Bread Baking 101 - What You Knead To Know

November 10, 2020

Bread Baking 101 - What You Knead To Know

Nothing can beat the smell of freshly baked bread, and there is no better feeling than achieving that in your own kitchen.

Making bread from scratch may seem like a daunting task at first but once you have the basic skills nailed down and you don’t mind letting your anger out on some dough you are sorted. It’s one of those things which is so simple that anyone can make it, yet the deeper you delve into the bread world the more complex it gets, meaning you can learn for a lifetime.

Ingredients are important

A basic dough consists of three main ingredients. Flour, yeast and water. It’s important to use a strong bread flour when making bread, either white or wholemeal. This type of flour has a higher gluten content which makes for a light, airy bread.

Yeast is a key ingredient in bread as it’s what controls the rise. Yeast creates carbon dioxide bubbles which force the bread to rise. There's three main varieties of yeast:

  • Fresh yeast is harder to come by but not impossible. It has a higher moisture content compared to the other yeasts, but as the yeast is already active it has a shorter shelf life meaning it can only last a week or so when refrigerated.
  • Dried active yeast needs to be combined with warm water and some sugar to bloom (until it becomes bubbly). This gives the yeast a head start before being combined with the flour.
  • Fast acting yeast is the little sachets you can buy from the supermarket. This is the most convenient and widely available yeast, just throw it in with the other ingredients and you are good to go.

The temperature of the water is key to getting the perfect loaf. Using cold water could mean a lot of waiting around. Yeast needs warmth in order to work and by using cold water there is no activator for the yeast. Hot water is also a big no no. Excessive heat can kill the yeast which would result in a very dense, flat loaf. The ideal temperature of the water or liquid is around 40°c. It’s slightly warmer than body temperature, so if you dip your finger in the water you can feel warmth but it doesn’t burn you.

It's all about a good knead...

The kneading part of the process may seem boring but it is the crucial stage to achieve a light airy bread.

Kneading stretches the gluten and creates a smooth and stretchy dough which holds the gases released from the yeast better. Don't be frightened by a dough which is sticky to start with. The more you knead, the more it’ll come together.

There are two ways of testing if you have kneaded the dough enough. The first is lightly pressing a finger into the dough, the indentation should pop straight back, if it doesn't the gluten isn't quite developed and needs a little more kneading. The second is the windowpane test. You may have seen the bakers on the Great British Bake Off do this and have no clue what they are doing. By testing if you can stretch a small amount of dough thin enough that you can see light through, it means the gluten has developed. If not, knead that little bit longer. You can’t be weak when kneading dough otherwise you won’t build the gluten strands.

Here are some of our top techniques for kneading:


Proving is a step you cannot miss out! This time allows the yeast to develop the small gas bubbles. Most bread recipes call for the dough to have an initial prove until it has doubled in size. It’s then knocked back to burst the air bubbles and then shaped with a further prove to achieve a lighter, better textured bread.

Check that the dough has proved by gently pressing a fingertip into the surface of the dough. If the dough springs back, the gluten hasn’t reached its full capacity so can be left longer. If the dent from your finger remains, the dough is ready; if left any longer the air bubbles will start to collapse, resulting in a dense dough

If you are hooked by the wonderful world of bread, why not join our new Bread Baking Club. From just £7.50 per month including free UK delivery, you can enjoy a different bread recipe every month. We’ll share the ingredient weights and measurements with you, so if you love it, you can make it again and again!

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