Ed. note: Irene Shover, our newest blogger, is a former home economics teacher, and now a member of our King Arthur baking resource team. Welcome, Irene!
When I was 12 years old, my aunt's house held two things that piqued my curiosity... a bowl of yeast bread dough rising on the kitchen counter, and a copy of Peyton Place on the living room bookshelf.
Auntie was all too willing to share that yeast bread recipe; but I swear she and Mom conspired to catch me every time my fingers touched the cover of Grace Metalious' novel.
Blame it on the evening soap opera version of the book - that heartthrob Ryan O'Neil, or that waif Mia Farrow. Wouldn't you be curious that as soon as the music started, it was my bedtime?
Added to the mystery were the conversations Mom and her sister had in their Canadian French! Were there secrets about making yeast bread that were too sensitive for early adolescent ears – or were they discussing the Peyton Place topics of our time?
After visiting Auntie's house, yeast bread became my new obsession - another skill to add to the domestic sciences. Even when Joe Sinibaldi, the Pepperidge Farm delivery man, came to our house with treats, I'd try to figure out why my homemade loaves and rolls were not at all the same as those thin slices of bread - either the crust, or the interior texture.
Inspired by a pamphlet whose cover featured lions, alligators, and even a woven basket of bread holding yeast rolls, I learned to make bread the old-school way - active dry yeast, kneading by hand, punching down the dough, listening for the hollow thump of readiness.
Now that I've completed my career teaching home economics, and have joined the King Arthur Flour team, I'd like to share with you the new-school methods of yeast-bread making.
Products like instant yeast, a variety of flours, and King Arthur Flour techniques have brought yeast bread success to home cooks, and to those who are striving to live an old-school life in this new-school world.
Let's take the recipe for Back-of-the-Bag Oatmeal Bread and see how the old-school traditions have met the new-school techniques.
Every baking adventure starts with a recipe. We're proud to say our test kitchen takes all the guesswork out of recipes before they hit our Web site or cookbooks. This recipe for Back-of-the-Bag Oatmeal Bread is straightforward - it uses ingredients you probably have in your pantry, and the easiest method of mixing – one bowl, which means measure all ingredients into the bowl, then mix!
Old school - active dry yeast.
This yeast needs to be proofed or dissolved before using. The process takes 10 to 15 minutes to produce the bubbly liquid you'll use in the recipe. Some recipes refer to this as making a sponge.
New school - instant yeast.
No proofing required! Add it right along with the dry ingredients. It's a time saver.
The one-bowl method of mixing is great for beginning bread bakers. Dump all the ingredients in (we suggest you place the ingredients around the top of the flour instead of atop each other). You can see the oatmeal, butter, honey, and yeast on top of the bread flour while we pour on the lukewarm milk.
In home baking, liquid is the constant; home bakers reserve some of the flour for the kneading process. In this case, we started with 2 cups of King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour - reserving the last cup for the kneading process. Whether or not we use all the flour or more than the amount called for in the recipe will depend on what the dough tells us. The finished dough should feel the same as pushing on your cheek with your index finger - soft and supple.
In professional bread baking, the flour is the constant. Professional bakers adjust the liquid along the way while mixing. They may stop before all the liquid is added if the dough is the right consistency; or add more liquid if the dough seems dry.
Mix. Use a spoon or another King Arthur favorite, the Danish dough whisk.
Once the dough has reached the shaggy mass stage, you're ready to knead.
Flour the kneading surface. The new-school method is to “veil” the kneading surface with flour - not dump flour on the surface and hope it all gets kneaded in, or push away the extra. A veiled flour surface is transparent, not opaque!
Kneading - think fold (toward you), push and roll your hands over the top of the dough, then turn the dough 90 degrees. Continue this soothing, rhythmic, stress-reducing process until the dough is soft and supple.
Clean the surface any time the dough sticks to it. Bear in mind that dough sticks to dough, and cleaning it up will prevent a gooey mess and also prevent frustration. Once your surface is dough-free, re-flour it with that veil of flour.
This dough is ready for the bowl. That veil of flour must be pretty important, to stress it once again!
Let the dough rest 1 hour, covered, in a greased bowl.
Old school - cover with a clean kitchen towel and keep free from drafts. I think this draft line is from the days when our homes had wind-holes before they had windows!
New school - cover with plastic wrap or even a shower cap!
After 1 hour, the dough looks like this - expanded, airy, and ready to shape.
New school - use a measuring cup for dough rising. You'll be able to see...
...proof (no pun intended?) that the dough has doubled.
Old school - poke the dough to see if the rising is complete. If this leaves an indentation, the dough is ready to shape. If the hole rebounds, the dough needs more rising time.
New school - press the dough with your fingertip; the dough should bounce back. This is so much kinder and gentler than that poke!
Old school recipes may tell you to “punch down the dough.” While this might be fun for young bakers or the frustrated baker - you'll expel all the carbon dioxide you've worked so hard to develop.
New school - degas the dough. This doesn't mean an art appreciation class – rather, de-gas. Here's a dough we mixed in the bread machine that's ready for its final shaping.
Notice we're using a silicone rolling mat here - more new school!
On a lightly floured surface (yes, still the veil here) press the dough with flat hands to de-gas.
To shape into a loaf, press the dough with a flat hand until it's the same width as your loaf pan.
Fold the dough into thirds...
...think business letter here!
Seal the final fold by pressing it slightly under the newly formed loaf.
Gently place the loaf into the pan.
Gently press it to fill the corners and create a smooth, level top surface.
Old school - cover the loaf with a clean kitchen towel.
New school - cover the loaf with plastic wrap (grease first to prevent the risen loaf from sticking). PJ loves the shower cap idea, and so do we!
After 1 hour, or when the dough has crowned a good inch over the rim of the pan, place the risen loaf in the preheated oven. One inch over the rim of the pan means at the center of the loaf; the edges of the dough may still meet the edges of the pan.
Bake per your recipe directions. The magic of oven spring (heat meets carbon dioxide, which expands to create a risen loaf) always amazes me! Pressing the loaf evenly in the pan before baking still yields a nicely crowned loaf.
If the loaf is browning too quickly, tent with a piece of foil to deflect some of the heat.
Next, we'll test to see if the bread is baked through.
Old school - thump, snap, or tap the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it's done.
New school. Test the bread's internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. 190°F is the minimum for yeast loaves. Our bread is definitely ready to remove from the oven.
To create a soft, shiny crust after the bread is baked, rub with butter. To create a shiny crust before the bread is baked, use egg wash: 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water.
Voilà – a beautiful loaf of bread! Resist the temptation to cut it hot out of the oven. Slicing it now would squish the loaf and squash all your efforts!
New school. Can you use a bread machine? Sure!
Refer to the recipes to see if you should bake the bread in the machine or the traditional way in the oven. One important mixing tip is to check the consistency of the dough. Add flour if the dough is too wet, and liquid if the dough looks too dry.
New school - use a stand mixer! Just don't walk away while the mixer is working its magic. It's important you check the consistency as the dough mixes.
We use the paddle for mixing...
...then switch to the dough hook for kneading.
Another tip is to knead until the dough gathers all the dry bits from the edges of the bowl, then stop. Check for that soft/supple dough consistency. Many of our bakers' hotline calls (802-649-3717) about disastrously wet, soupy yeast doughs are the result of too much mixing with powerful stand mixers.
On the left, bread whose dough was kneaded in a bread machine. On the right, bread from dough kneaded by hand.
If you prefer a lighter, airier bread, and have a bread machine, use the machine to knead your dough before baking in the oven. For a denser loaf, knead by hand.
Whether you prefer the way Grandma (or Auntie) taught you, or the new-school advances in yeast breads, either method will produce a loaf of bread that will fill your home with distinctive aromas and memories. Plus, you'll be making a nutritious treat for your family.
If we've convinced you to try these new-school methods, you can use the extra time you've saved to read a couple of chapters of Peyton Place!
Please bake, rate, and review our recipe for Back-of-the-Bag Oatmeal Bread.