Time to question what cookery book writers are telling you
In July 2020, a group of us held our first Bread Chat on Zoom. We had a lively discussion on yeast and tried to bust some of the myths. Bread Chat now takes place every two months.
We all bake bread in our own way, and certainly don’t agree on everything, but when dubious instructions are spread time and again, we despair. These are bread myths that are passed on again and again without question.
Following a professional breadmaking course as I did in France means you become pragmatic. If you have a lot of bread to bake, you want to do so in the simplest way, using just the right amount of ingredients and of course, ensuring you are maximising your profit. The flavour goes without saying!
We have heard many times when we have queried why certain instructions have been given, “Oh, it is to make it easier for the readers”. Rubbish!
Recipes are checked for accuracy, we hope, but is the method ever questioned? We think not.
Here are some of the worst bread myths. I am sure you’ll have many you’ll want to add. Let’s start the discussion. Let’s pose the question of the recipe writer of why they have asked us to do things in a certain way. Let me know what example you see out there! You may think it unfair that I have focussed on the writers mentioned. Suffice to say, these are just recent examples.
If you’re making bread with yeast, you’ll use either fresh or dried. Instant dried yeast is just that, it’s ready to use straight away. It does not need to be complicated.
You do not need to add water and sugar to fresh yeast and “let it froth” for 15 minutes as requested in Diana Henry’s recent recipes in the Telegraph. You can simply rub the fresh yeast straight into the flour. And what does “let it froth mean”? Equally, instant/fast action dried yeast, is just that.
In a different recipe from Masterchef winner Irini Tzortzoglou, she states “When working with yeast the water used to dissolve it should not be too hot. The pinch of sugar is not for flavour but a ‘feeding agent’ for the yeast”. Fast action yeast does not need sugar nor should it be pre-prepared and what temperature is ‘not too hot’.
What you should do: Add the yeast directly to the flour. There is no need to feed it, froth it or anything else.
Quantity of yeast
You do not need a large quantity of yeast to make your dough rise. We have seen ridiculous amount of yeast in a bread recipe for 500 grams of flour – as much as 30 grams of yeast! All you need to use is between 5 and 10 grams of fresh yeast or around half that of dried yeast 2.5 to 5 grams (it’s quite ok to round it up). If you were baking bread for your business, imagine how much more you’d be spending on yeast each year than you would need to if you used as much as 6 times that needed. The argument from cookery writers has been “home bakers want to see quick results”.
What you should do: Add between 1 and 1.5% of fresh yeast or 0.5% and 0.75% of dried yeast to your recipe. Eg for 1 kilo of flour it would be between 10 and 15 grams of fresh yeast, 5 and 7.5% (round up to 8 g) dried yeast.
I have some bread proving in the fridge at the moment. I did not need to ‘put it in a warm place to prove’ as instructions might say or put it in the airing cupboard. Nor do I need to turn my oven into a prover by turning the heat on for a short time, then turning it off.
The key is to get your dough to the right temperature when you knead it. It should be between 24 and 26°C when you have finished kneading. How do you achieve this? By starting with water at the right temperature. I’ve a separate article on water temperature, but essentially, add the temperature of the room (in centigrade) to the temperature of the flour and take away from 60 (the base temperature). So, if you are somewhere hot, your water is going to need to be very cold. If you are somewhere very cold, it will need to be pretty warm.
In the recipe below, for Ooni pizza, 100°C water is added to 20°C tap water. I’d suggest that is a very easy way to kill the yeast!
As I kneaded my dough to 25°C, I was able to put it in the fridge. I can even leave it overnight and it will still make great bread.
What you should do: Check the formula above and use water at the correct temperature in your dough. This works for both yeasted and breads with sourdough.
How do you know when your dough has proved sufficiently? Proving is when you rest the dough before shaping. Many instructions say wait until it has “doubled in size”. Can you imagine the average baker looking at 10s of loaves and gauging if they have doubled? And some dough such as wholemeal, does not inflate as much as others. Bakers will know how long they need to leave the dough after mixing to between 24 and 26°C, typically an hour to an hour and a half (for yeasted dough). They’ll factor that into their baking schedule.
What you should do: Each time you make a loaf, make notes on how long you left it and what the result was. It’s been very hot recently, so the bread has proved more quickly than usual.
Picture this, you’ve kneaded the dough, you’ve let it prove for the right amount of time, it has risen nicely.
If you follow the cookery writer’s instructions, you will get rid of all that lovely air right by ‘knocking back’. This supposedly redistributes all the bubbles in the dough for a smoother result.
There is no need to do this, gently shape your bread, keeping the air in before you let it rise for a second time. As Richard Bertinet says in his book Dough “I find people in Britain are taught to knock back the dough to take the air out of it once it has rested. I hate that term – it suggests you need to bash the dough to bits, but you should be much more gentle with it.”
What you should do: Treat your dough with respect, shape gently, never knock all the air out.
Are there any other breadmaking myths you’d like to me to bust? Let me know.