Essential Bread Baking Terms and Tips Uncovered

As I’ve discovered, understanding how to read a bread recipe can be a daunting task, but if you understand basic bread terminology and process it can be much easier.

Below is a list of the basic steps taken when baking bread.

  1. Scaling –Measure out the ingredients.
  2. Mixing – Creating a dough from the ingredients you scaled. This is done by using either the straight dough (one-step mixing method) or the sponge (two-step mixing method) methods.
  3. Fermentation – Allowing the mixed dough to rise. You usually allow the dough to double in bulk at room temperature. At this point, the yeast in your recipe is feeding on the dough, which is what is making the dough rise. Do not do this above room temperature or the yeast will become too active resulting in less flavorful dough.
  4. Deflation – Punching the dough down and removing the gases formed in the dough before shaping. You want to ease the gases out of the dough before you shape it or the dough can become misshapen in the oven. Depending on the recipe, sometimes fermentation and deflation happen multiple times before the dough is ready.
  5. Retarding – Refrigerating the dough, or sponge, so that it ferments slowly. This will increase the flavor in your dough.
  6. Dividing – Cutting the dough into the number of pieces you need.
  7. Rounding – Shaping the dough into balls so that each piece has a smooth outer skin, which will become the crust. At this point, it doesn’t matter what final shape loaf or roll you’re looking for, all bread should be rounded into a ball. Later you will shape it into the proper shape. This will also agitate the gluten in the dough which is why you’ll need to do the next step, bench proofing.
  8. Bench Proofing – Allowing the rounded pieces of dough to rest, which will relax the dough and allow it to be more pliable.
  9. Shaping – Forming the rounded, proofed dough into the correct shape.
  10. Panning – Putting the washed product into the appropriate pan, many times a banneton is used at this point for rounded loaves.
  11. Proofing – The final fermentation before baking. Usually this takes place in a proofer, but at home it is sufficient to cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Proofing is done to activate the yeast again before baking.
  12. Washing – Brushing the shaped product with egg wash, or another liquid.  When bread bakes it will rise and expand. If you want ultimate control over what the bread will look like after it rises, you’ll need to slit it before it goes in the oven. If you slit the bread at a 45-degree angle, you will wind up with a crust slit, if you slit it at a 90-degree angle you will wind up with a soft slit. If you are going to slit your bread, you should do so before applying the wash.
  13. Baking – When bread bakes, there are 2 distinct types of rising that occur. Initially, you will see the goods dramatically increase in volume – this is due to the air bubbles formed during fermentation and proofing expand.  Also, yeast dies at 140-150 degrees, so before the internal temperature of the goods reach 150 degrees, the yeast will continue to ferment which will cause another increase in volume. These two types of rising together is known as oven spring.

Now that all the terms are out of the way, here are some great bread baking tips:

  1. To determine if the bread is done, you can tap on the bottom of the good and see if it sounds hollow. If so, the good is done – if not, keep on baking.
  2. Once the good is out of the oven it should be cooled completely at room temperature and should be stored in plastic and frozen. Crusty breads can be stored at room temperature during the day they are baked because the crust will prevent the bread from going stale for a bit. Croissants, brioches, and other delicate goods can only be kept at room temperature for a shore time, for longer storage they should be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated or frozen.
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