Understanding the stages of bread making helps make the process easier. When you start making bread the whole thing can be a bit confusing. You aren’t sure when your bread should be left to rise; or when it should be shaped; or when it’s ready to bake. Following the twelve stages of bread making as I show you below will make things less confusing.
The twelve stages of bread making
Stage 1: Gathering everything that you need to make the loaf
Stage 2. Measuring the ingredients
Stage 3. Mixing the dough to the right consistency
Stage 4. Resting and Stretch & Fold or Kneading
Stage 5. First Rise/ Fermentation/ Proofing
Stage 6. Deflating and dividing your dough
Stage 7. Shaping
Shaping your dough takes practice to get right. You will get better at it each time.
Stage 8. Second Rise/ proof/ secondary fermentation
After shaping most breads will need a second rise to recover the air lost in the shaping process.
Some breads though can go straight in the oven after shaping, this includes flatbreads, pittas, pizzas and focaccia.
The second rise can also happen either at room temperature or in the fridge. This makes it convenient for fitting bread making into your day.
You don’t want your dough to double this time, you do want it to expand to about half again of its original size. It should feel uniformly airy when you gently place a hand over the loaf. If it feels less airy in the centre of the loaf leave it for another ten minutes and try again. You can see how to test your loaf to see if it’s ready for baking in this video.
Stage 9. Pre-heating and preparing your oven
Preheat your oven to 240C, gas mark 8 at least thirty minutes (or for as long as it takes your oven to heat up) before you think your bread will be ready to bake. if you are proving your loaf in a warm room it may only take thirty minutes to be ready to bake so you may want to turn your oven on after you have shaped it.
I always put a solid shelf into the oven to heat up. This could be a baking tray or a baking/pizza stone. Your bread will benefit from being placed onto a hot surface even if you have shaped it in a tin. It will help with oven spring.
Stage 10. Slashing/ scoring your loaf
If your loaf is not in a tin then it will probably benefit from being slashed/ scored before you place it in the oven. Slashing or scoring is to cut across the top of the dough with a sharp blade. This allows the loaf to burst at the cut as it rises in the oven with oven spring. If you don’t slash the loaf then your loaf won’t expand as much as it could have done leading to a loaf with less volume and a heavier crumb. Your loaf will also try to expand where it can which can lead to it bursting at its weakest point and you end up with a ball of dough escaping from the side or bottom.
Learning how to score your loaf can take practice but you will be really pleased with the results if you persevere. I show you one way to score your dough here.
Stage 11. Baking and steaming the oven
When you put your loaf in the oven you need to steam your oven unless you are baking in a dutch oven. Steam helps the crust of the loaf to stay moist. This is important because as you put your loaf in the oven the gases trapped inside the gluten network expand and cause the loaf to rise more (oven spring). If the crust dries out too quickly your loaf can’t do this extra rise. I steam my oven with a plant mister, spraying the oven walls and floor (avoiding the light and the glass door) and then quickly close the door. You can read more about steaming the oven here.
Once the door is closed lower the temperature of your oven to 220C, gas mark 7 or the temperature advised by the recipe that you are following.
Your loaf is baked when it is evenly golden all over, sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Be aware that white loaves sound different when knocked to a wholemeal loaf. You can check by inserting a temperature probe into the centre of the loaf and if it reads 90 degrees C then the loaf is baked.
Stage 12. Cooling
This is a really important part of bread making. When your bread cools the water evaporates from the centre of the loaf and the crumb sets properly. If you cut into your loaf before it is cooled then you will always think you under baked your loaf as the dough will still be gummy. Allowing your dough to cool properly will also allow the full flavour to develop.
Then you get to the best bit, stage 13 of the bread making process, eating your loaf. Nothing quite beats tucking into a homemade loaf.
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