All About Bread

Standard Ingredients

Flour

AP Flour (All Purpose Flour) - While I usually use bread flour in my breads, all purpose flour can be substituted in many recipes. AP has less gluten than bread flour. Gluten is the protein that forms the webby network that traps the gas bubbles that allow the bread to rise. AP flour might require a little more kneading before it's elastic enough. If you making a bread with a lot of other flours with little or no gluten, I recommend using bread flour or adding gluten to the recipe.

Bread Flour - A higher gluten flour. As far as brands, I use different ones, depending on availability and price.

Semolina - Often used in pastas, I like adding semolina to my white bread recipes. I like the depth of flavor it adds. You can find a coarser-ground flour and a finder-ground that's often labeled durham flour.

White whole wheat - a lighter colored wheat than standard red wheat, it gives baked goods a lighter color and a less bitter flavor than red wheat.

Protein Content in flour sold in the US varies by manufacturer, and sometimes by region. In general, cake flour has 6-8% protein; pastry flour has 8-10%; all purpose flour has 10-12%, bread flour has 12-14%, and first clear flour has about 15%.

Salt

I use kosher or sea salt for just about everything. Use whatever salt you prefer. I suggest that you don't eliminate the salt from the recipe. Saltless bread tastes dull and flat, but it also helps to regulate the yeast.

Sugars and Other Sweeteners

For most of the breads I bake, there's very little sugar, so you can generally substitute whatever you choose. Obviously, you'll get a little bit of flavor, and maybe some color, if you use anything other than white sugar. But unless there's a lot of the sweetener, it's not going to be a dealbreaker to use something other than what I ask for.

Honey - Honey is a great sweetener for bread, with one small warning. Honey has antisceptic properites, and some honeys can kill yeast. The first time you use a fresh jar of honey, make sure you test it with your yeast. If it proofs, then you shouldn't need to worry about the rest of the jar.

Honey Crystals - I found honey crystals at an Asian market. They're little round balls that taste like honey, but the ingredient list also lists cane sugar.

Honey Powder - Finer than the honey crystals, this is coarser than powdered sugar, but finer than granulated sugar, and tastes like honey. I found this at Savory Spice Shop, but it's probably available elsewhere.

Water and Other Liquids

Water - Unless your water tastes spectacularly bad or it's so highy clorinated that it might kill the yeast, plain old tap water should be fine.

Whey -  in many of the recipes I make, I use whey. The reason I use it is because I have it and I don't want to waste it. The whey is left over from making Greek-style yogurt.  Water is a fine substitute, unless you happen to have whey onhand.

Yeast

Active Dry Yeast - One of the most common forms of yeast you'll find in stores. Active yeast need to be proofed before you use it.

Fresh Yeast - This is often hard to find, but if you happen to see it at a store, it's worth giving it a try. It has a short shelf life, so you should proof it before you use it. It's possible that they yeast you buy at a store is already dead. You can freeze fresh yeast if you buy it in bulk. After freezing, I'd suggest using more than you would have used fresh, since some of the yeast will inevitably die off during the freeze and thaw.

Instant Yeast - This yeast doesn't need to be proofed before adding it to your flour, but you can proof it if you want to. This is what I use most often. I buy yeast in bulk and this seems to be the most versatile.

Wild Yeast - This is the yeast you capture yourself (or you can buy strains of wild yeasts) for making sourdough breads.

Other specialty yeasts - There are some yeasts that are formulated to work better in sweet doughs. If you bake a lot of sweet doughs, it might be worth buying this. SAF Gold Yeast is one example.

For more in-depth information about yeast, see this post.

Optional Ingredients

White bread and whole wheat are fine, but it's fun to play around with additions. I usually don't substite more than half of the white flour with the alternates, because I'm usually not fond of dense breads.

Other Grains

I'm always interested in using different grains in my breads. Besides hunting for optional grains at grocery stores, I always check ethnic stores to see if there's anything I haven't tried yet. Most recently I found some interesting malted barleys and other grains at a brewing store.

Other Ingredients

Mashed Potatoes (real or instant) - left over mashed potatoes or instant mashed potatoes are one of my secret ingredients in bread. They make the bread soft and fluffy, which is perfect for dinner rolls. I freeze 1/4 cup scoops of mashed potatoes on a baking sheet, and when they're frozen I put them in a zip-top bag and keep them in the freezer until I need them. The instant mashed potatoes are great to have onhand when I don't have leftovers. I look for a brand that has the fewest ingredients, and I've been lucky enough to find some that are nothing more than dried potatoes.

But how do all these ingredients affect the dough?
I've compiled this list from a variety of sources in books and online.

Ash content (minerals in the flour) - The percentage of minerals in flour changes the way the dough reacts. European flours are labeled by ash content, while American flours are labeled by the amount of gluten. Higher ash means stronger dough and more food for the yeast.

Ascorbic acid (vitamin c) – Strengthens the gluten. Dough can be baked at a higher proof level.

Baking powder - Some breads include this as a secondary leavening agent.

Beer - Creates a supple dough.

Beet water - Colors the dough; bread will be a rosy color.

Butter, oil – Lubricates the gluten and increases loaf volume. Bread will have a softer crumb and crust, and a longer shelf life.

You get a better gluten development if the fat is added after the dough has been kneaded. If fat (particularly solid fat) is added to the dough too early, it can coat the flour and keep the gluten from forming.

Too much fat will result in a compact loaf because the fat over-tenderizes the dough and retards yeast.

Buttermilk - The acidity strengthens the dough.

Cinnamon - Increases yeast activity in small amounts; retards yeast in larger amounts.

Cardamom - Increases yeast activity.

Diastatic malt (malted barley flour) - Converts starch to sugar; helps feed yeast. Too much will result in sticky gummy bread, and an overbrowned crust.

Dry mustard - Inhibits yeast activity.

Eggs, whites only - Lighter texture.

Eggs, whole - Enriches dough. Also, dries dough out; egg-rich doughs usually have a lot of sugar, which retains water to counteract the drying effect.

Ginger - Boosts yeast, keeps bread fresher longer, deters mold and bacteria. Just 1/4 teaspoon per loaf is enough to affect the dough without a noticeable flavor.

Gluten - Can be added to non-wheat flours. 1 tablespoon per cup of flour is enough. You don’t want to add too much gluten; it’s not needed in breads that are made primarily of wheat flours.

Gelatin - Helps texture and moisture. 1 teaspoon per loaf is enough.

Garlic - in small amounts, helps the yeast, make dough easier to roll. Acts as a preservative, and deters mold and bacteria.

Honey - More golden crust than sugar, keeps bread moist. Honey has antibacterial properties and retards mold. Some honeys can kill yeast, so it’s wise to proof the yeast with any new jars of honey.

Lecithin - Extends shelf life, preserves flavor. More lecithin softens the crumb; and produces a finer texture and more tender crust. Lecithin is in egg yolks and can be purchased as a powder or granules.

Milk - Strengthens gluten, helps crust brown, softens the crumb. An enzyme in milk slows the growth of the yeast and it can break down the protein in the flour and weaken the dough. Scalding the milk destroys this enzyme.

Milk, dry or powdered - Improves crust browning, adds moisture. Helps the dough to relax.

Non-diastatic malt (barley malt syrup) - Flavor and sweetness only. Does not affect the yeast.

Nutmeg - Increases yeast activity.

Pectin - Adds moistness and can replace fat in bread. 1 teaspoon per loaf is enough.

Potato water - Keeps bread moist.

Salt - Regulates yeast, strengthens and tightens gluten. Too much kills yeast; tight gluten can make dough harder to knead, so some people add the salt after the dough has been kneaded for a while; others think that it’s too hard to distribute the salt if it is added too late.

Sour cream - Acid strengthens dough; fat tenderizes the dough.

Soft cheeses - Adds moisture and flavor.

Sugar - Feeds yeast, holds in moisture, keeps crumb softer, keeps bread fresher. Too much can retard the yeast.

Thyme - Increases yeast activity.

Vinegar - Yeast enhancer in small amount. Retards yeast in large quantities.

Crust Treatments
What you put on top of the loaf makes a difference.

Butter - Soft velvety crust

Cornstarch and water, cooked - Very shiny hard crust.

Dry oven, no water on crust - Soft crust.

Dusted flour - Powdery rustic chewy crust.

Egg and heavy cream - Shiny deep brown crust.

Egg and milk - Shiny medium brown.

Egg white and water - Crisp light brown crust. Good for sticking toppings onto the bread.

Milk and sugar - Soft sweet crust.

Water (sprayed or brushed on the bread, or as steam in the oven) - Crisp crust.

Whole egg and water - Medium-shiny golden crust.

Flour Weights

Depending on how you measure all purpose or bread flour, it can weigh anywhere from 4 to 5 ounces per cup. For my recipes, I've decided that a cup of all purpose or bread flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. However, if it is sifted before measuring, it weighs 4 ounces per cup.

White whole wheat flour, depending on brand, also weighs about 4 1/2 ounces per cup, and I've decided to use that as my standard.

Semolina flour is heavier. I originally used 5 ounces per cup, but after testing several different brands, I've settled on a standard of 5 1/2 ounces per cup.

Rye, whole wheat, and specialty flours vary in texture depending on how coarsely they're ground, which affects the weight. I always weigh and measure them when I'm writing a recipe.

MORE About Weights, Measurements, and Temperature

The most accurate way to measure flour is to weigh it. Unlike white sugar or a jar full of ball bearings, flour can easily be compacted. All you have to do is press down a bit or tap on the container and the flour settles and you can put more into the container. Because of this, a cup of flour might weigh anywhere between 4 and 6 ounces per cup, depending on how you handle it.

Sifted flour - meaning that you sift it into the cup - can weigh 4 ounces per cup because it has a lot of air between the grains of flour. It's very fluffy. But if you really try, you can jam nearly 6 ounces into the cup by pressing down on the flour and tapping the container.

Realistically, no one is going to go to either of those extremes when measuring flour for bread. For some cakes, you do want to sift. For bread, not really. And most people know that they're not supposed to mash down on the flour like it's a cup of brown sugar. So most reasonable measurements fall between the 4 1/4 ounces per cup that King Arthur Flour says is correct, up to the 5 1/2 ounces that Rose Levy Berenbaum says is correct.

There are plenty of authorities in the middle. Both Peter Reinhart and Shirley Corriher say that flour weighs 4 1/2 ounces per cup. The Culinary Institute of America says that all purpose weighs 4.4 ounces per cup and bread flour weighs 4.8 ounces per cup. They, by the way, were the only reference I could find that differentiated between AP and bread flour. The USDA calls 4.83 ounces a cup, and Jeffrey Hamelman uses 4.8 ounces.

Corriher explained that the 4 1/2 ounce weight is average when someone spoons the flour into a cup and then levels it off, and of course other methods will yield different weights. Most of the cookbooks I've seen that discuss the subject suggest that spooning and leveling will be more precise than any other method. It might not be more precise, but it's just about average.

When I decided that I needed to use both weights and cup measures in my recipes, I decided to use 4 1/2 ounces as my standard cup weight. There were three reasons. First, that was pretty close to the average measurement in my kitchen when I tested every possible measuring method. Second, it was just about in the middle of the range for what I found listed in print and online. Third, it was the number endorsed by both Reinhart and Corriher. And last, it was easier to cut 4 1/2 ounces per cup into halves and quarters than if I went with the 4.8 ounces preferred by Hamelman and the USDA.

If you always weigh your flour, it doesn't matter how much a cup weighs... as long as you use recipes that specify weights. But when you're dealing with a recipe that only uses cup measures, you have to decide for yourself how much that cup will weigh, or how you will measure your cup. I've used 4 1/2 ounces per cup in recipes that didn't specify weights, and so far it hasn't let me astray. And that's the last reason why I decided to use the 4 1/2 ounce cup at the standard on Cookistry. If it works for other people's recipes, it's good enough for me.

If you don't weigh your flour and you're concerned about getting the right weight, you'll get close to the 4 1/2 ounces if you spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then level it off. If you make enough bread, you'll learn what a good dough should feel like, so you can adjust by adding more flour or water to get the right consistency.

When I'm making my everyday bread, sometimes I don't bother measuring the flour at all. Blasphemy, right? I start with a known amount of liquid and yeast and add flour until it feels right. Our great-grandmothers didn't weigh and gnash their teeth over ounces and grams, they knew what the bread was supposed to feel like. We can bake like that, too. But it's not an accurate way of sharing recipes, which is what this site is all about. I'd like you to be able to get the same results I do.

My decision about what a standard cup should weigh was working just fine when I was only writing for my own blog, but when I'm writing recipes that other people will publish, sometimes I have to adjust to their rules. Just like I need to adjust comma usage and grammar quirks to other people's writing styles, I also have to comply with other people's guidelines for recipes.

The first time I ran into this issue was when Serious Eats adopted a 5.5-ounce cup for bread flour in September, 2010. The good news is that I start by weighing the flour, so the weights I give are always going to be accurate. And I make every effort to use weights that will convert cleanly into even cup amounts. The problem is that my even cups become uneven on Serious Eats. For example, 9 ounces of flour is 2 cups on Cookistry. But that same 9 ounces is 1.63 cups on Serious Eats. That's going to be a bit...strange.

The reason that Serious Eats is standardizing on the 5.5-ounce cup is that it's the weight people get when they scoop the measuring cup into the flour, and then level it off. It's a valid measurement, and it's the way that a lot of people measure flour. I can't argue with that.

But this leads me to a dilemma. Should I continue using the 4.5-ounce cup as my standard when I create recipes, or should I convert all my future recipes to using the 5.5-ounce cup? Should I develop separate versions of the same bread for both sites? Should I make breads exclusively for Serious Eats using their measurements, and not publish them here?

I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet, but I'm leaning towards keeping the 4.5 ounces as my personal standard when writing recipes. It's what I'm used to, and if I add 2 1/2 ounces of flour to my basic bread dough, I'll have to adjust all of the other ingredients to make the bread work the way I want it to. As far as the rest of the questions, I still haven't answered them for myself.

What Cookistry defines as a cup isn't going to change the nature of the bread-baking universe, but it is important to me that my recipes are accurate and accessible. I like the idea that people will know that a cup of flour in the Cookistry universe always weighs the same amount, no matter when the recipe was posted.

My last reason for choosing the 4 1/2 ounce cup as my standard is probably the most egotistical of all. I'd like to think that if I ever publish a cookbook I'll be in the company of Reinhart and Corriher, in the neighborhood of Hamelman, and not too far from King Arthur flour.

So, if you read my recipes here and at Serious Eats and you see the difference in cup measures, now you know why. If you weigh your flour, you'll have no trouble. If you measure using volume rather than weight, use the dip-and-level method with the Serious Eats recipes. If you're using Cookistry recipes, spoon the flour into the cup, then level it off. That way, you'll be close to the correct weight wherever you read my recipes.

Temperature

Temperature is yet another thing that needs to be measured. Water that's too hot will kill yeast, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about gauging when bread is finished baking.

Ovens are all the same. Some run hot, some run cold. Some vary a lot during the baking process, while others heat in a narrower margin. All that - along with the temperature of the loaf before it hits the oven - csn affect baking time.

One thing to look at is the crust of the bread - whether it's nicely browned or not. And, if you bake bread a lot, you might have noticed that the bread becomes much more fragrant when it's just about done. But the most reliable gauge of whether bread is done or not is checking the temperature, the same way you check a roast or the Thanksgiving turkey.

Just like that meat measure, you want to make sure you’re checking the temperature near the center of the loaf, and make sure you’re testing the dough temperature and not any filling ingredients. Most breads will not come to any great harm if they’re slightly overcooked, but it’s best not to go too far over, if you can help it.

Sweet and enriched breads are done when they reach 190 to 195 degrees.

Standard white loaves are done at 195-200 degrees.

Gluten-free bread’s optimum temperature is 206 degrees.

Whole grain and rye loaves need to cook to 205 to 210 degrees.

Making Bread - Step by Step

When you're making bread, it's important to know what the different stages look like. If you understand the look and feel, you can create your own bread recipes without without worrying much about measurements and timers.

Even if you're working with a recipe, bread doughs behave differently depending on the flour, the ingredient temperatures and the room temperature, among other things. It's better to know what a fully-kneaded or fully-risen dough looks like rather than relying on a recipe that tells you to how long to knead or how long the bread should rise.

So here we go.

Unless you're using an instant yeast that can be added to dry ingredients, you need to proof it. Even with an instant yeast, I usually introduce it to the liquid and some sugar before I add flour.You can see the bubbles around the edges of the bowl. Sometimes I'll put the first cup of flour on top, like this, and wait for the bubbles before I mix in.

Quite often, I'll mix in a cup or so of flour and let that sit until it's bubbling happily like this, before I continue.

Here's the dough as it comes together in the bowl of the Kitchenaid mixer. It's becoming a dough, but it's still very shaggy and rough.

Here, the dough is starting to get nice and smooth. Much different than the previous photo.

Here, you can see how elastic the dough has become. It's pulling without tearing.

Here's the dough in the bottom of the bowl, ready to rise.

Here it is, nicely risen and fluffy.

Deflated. At this point, it can be formed into a loaf, or it can be reshaped into a ball and left for another rise. The second rise is just like the first, but usually it takes less time.

Here's the dough formed into a long loaf. That's cornmeal on the baking sheet.

Here's the loaf, risen.

Most breads need to be slashed so he loaf can expand as much as it needs to during baking. Some days I get creative with patterns. The way the bread is slashed affects the way it rises in the oven.

Here it is, just coming out of the oven.

And that's it.
Cool the loaf completely before cutting, and enjoy.
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