For years I struggled to bake bread. The terms and definitions used in the recipes I would follow seemed straight-forward. “Smooth” and “no longer sticky” haunted me. I also read in magazines that the room temperatures and humidity could affect my bread making performance.
Mom grew up with a mother who baked beautiful loaves of white bread every week. According to legend, Grannie’s bread could make a cloud look heavy. It was light, fluffy and perfect every time. I failed.
I’ve learned in the last several years that part of my problem was failure to understand the bread making definitions and believing many myths. Bread making is not rocket science; it can change from day to day and with weather – literally.
Bread Making Phrases and Definitions:
“Add enough flour until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl”
It is impossible for your dough bowl to be “clean”. What this means is that the bread dough is more interested in sticking to itself than to the bowl or your hand. If you are using a stand mixer, there will be a bit of residue on the sides of the bowl.
“Knead until the dough is no longer sticky”
I always thought this meant “dry”. Think of a Post-It note. It will stick to anything for awhile but always pulls away. When you are kneading bread dough, as you pull your hand away it will feel tacky but not bone-dry. If it’s bone dry, you’ve added too much flour.
“Knead until smooth”
The best explanation I found for this was while perusing the forums of The Fresh Loaf several years ago. An experienced home bread baker described the dough as looking like cellulite – including pictures! It was the turning point: a tacky surface with dimples such as on the back of my thighs was easy to imagine. Bread making success soon followed.
Bread Making Myths Exposed:
“Bread will not rise if there is a draft”
My rising rack sits right beside my kitchen window. While I generally have it closed during the heat of the summer, during the spring and fall I keep it open, cover the rising bread with a flour-sack towel and let it grow. I have found that the cooler temperatures do slow the rising process, letting the bread develop a better flavor.
“Measure the ingredients exactly”
This statement is almost correct – with the exception of flour. On any given day the amount of flour necessary can change. The humidity or a slightly-off liquid measurement can change the amount of flour you need to successfully make bread.
“You can’t bake bread when it’s raining”
I actually have a lot of success when I’m baking bread during a rain or when storms are threatening. A lower barometric pressure allows the bread to rise easier. With experience, you learn how bread dough should “feel” when it has enough flour. Some adjustments may be necessary but a rainy day is a perfect time to bake bread.
“Bread making takes a long time”
Making use of a stand mixer and instant yeast, it is possible to have fresh bread in about two hours, with only 15 minutes of actual “work”.
Source: I’ve been a professional bread maker since 2007