This stuff is fun. I actually enjoyed preparing the yeast breads this week in class. Likely because most of my favorite baked goods are derived from yeast doughs. These include the great French baguette, crusty Italian bread, NYC bagels, pizza dough, and the wide variety of artisan loaves. Yum!
I have tried in the past to make bread. The final product was hard, dense, and certainly not something I thought was very pleasurable to eat. It was very nice to have a professional demonstrate the techniques – and give tips along the way. Seeing the process was important for me.
We made our dough by hand. One mistake we were told that most people make with yeast doughs is rough handling during the kneading process. Dough is kneaded to create gluten strands. The best way to do that is to the stretch and fold the dough. Use the base of your hands to push the dough away from you with mild force to stretch the dough. Next fold to dough back toward you and then turn a quarter turn to the right. Back to the first move of stretching. This is how we learned. It took only about 5 minutes to finish kneading a double batch of semolina dough. The best way does not involve pounding, smacking around, or flipping the dough. Rough handling is not necessary and not how to create gluten strands efficiently.
How do you know when the dough is done? Our chef says by touch. It should feel smooth and soft on the exterior, but still will have firmness to it. Like a baby’s butt. Another way to tell is to ball the dough on a work surface and using two fingers gently push into the dough quickly. The dough should spring back. This indicates that adequate gluten has formed.
I think this trick to kneading is a very important part of making good dough. Second to that would be the fermentation. This is where the yeast creates its by-products that include gas and flavor. The longer ferment (especially a pre-ferment over night in the fridge) the better the flavor of the final product. In order for the yeast to do its work, it must be revived from its dormant state. This takes being stirred into a liquid at about 100-110 degrees F before being added to the dry ingredients. Best way to tell the proper temperature for your yeast? Use your finger. When you stick your finger into the liquid it should feel totally neutral. Not hotter and not cooler.
I am only an amatuer and have no good recipes to share yet. It is unfortunate that I have discovered bread making as we embark on warmer weather. In a tiny NYC aparment with one window, a hot oven in the summertime can be brutal. When I am brave enough to endure the heat and find a good bread recipe I will certainly share. I will make one comment about fresh bread right out of the oven – it is heavenly (and worth all the work!).