Welcome back to Breadmaking 101. For those of you just tuning in, this column is all about bread, and how to make it yourself in your own home. Today is baking day, yeast was used in the enzyme lab with balloons means we’re going to discuss how to bake the workhorse loaf into a gorgeous, chewy-crunchy-aromatically-hypnotizing marvel. But today is baking day, which means we’re going to discuss how to bake the workhorse loaf into a gorgeous, chewy-crunchy-aromatically-hypnotizing marvel. Baking is where dough is transformed into bread: one of the oldest and most essential foods on the planet.
It’s the culmination of all our hours of work and waiting. Baking day is like science-fair day, feast day, and judgment day all making a love-child together. Baking is magic and science all in one. Baking isn’t just a big party, however. As bakers, we still have a lot of work to do. And so, before we get into the practicalities of actually loading our loaves into the oven, let’s take some time to talk about how we know when—the big WHEN—to load our dough into the oven, elevated liver enzymes levels in dogs take stock of what it means to properly proof bread.
This post is nice and long, so feel free to peruse at your leisure or jump straight to one of the categories in our index. If we look at the workhorse recipe, we see that this dough requires a final, retarded proof of approximately one hour to 90 minutes. But bread isn’t always obedient, and time isn’t really the issue here. Setting an alarm and taking a nap would be too easy. What we need to learn as bakers is how to gauge our loaves’ progress, and to load our bread when an optimal balance of flavor and texture is reached—open-crumbed but not pancake-like, nutty and aromatic but not too funky. See, our yeast have been feasting on sugars since we finished our mixing, releasing CO2 and fermenting our flour’s sugar into alcohol and other fun stuff. These processes continue up until we bake.
During the final proof, our yeast is approaching the end of its food and oxygen supplies, meaning that this late in the game, most of the work our yeast is performing is of a fermentation variety—in other words, developing flavor. However, yeast isn’t the only force at work here. Amylases and proteases, our flour-decomposing enzymes, are also having their fun. These forces will have a profound impact on loaf structure.
Up to a point, gluten will continue to develop and organize itself, aided by the inflating effects of yeast respiration. However, left indefinitely, acids produced by the yeast and enzyme activity will begin to compromise dough structure. I know, that was just a big can of worms. In short, if we bake too early—or underproof our loaves—they’ll be less flavorful than desired, and won’t rise to their full potential. If we bake too late—or overproof our loaves—then we run the risk of developing off flavors, and our loaves may be so inflated with gas that their gluten structure is unable to support them, leading to loaf collapse during baking. So, how do we know when it’s time to bake? With a few simple tests and a bunch of practice, we can start to confidently determine this moment. I always start by looking at my loaves.
From the time we set our loaves for their final proof they should have increased in volume by at least half. If your loaves have doubled or more, this might mean we’re approaching overproofing. Since judging the volume of our loaves can be tricky, I recommend using the same proofing baskets each time you bake until you begin to get a feel for this process. This will allow you to better gauge what changes in volume may signify in terms of dough progression. At the Cleveland, I almost always bake 900-gram loaves of the workhorse recipe, and I proof them in the same bannetons explain how enzymes function in the body day. This means that I can see day in, day out, that when my dough begins to rise above the lip of my baskets, we’re nearing baking time.