Over the years, I have tried my hand at bread making many times. Note, that I do not state that I have made GOOD bread! Most of the time it comes out crumbly or collapsed in the middle or it takes 3 hours to rise and I get tired of waiting and toss the whole thing in the trash! In expressing my frustrations with the King Arthur Flour staff, they offered to help and for this I am extremely grateful! I decided to share their Bread Making 101 interview with me readers!
With a few of their products and a recipe from their cookbook I made a wonderful loaf of Vermont Oatmeal Maple Honey Bread that turned out perfectly if I do say so myself! As I kneaded the dough and greased the pans I started thinking about what I have done wrong in the past and realized I had TONS of questions about bread making! Here are my questions and the helpful answers I received from King Arthur flour! I hope this information helps you in your own bread making journey!
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Table of Contents
Bread Making 101: Tips from King Arthur Flour
What is the difference between bread flour and traditional white flour? Are the two interchangeable in a recipe? If you only have white flour, will adding gluten improve your final product?
The difference is protein – King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour has a protein content of 11.7%, whereas our Bread Flour has a protein content of 12.7% (these never vary by more than .2%, by the way, a much more consistent standard than any other national brand – so you know what you’re really baking with when you use King Arthur Flour).
Our all-purpose flour, true to its name, makes a wonderful loaf of yeast bread (and an equally wonderful pie crust) – no need to add extra gluten to your bread at all. However, bread flour will produce an extra-strong rise in yeast breads, and is great to add to whole-grain breads needing a little extra boost.
If I want to use whole wheat flour when bread making , can I substitute it in any recipe for an equal amount of white flour? Whole wheat bread is much healthier but I never know which recipes I can use it in.
We would not suggest making a straight substitution, because whole wheat flour contains bran and additional fat that make its baking characteristics very different from all-purpose flour (for example, it absorbs more liquid, so you’d need to adjust the amount of liquid in a recipe intended to be made with all-purpose flour).
We’ve all had that whole wheat bread that seemed more like a door stop than anything we’d want to eat, right?! Whole-grain baked goods are healthier, for sure, but only if you’ll actually eat them! So we generally recommend starting by substituting whole wheat flour (Premium or white whole wheat, which is easy to sneak in without anyone noticing!) for about 25% of the all-purpose flour in a recipe; we’ve had successful results with up to 50%, but once you go much higher than that you have to get into some experimentation. (We dedicated three bakers full-time for over a year to developing recipes for King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, so we speak from experience when we say that developing whole-grain baked goods that really taste like something you want to eat is much more complex than a one-for-one substitution!)
What Type of Yeast to Use?
What is the difference between active dry yeast and instant yeast? If a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of one can I use an equal amount of the other?
We have a whole page of info on yeast for bread making ! You can read in more detail there, but here’s the long and short of your question:
You may substitute active dry yeast for the instant yeast called for in our recipes without making any changes in the amount; if the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of instant yeast, use 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast. (The official word on instant yeast is that you can use 75% the amount of instant yeast to replace active dry yeast in a recipe, but we never bother with the conversion; we find it all tends to even out in the end.)
What part does salt play in bread making? Is it only flavor or does the yeast’s growth rely on it?
Salt is definitely there for flavor (ever tried bread without any? Yuck!), but it also serves to help bring the gluten together and actually slow down the yeast’s growth.
How Much Flour to Add?
I realized as I was reading the bread making chapter in your cookbook that I think I have been adding too much flour. I thought the dough should look relatively dry as I was kneading it. Is there a way to tell how much flour is the right amount when most recipes call for a range (for example 3 to 3 1/2 cups)
Knowing the right amount really just takes some experience, especially because it can vary each time you bake the recipe (flour absorbs moisture from the air, so what works when it’s raining might change when it’s dry).
It’s always better to err on the side of too wet, because that way you won’t get a loaf that’s dry and heavy. But you have to be able to handle it, too. So with a basic enriched yeast bread (contains usually fat and sugar), I find this the easiest way: Add enough of the flour to bring the dough together into something you can handle; remember that dough sticks to dough, so make sure your hands are free of dough (clean them off with flour, not water!). Then dump the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and begin kneading, adding more flour as necessary to the work surface and your hands to keep things from getting sticky.
Never add flour directly to your dough at this point, or you may end up with a clump of unincorporated flour in the middle of your loaf! Knead until the dough is smooth and springs back when poked gently with two fingers.
Rising Dough in the Refrigerator
The hardest part about bread making is sitting around all day waiting for it to rise! Can I put my rising dough in the fridge if I need to run out to slow down the rising time? Any tips on how to incorporate bread making into a busy schedule?
Tell me about it! You can absolutely put dough in the refrigerator to slow down rising, either during the first rise or during the second rise after you’ve shaped it. Just cover it tightly so it doesn’t dry out (we sell some great dough-rising buckets that make it easy!), and pop it in the fridge for as long as you need, up to overnight (some recipes can even go longer than that, but I wouldn’t bet on it unless it specifically says). That’s certainly one of the best ways to fit bread baking into a busy life (for example, make and shape the dough one day, rise overnight, bake fresh bread in the morning).
I have to admit that I love the bread machine these days; just toss the ingredients in to the pan and come back for it in 1 ½ hours, then shape and bake it by hand (I don’t like the crust I get from the machine, but if you do, you can put the ingredients in and forget about it for 3 hours until the smell of fresh bread fills your house!). I know lots of people also use the “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” approach with good results, though I myself have never tried it.
Making Sourdough Bread
Any tips on making sourdough bread? Do I start from a commercial starter (does King Arthur offer one?) or make my own?
We do sell a fresh starter, as well as a couple of dried starters. And it’s really easy to make your own. We have lots of starter tips, and you can find more on sourdough here. I’m not a real sourdough expert, but if you have other questions, I’d highly suggest you give our Baking Hotline a shout (email or phone) – they can tell you much more!
I would like to thank the staff at King Arthur Flour for their help! If you would like to learn more about them, you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter. Check out their online store for all your baking needs!
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.