Yeast Bread Techniques
Baking bread is an inexact science. The amount of flour a particular recipe will hold depends on several variables, including human error.
My bread recipes give the flour measurement within a variable range of 1 or 2 cups. Reasons for this variation include temperature, humidity, measurement accuracy, and the brand of flour. All these contribute to the amount of flour a recipe will hold on any given day. There is only one sure way to know how much is enough, and that is by looking and feeling. The dough should be smooth and soft, but not sticky, and not so tough that it’s hard to knead. Reserve the last cup of flour called for in any bread recipe, adding it slowly, a little at a time, as you knead. Let each addition work in completely before you decide to add more. Sometimes the recipe will require more than what is called for, sometimes less. That’s what makes baking so exciting!
Yeast is a living organism that occurs naturally in the air all around us. It was first utilized around 3000 BC for fermentation of beer and wine, and, soon after, harvested to leaven pastes of grain mash. It feeds on carbohydrates, and prefers an environment that is warm and moist. This knowledge lead to the development of yeast starters, which was the only way to make bread until the 20th century. It wasn’t until the invention of the microscope in the mid 1800’s that man figured out yeast was responsible for fermentation. Once isolated, commercial production of yeast began, and revolutionized baking.
Most recipes for bread call for warm water. This is because the higher temperatures encourage the yeast to begin feeding on carbohydrates, and thereby releasing carbon dioxide. The ideal temperature is about 100˚F. The easiest way to judge this temperature is to feel the water. It should feel barely warm, just above your body temperature. Making bread with cold water works too, although the rise will take a bit longer. It is thought that, if time allows, a longer rise is preferable, because more fermentation produces more flavorful bread.