I was just curious to know if it's possible to over bake breads like you can with cakes muffins, resulting in a very dry product. Any thoughts?
A thermometer is a good friend for the baker.
if it's possible to over bake breads ... resulting in a very dry product[?]
Yes. Bread is somewhat more forgiving of overbaking than cakes ...but it's not infinitely forgiving. Inedibility might be ten minutes away rather than only five, but it will happen.
As crust color is such a lousy indicator of doneness, the clock only works the second time, and even the old "thump" test is not very accurate, measuring internal/crumb temperature with an "instant read" thermometer is by far the best way to go. Pick your favorite temperature (205F is often used). If the loaf is "done", turn off the oven. If the loaf isn't done yet, remove the thermometer (don't put it in the oven) and put the loaf back in the oven to bake some more.
While I suppose it's possible to "over-bake" bread (i.e., dehydrate it), I think you would really have to try. Under normal baking conditions, the crust will simply burn long before the loaf dries out.
The inside of a loaf of bread is very moist, so it will never get hotter than 212 F. The crust, however, being dry and in contact with the 400-500F air inside your oven, gets very hot.
I suppose you could intentionally leave a loaf in a low-temperature oven, say 200-300 F, for an extended period of time. I'm not sure why one would do this, unless baking a very moist, dense volkornbrot.
Just my opinion / educated guess. :)
Thanks for all of your responses. I am using a meat thermometer at the moment and not sure if I should be using a different type of thermometer? Looks like King Arthur Flour sells a nice thermapen Instead Read therm but it's so pricey! Will any thermometer work?
Lots of different thermometers will more-or-less work. If the one you have is easy to use, hasn't melted, and seems to read relatively accurately, that's good enough.
My personal favorite is an el-cheapo mechanical instant-read ...although asking TFL what's the "best" thermometer may be inviting a religious war:-)
Many cooking thermometers expect to have their probe but not their dial very hot, and will screw up (even melt) if placed in an oven.
How often you bake is a factor in deciding which thermo you purchase. Bake alot, buy a nice one, bake once a week, buy a cheap one.
A thermo can also be useful to see what the temp of your dough is after mixing/kneading. Many books will give you an hour of rise for a standard loaf. This assumes a dough temp of approx. 75F. If your dough temp is higher a shorter time will give a doubling, whereas a lower dough temp will increase the rise time.