Baking Bread

Here's a comprehensive guide to preparing dough and baking bread, with recipes. Topics covered include ingredients, equipment, kneading techniques, and of course baking.

| January/February 1989

  • baking bread - slicing with a dough blade
    A dough blade is a rectangular piece of steel with a wooden handle used to divide dough during the early, sticky stage of kneading.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - push, fold, and turn
    Kneading method: push the heels of your hands into the dough ball, fold the dough, turn it a quarter turn, and repeat.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - well kneaded dough
    Well-kneaded dough is pliable; it can be stretched into a thin sheet without tearing.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - wheat seeds
    Wheat seeds, from which we make flour for bread.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - table full of bread loaves
    The process of baking bread can have any number of outcomes, as this bounty of loaves suggests.
    PHOTO: DENNIS GALANTE
  • baking bread - wheat kernel illustration
    Whole-wheat flour contains the entire ground-up kernel: the germ, the endosperm, and the bran.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - thermometer
    An instant-response thermometer with a metal spike and a gauge that measures from freezing to boiling is useful for keeping yeast at the right temperature.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - shaping dough into a loaf
    Method of shaping dough: pat the dough into an oval, fold each of the long edges into the middle, then fold up the ends.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - punching dough down
    Punch down the dough to release gas. Knead for a minute or two to force out the rest.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - slicing the top for stress relief
    If a loaf looks as if it's bursting at the seams, make a few slashes across the top with a very sharp knife or razor blade.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - two types of loaves
    Two types of loaves you can make. Right: fold oval in half, pinch the seam tightly to seal it, tuck the ends under, and place it, seam side down, in the pan. Left: She the dough into a round, flatten it slightly on top, and set it aside to proof.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD
  • baking bread - testing with two fingers
    Poke two finger holes about a half inch deep to test if risen dough is ready.
    KAY HOLMES STAFFORD

  • baking bread - slicing with a dough blade
  • baking bread - push, fold, and turn
  • baking bread - well kneaded dough
  • baking bread - wheat seeds
  • baking bread - table full of bread loaves
  • baking bread - wheat kernel illustration
  • baking bread - thermometer
  • baking bread - shaping dough into a loaf
  • baking bread - punching dough down
  • baking bread - slicing the top for stress relief
  • baking bread - two types of loaves
  • baking bread - testing with two fingers

A woman who bakes bread can comfort children with a glance, converse with elms, invent new colors. A man who bakes bread — why, he can gentle animals with a touch, talk to teenagers, look good in his undershirt. Or so we are likely to believe. Such is our reverence for this elemental food and the power of baking bread that the people who can do it seem to tap an ancient communal memory, to possess powers that the rest of us can only dimly imagine.

Staff of Life

Bread pervades our language and literature, a metaphor for physical and spiritual sustenance.

We petition for our daily bread, live not by bread alone, break bread together. (The word companion derives from the Latin companio, "one who shares bread.") The satirist Juvenal lamented that his fellow Romans cared only for "bread and circuses," a concern we still share: A modern man who is short of bread could use a little dough to see him through.

And substance preceded the image. Ten thousand years ago, the domestication of wild grasses made the domestication of humanity possible. Freed from the necessity to roam constantly in search of food, humans could settle down and invent civilization. Heroic images of fur-clad, spearwielding hunters notwithstanding, we soon fed ourselves primarily on grains.



Before bread, grain was dried on hot rocks or boiled into a paste or gruel. By the late Stone Age, flat breads were common. (Remnants endure: Mexican tortillas, Chinese pancakes, Indian chapaties.) The Egyptians began making leavened bread about 4000 B.C., probably when a neglected gruel, contaminated by wild airborne yeasts, fermented and rose. With characteristic virtuosity, the Greeks became master bakers who served up 62 varieties.

Both Greeks and Romans preferred white bread, the food of the upper classes; slaves and servants ate the dark. Since extra labor was required to refine dark flour into light, it was more expensive and thus a mark of status. Europe followed the classic tradition. For centuries, coarse, hard rye bread was the daily fare of peasants — often secondhand, at that. The masters ate their dinners served up on rock-hard slabs of bread, called trenchers. When they'd eaten their meat and gravy, they fed the sopping trenchers to the servants and the dogs.






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