To carry out a robust fermentation, yeast requires a warm temperature (about 75 o) to grow and produce carbon dioxide which causes the dough to rise and the characteristic flavor and aroma compounds in home baked bread. Cooler room temperatures result in longer proof times. Temperature is more important than time when it comes to proofing. If finding a warm spot in the kitchen is a challenge for you, check out the tips below for proofing suggestions. Each method will result in different proofing times, so observation is more critical than timing.
In the Oven:
After mixing the dough in the PrepPal™, place it in the oven. Boil 3 – 4 cups of water in a 4-cup glass measuring cup and place in the oven with the PrepPal™. Close the oven door. DO NOT TURN ON THE OVEN. The heat and steam from the hot water provides ideal conditions for proofing. Turn on oven light and check every 30 minutes until dough doubles in volume. This is the most reliable and consistent method for proofing bread dough.
Some Creative Suggestions from Actual Wild About Bread™ Bakers:
- In the oven with only the oven light turned on.
- A sunny spot on the kitchen counter.
- Outside, if temperature is at least 75 o.
- The top of a refrigerator.
- In front of a fireplace.
- Near a space heater.
The texture, thickness and crispness of the crust on a loaf of home baked bread can be altered using various methods outlined below.
Moisture in the oven is the best way to create a crispier crust and steam is the best way to create that moisture. Here are some ways to create steam in an oven. Caution: Use oven mitts and keep face and arms out of the way of billowing steam. Do NOT use a glass pan.
Boiling Water or Ice Cube Method:
Preheat oven to desired temperature as specified in the recipe. Place a 9” x 13” METAL pan on the bottom rack of the oven while oven is preheating. Place dough into oven. Pour 4 cups of boiling water or 4 cups of ice cubes into the metal pan and close over door.
Hot Rocks Method:
Fill a 9” x 13” x 2” METAL pan with a single layer of small rocks. Make sure the rocks have been washed well and any foreign debris picked out. Place metal pan of rocks on the floor of the oven while preheating oven to desired temperature as specified in the recipe. Using oven mitts carefully pour boiling water into the pan just covering the rocks. Place dough into oven and close oven door.
Salt Solution Method:
Mix 1 teaspoon of salt with ½ cup warm water and whisk to dissolve salt. Preheat oven to desired temperature as specified in the recipe and place dough in oven. Halfway through the baking time, brush a portion of the salt mixture evenly over the dough. Repeat step again about three-fourths of the way through the bake time.
For a soft crust, brush dough evenly with melted butter or whole milk immediately before placing in the preheated oven. Brush again with either melted butter or milk while bread is on the cooling rack.
For a more golden color crust, whip one egg or egg white with 1 tablespoon of cold water until frothy and brush evenly over the dough immediately prior to baking.
ALTERNATIVE BAKING INSTRUCTIONS
HIGH ALTITUDE BREAD BAKING
At higher altitudes, flour tends to be drier and bread dough rises higher and faster than at sea level because the air pressure is lower at higher altitudes. Therefore, at altitudes higher than 5,000 feet, add an additional 1 – 2 tablespoons of water to the PrepPal™ before mixing. Check frequently during the proofing step as dough will rise more quickly. If dough over-rises, the results might be a heavy dry loaf or collapsed loaf. Therefore, if dough rises beyond the doubling stage, deflate slightly by pushing down gently on the dough with a spatula, and allow to rise a second time before baking. Oven temperatures may need to be increased 10 to 15o. Check doneness a few minutes before the minimum recommended baking time and tent with foil if it is browning too quickly.
Add 1 1/3 cup water to the bread machine followed by one bag of Wild About Bread™ mix. Sprinkle the contents of one yeast packet on top of the bread mix. Follow instructions for the bread machine for selecting crust texture and other options.
MIXING BREAD WITHOUT A PrepPal™
In a 10 cup mixing bowl, add 1 1/3 cup warm (90 – 105 o) tap water. Sprinkle the entire contents of one yeast packet onto the water and stir gently with a fork or whisk to disrupt any lumps. Add the contents of one bread mix package and stir by hand with a large spoon or an electric mixer until all of the flour is incorporated into the dough. Grease a clean bowl with cooking oil (e.g., vegetable or olive) or pan release spray. Transfer the dough ball into the greased bowl and flip it over and roll it around into a ball that is completely covered with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean cloth to keep out any drafts and prevent a dry crust from forming on the dough. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place until dough has doubled in volume. At this point, dough ball can be transferred to a floured surface, kneaded, and shaped according to recipe directions.
PREP AHEAD AND BAKE LATER
Dough can be held during the proofing process from 2 – 24 hours, allowing tremendous flexibility with regard to bake time. You can allow the bread to rise overnight and enjoy fresh-baked bread in the morning or for dinner that evening. If you need more time, proofed dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Just be sure the dough warms up to room temperature prior to baking.
You can also freeze the dough after the first proof. Scrape the proofed dough onto a floured surface and knead gently. Shape into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze. Take out of the freezer, remove plastic wrap and allow to warm up to room temperature before shaping. Cover with a clean cloth and allow dough to double in size before baking.
Kneading dough for a few or up to 10 minutes may be called for in some of our more adventurous recipes. Kneading is a process of folding and stretching the dough which provides strength and structure to the dough (see video). Wheat flour contains two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, which combine during the kneading process to form gluten. The strands of gluten create a matrix to trap gas released by the yeast and creates a springy and elastic dough which can be shaped into many different bread forms. The gluten structure traps gas during proofing providing a more open structure and less dense bread. Sprinkle just enough flour over your work surface so that it is easy to handle the dough while kneading and shaping. Use flour sparingly on your work surface as well as your hands! Oiling your hands with a little olive or vegetable oil may help when working with sticky dough. A perfectly kneaded dough springs back when poked with your finger and will feel soft and silky in texture.
ADDING “IMPROVERS” TO DOUGH
Addition to yeast dough are often called “improvers” or particulates added for increased flavor. Ingredients such as raisins, dried fruit, chocolate chips, dates and nuts should be limited to ½ cup and mixed into the bread mix (not water) prior to adding to the water and yeast mixture in the PrepPal™. A little additional flour can be used to dust fruits first to prevent them from sticking together.
Ingredients such as fresh or dried herbs should be added to the water/yeast mixture prior to adding the dry bread mix. Use 1 tablespoon of dried herbs or 3 – 4 tablespoons of freshly chopped herbs. Quantities may vary by recipe, especially when more than one improver is specified.
OPENING OVEN DOORS TOO FREQUENTLY
Opening oven doors too frequently may cause burning of baked items. Opening to check the color for example could result in as much as a 100 o drop, causing the heating units to ‘heat back up hard’ to temperature. Limit the number of times and length of time you open oven doors. Our preference is to open ovens one time at most.
KEEPING BREAD FRESH
Once baked, the shelf life of preservative-free Wild About Bread™ stored at room temperature is two to three days. In our experience, most is consumed before it even completely cools, but if you have leftovers, wrap it tightly in tin foil in a cool, dry place. Avoid storing leftover bread in plastic wrap as it prevents the bread from breathing, traps in moisture and encourages mold spores to propagate faster. Never store bread in the refrigerator which causes bread to stale faster than room temperature. Bread boxes are another option. The best way to prolong the life of your bread is to keep it in the freezer. Wrap the loaf tightly in plastic wrap, then wrap it again in foil or freezer paper to prevent freezer burn and ice crystals. Label with the date and freeze up to six months. Tip: Slicing if first or cutting into big chunks, allows you to remove portions as necessary. Remove the plastic when defrosting, so the moistures doesn’t leach on to your bread. You can stick it directly in an oven or toaster for warm, fragrant bread that looks and tastes as good as fresh baked.
WAYS TO USE LEFTOVER BREAD
Looking for ways to make use of leftover bread? Slices of French Bread or Split Top Butter Loaf make excellent French Toast. Cut into chunks for an easy French Toast Casserole, coated with a creamy custard spiced with Grand Marnier. Toss in a food processor for a batch of all-purpose toasted bread crumbs. Cube, flavor with olive oil and your favorite spices and toast in the oven for flavorful croutons to add to soup or salads. Cut hamburger buns in half, add shredded cheese and bacon and broil for a tasty lunch. Add body to a brothy soup by adding a few chunks of stale bread or puree soups with bread to make them creamy without using actual cream. Grind stale bread, soak in milk and add as a binder for meatloaf and meatballs. Make bread the star with sweet or savory bread puddings. See RECIPES for easy instructions.