Simple Bread Baking Questions Answered

Bread baking is both deceptively simple. It’s just water, flour, salt, and yeast, after all. But also deceptively complex to master. Here are all the simple bread baking questions I’ve had as I learned more and gained more experience in baking good bread in a home oven.

Let’s get started, bread baking answers and better home baked bread awaits.

 

What is bread flour?

Bread flour is actually a very close cousin of all-purpose flour. The one big difference is that bread flour has more protein. More protein makes the gluten stronger and allows the bread to hold its shape.

 

Why is my bread so dense?

This is actually not usually a simple answer. In fact, I have an entire post about it, but the bottom line is that the dough didn’t hold enough gas from the yeast (or the yeast didn’t actually make enough gas to start). The other big variable is temperature. If your kitchen or proofing area is a little too warm than it’s likely the bread sat for too long. If it’s too cool, than the dough might be a little under-proofed (didn’t sit long enough).

 

Why is my bread gooey inside?

Two reasons for this. First, you have to let it cool. The loaf is still baking internally when you take it out of the oven. Let it cool completely. If you did that and it’s still damp and gooey inside than it is probably underbaked. Go for a bold bake. You want a nice dark brown crust.

 

What is a pre-ferment?

A pre-ferment is the small initial starter mix of water, flour, and yeast. Think of it as a fermentation and flavor kickstarter that you then can add to your full dough the following day.

 

Is the water temperature really that important?

In short, yes. If the water is too hot (> 130 degrees) it might kill the yeast. Too cold and you won’t kill the yeast but it will take longer for the yeast to ferment and do an initial rise. That might be okay if you are doing a cold, multi-day ferment but if you are following a same-day recipe and use cold water it is unlikely your dough will be ready. Baking is a science and if you want your bread to come out consistently, you need to track and follow the recipe.

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What’s the difference between weight and volume in baking?

If you enjoy baking and want your baked goods to come with a consistent quality then buy a digital scale (doesn’t have to be expensive and I like the ones with pull out displays). It will make a huge difference and take out a lot of the variables when you need to troubleshoot what went wrong. Baking by weight is much more accurate. While you’re at it, get a digital thermometer, too.

 

If I could provide one tip for beginning or novice bread bakers it would be to plan ahead. So many people want fresh bread in an afternoon. While that’s possible, it won’t be very good bread so plan ahead. Spend 10 minutes mixing the dough today and bake better bread for dinner tomorrow. Or better yet the next day!

 

How do I know if my starter is ready?

The answer is sort of like asking if that fish in your refrigerator is okay to eat. It should smell right, in a good way, not gross. It should be active and alive and giving off a sharp sour, slightly alcoholic smell. It should not be a super-strong smell.

 

What are baker’s percentages?

It’s baking math but don’t be scared! baker’s math. In baker’s percentage, each ingredient in a formula is expressed as a percentage of the flour weight and the flour weight is always expressed as 100%. The biggest reason to write a recipe this way is that it allows the recipe to be scaled very easily.

MIKE'S WINDOW