Here we provide a step-by-step guide to making yeast breads, from proofing and mixing the dough to shaping it for the oven. Read on, then visit our bread shop to get started.
|Check for activity|
Let the mixture stand for 5 to 10 minutes until bubbling and foamy. If the yeast does not bubble, start over with fresh yeast.
A sponge – typically a mixture of flour, liquid and yeast – adds a deeper flavor and better texture to finished bread.
|Add flour to the proofed yeast|
To make a sponge, first proof the yeast in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour and any other ingredients called for in the recipe and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth.
|Cover and let the sponge stand|
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand for at least 3 hours at cool room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator, or according to your recipe.
|Bring sponge to room temperature|
When the sponge is ready it will have risen, be bubbly and have a slightly sour or fermented smell. If the sponge has been refrigerated, bring it to room temperature for 1 hour before finishing the dough.
Check on the sponge periodically during proofing. If it doesn’t look bubbly or smell sour, discard it and start again with fresh ingredients.
You can mix and knead bread dough by hand, or you can save time by using a stand mixer. To work by hand, follow the steps below.
|Add flour to the sponge|
Make a sponge and let stand for at least 3 hours or according to your recipe. Add the flour, then the salt to the sponge. If the salt comes in direct contact with the yeast, it can deactivate it.
|Stir together the dough|
Using a wooden spoon or your hands, stir the dough until it forms a rough mass. Using a plastic pastry scraper, scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Invert the bowl over the dough and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
|Knead the dough|
Uncover the dough and knead it by using the heel of one hand to push the dough away from you and then pull it back with your fingertips. Turn and repeat until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes.
|Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl|
Form the dough into a ball, transfer to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
If working with a machine, follow these steps for mixing and kneading:
|Add the ingredients to a mixer|
Fit a stand mixer with the hook attachment. Transfer the sponge, if using, to the bowl of the stand mixer. Then, add the flour and any other ingredients called for in the recipe.
|Knead the dough|
Turn the mixer on low speed and knead, adding flour as necessary, until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Continue kneading until smooth and elastic, 5 to 7 minutes.
|Transfer to a floured work surface|
Remove the bowl from the mixer and use your hand or a spatula to ease the dough onto a floured work surface
|Let the dough rise|
Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk. This can take 1 to 2 hours or more, depending on the temperature of the room.
|Punch down the dough|
Punching down the dough releases gases that have built up during rising. Simply press down on the dough a few times with your fist until it has lost most of its air. Then, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.
|Divide the dough|
If your recipe calls for dividing the dough into portions, use a bench scraper or a sharp knife to cut it. You can cover the portions of dough you aren’t using with a damp kitchen towel so they won’t dry out.
|Shape the dough|
Working with one portion at a time, shape the dough as specified in your recipe. Here, we show the beginning stages of shaping the dough into a baguette. Transfer the finished shaped dough onto a baking pan sprinkled with cornmeal.
Slashing the dough, or cutting slits in it, allows the carbon dioxide and steam that build up during baking to be released.
|Angle the knife blade|
Hold the knife blade at a shallow angle (about 45 degrees) so that you slit under the surface of the dough, rather than cut too deeply.
|Slash the dough|
Keeping the knife at an angle, make 2 to 5 slits depending on the shape of your dough, or according to your recipe