isn?t My Bread Light and Fluffy?
?Why isn?t my bread light and fluffy?? is the
most common question about bread that we receive at The Prepared Pantry.
It?s not often an easy question to answer.
There are five important factors that make the
difference between light, airy bread and a dense flop. None is difficult to
manage?in fact, yeast is quite forgiving?but you?ll be on your way to
troubleshooting your bread if you understand these factors.
Yeast is a living organism. As with any other
living organism, it needs an acceptable environment in which to grow and
multiply. As the yeast grows, it produces carbon dioxide gas that lifts the
dough and creates an airy structure.
There are five factors that affect how fast
yeast will grow.
Factor 1: Temperature
Yeast is extremely sensitive to temperature. Ten degrees difference in the
temperature of the dough profoundly affects the growth rate of yeast.
The temperature where yeast grows best is
around 78 degrees. The temperature of the dough is the result of the temperature
of the water that you use, the flour temperature, and the temperature in your
kitchen. Water that is 110 to 115 degrees mixed with cooler flour is intended to
create a dough temperature close to this 78 degrees. In a bread machine, we use
cooler water because of the warm, closed environment of the bread machine.
If you want to be a great bread baker, use a
Factor 2: Time
The longer the yeast is allowed to work, the more gas is created. In the right
environment, yeast doubles and doubles again.
Bread is ready for the oven when it has doubled
in volume, become soft, and is full of gas--not when the timer goes off. In a
cooler kitchen, that might take a while.
With a bread machine, the bread begins to bake
when the timer goes off whether it has risen or not. Since we can?t manipulate
time when using a bread machine, we control yeast growth with other factors so
that has risen optimally when the bread begins to bake.
Factor 3: Quantity of Yeast
The quantity of yeast in the recipe makes a difference. Usually, a baker
controls the rise with other factors and does not change the quantity of yeast.
However, in a very cool environment you may want to increase the yeast slightly
and in a very warm environment, reduce the yeast.
Factor 4: Quantity of Water
Dough must be soft and flexible in order to rise properly--a factor of how much
water is in the dough. If the dough is stiff, it is difficult for the expanding
gases to lift the dough and create volume. After your dough is kneaded, it
should be soft and nearly sticky. As a general rule when mixing bread, error on
the side of too much water.
A softer dough will rise much more quickly than
a stiff dough and so in your bread machine, a stiff dough will not rise properly
before the baking begins. One of the easiest adjustments that you can make to a
bread machine recipe or mix that doesn?t perform quite right is adjust the water
by a tablespoon.
Factor 5: Salt
Salt kills yeast and a too salty dough will impede yeast growth. One-half
teaspoon of salt in a recipe makes quite a difference.
Always measure salt carefully. If you want to
speed up the rise, reduce the salt by 1/2 teaspoon. Add a similar amount to slow
Why do we care how fast the bread rises? In a
bread machine, it is critical. On the counter, within reasonable bounds, it
probably doesn?t make a difference. In fact, the flavors trapped in bread dough
improve with age. A long, slow age creates terrific bread. Still, you are a more
competent baker if you understand what is going on inside that ball of dough.
Dennis Weaver is the author of
How to Bake, a 250
page baking book available free online. The Prepared Pantry sells
over 50 bread machine mixes, ingredients, and kitchen supplies.
The Prepared Pantry also
ingredients for bread bakers including yeast, flour blends, conditioners, and
Copyright The Prepared Pantry and
Dennis Weaver, 2008. Used with permission.