The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Steps in bread making confusing

hamletcat's picture

Steps in bread making confusing

Hi, I am new to bread making and I find that I don't really understand the purpose behind some of the steps.  If anyone could shed some light on the following list of steps and their purpose, that would be really great.

1.  Why do you hand knead for 8 to 10 minutes?

2.  Why do you allow a 20 to 30min rest period after the first mixing period?

3.  Why do you knock down the dough and then allow another rise period?

4.  For no knead bread why do you need to have steam in the oven?

These things are often in the steps but I don't really understand why.  Thanks in advance.

squarehead's picture

1. Kneading is done to develope gluten. Many recipes will accomplish the same effect through stretch and folds though, so hand kneading (or machine kneading) may not be necessary.

2. If the 20-30 min rest period occurs before the addition of salt, this is called the autolyze period and is included to provide a duration of time in which the flour can absorb the liquid and to provide a salt free environment to encourage yeast growth and extensibility of the dough. (Assuming a levain is included)

3. in doughs containing commercial yeast, you 'punch down' the dough to release excess carbon dioxide, the waste product of the yeast. The yeast will continue to develope and release additional carbon dioxide. 

4. oven steam allows for a higher hydrated surface of the dough, allowing for expansion, and providing crispness and blistering, both desirable textural components.


im sure there are more in depth answers out there, but I hope this helps

Bakingmadtoo's picture

As you look at more and more recipes you will find it gets more and more confusing as there is no real set pattern to what you do. But that is also the nice thing about bread, with the exceptions of adding in way too much flour or over proofing you generally get something very tasty even if you haven't done everything exactly the same. Even if we were to follow a recipe exactly your loaf of bread would probably come out different to mine. The most important thing to learn is how the dough should feel, when the gluten has developed enough ( which varies according to the recipe and results you want), when it has had enough time to bulk ferment/first rise and when it has proofed enough to bake. How you get to each of those points has endless variations and a skilled baker would end up with a beautiful loaf whichever method that they used.

For example, that 8-10 minutes kneading seen in so many recipes. If we all did that (and as Squarehead explained, many don't. I never do.), we would all end up with very different dough, some of us would hardly develop the gluten at all in that time, others would have the dough just right and if someone had used a machine they could well have taken it too far and spoiled the dough. But if we have learned what the dough should feel like we would all stop at the right point for us.

So when following a recipe, and I think it is good to try and follow as closely as you can to start with, try to feel how the dough is changing as you knead it. Notice how it becomes silky smooth and stretchy. Feel it often as it rises so you can notice the subtle changes. I am still working on this, I think really understanding what the dough is doing is the hardest thing of all. If you can understand this you will get beautiful loaves even if you get there slightly differently.

sandydog's picture

When I joined this forum I found the Handbook (It's at the top of the home page in black box) extremely helpful.

If you can find time to read it you will be in a much better position to then ask questions which remain unanswered.

Happy baking - It's really great fun