Cooking Tips · Techniques

Improve your bread baking

Are you an avid bread baker? Are you always looking for ways to improve your bread baking? Are you willing to do some simple math? If so, this Cooking Tip is for you. For the rest of you, hang in there and next week’s Tip may be just what you are looking for.

If you bake much bread, you know that temperature matters. Recipes will often give you a general guideline for the temperature of the water. The recipe may list an actual number or may just say something like “lukewarm”. Expert bread makers know that there is an ideal temperature for the bread dough and how to get to that temperature.

The temperature of your ingredients (flour, water) as well as your room temperature will affect the final dough temperature. Another factor is what is known as the “friction factor”. That is how much the temperature of your dough increases during mixing and kneading. This can actually be measured but for the purposes of this tip, we will approximate it. (If you want the technique for measuring it, email me.)

For most wheat-based yeast dough, you want to aim for a final dough temperature of 75-78°. Multiply this temperature by 3. From that number, subtract your room temperature, your flour temperature & the friction factor. If you use a stand mixer to mix/knead your dough, estimate the friction factor of 22-24°. If mixing by hand, use 6-8°. When you subtract those three figures, you end up with your desired water temperature.

Let’s look at an example. Say you want a final dough temperate of 78°. For this example, we will presume your room temperature is 71°, your flour temperature is 72° and your friction factor is 22.

Here’s your formula:

78 X 3 = 234
234 – 71 – 72 – 22 = 69°.
This is what you want your water temperature to be.

A couple of caveats. First, there is a different formula if you are using a preferment, such as sourdough. If you are interested in that, email me. Also, it is best for this to use instant yeast, which will still activate in cool water. However, stir your yeast into the flour and do not add it directly to water under 70°. That is another great thing about instant yeast – there is no need to proof it. Just mix it in with your flour and you are good to go.

What difference in your final bread does this make? Well, with a consistent dough temperature, you will get consistent bread results despite varying room temperatures from day to day or season to season. Also, your bread will end up with the best rise, a great crumb structure and wonderful taste.

Try it and see what you think. Just be sure to share some of that yummy homemade bread with me!