Bread Basics

This page is a work in progress.

In 2016 I created this (formerly hidden) page to start saving ideas for what was to be a one-off Bread Basics presentation/class. It’s what the Outline and notes below were originally to be used for.

Fast forward to 2020 and people have become more interested in at-home activities such as bread baking. So I’m reviving and “publishing” the page. Beginning bakers may find something of use. Advanced bakers will find something to disagree with. Bread baking is one of those pursuits.

Note that I don’t keep a sourdough starter, but there are lots of other resources available if that’s what you’re looking for.


There is no one right way to bake bread. Instead, there are many combinations of approach and technique which will produce enjoyable results.

Bread can be great or not as good but barring a disaster it’s all edible as is or can be converted into Crostini, Crutons, or bread crumbs. Feel free to experiment and don’t worry too much about being perfect. Most home made bread is better than anything made with no love at a factory.

PART ONE: Steps of Bread Making:

The original 2017 Post: Focaccia, And The Twelve Steps Of Bread Making Reduced To Four Activities

Bread authors write about the “Twelve Steps” (or more) to baking bread, which sounds like a lot of processes:

  1. Scaling
  2. Mixing
  3. Bulk or Primary Fermentation
  4. Folding/Degassing
  5. Dividing/Scaling
  6. Pre-shaping
  7. Bench Rest
  8. Shaping/Panning
  9. Proofing/Final Fermentation
  10. Baking
  11. Cooling
  12. Storage/Eat

I “simplify” those Steps in my head into four groups of “Activities”:

  1. Scaling
  2. Mixing
  3. Bulk or Primary Fermentation
  1. Folding/Degassing
  2. Dividing/Scaling
  3. Pre-shaping
  4. Bench Rest
  1. Shaping/Panning
  2. Proofing/Final Fermentation
  1. Baking
  2. Cooling
  3. Storage/Eat

At the end of each Activity there’s a natural rest break.
In effect then, Twelve Steps become Four Activities:

  1. Weigh and mix the dough, and let rest.
  2. Divide and shape the dough, and let rest.
  3. Shape/pan the dough, and let rest.
  4. Bake, cool, and eat.

PART TWO: Baker’s Percentage vs Volumetric Measurements

I highly recommend using a scale and Baker’s Percentage instead of measuring cups when baking breads.

With Baker’s Percentages all ingredients are measured as a percentage of the flour weight. Recipes become easily scalable. Doubling or halving the recipe is no problem.

For example, a typical bread recipe might call out 400g flour, 240g water, 8g salt, and yeast. By weight the water is 60% of the flour weight (240/400 = .60). So the Baker’s Percentage of the water is 60%. The salt is 2% of the flour weight. And so on. Once you have a feel for what the Baker’s Percentages tend to be for a given type of bread you can freely improvise changes or improvements. Keep a cheap calculator in the kitchen to save brainwork.

I’d also recommended weighing everything in grams. As soon as you start trying to scale a recipe that calls for fractional ounces or whatever then you’ll wonder why you ever used Imperial measurements in the first place.

PART THREE: What The Ingredients Do

Use “new” flour. Flour stales and it effects the end result.

Use unbleached flour.

Bread Flour: Better structure, better browning, absorbs more water. Higher protein.

vs AP Flour: Less structure. Better for cracker things. Still fine for pizzas and other breads. Lower protein.

Bread flour brands. Different brands have different protein levels. My preference is for King Arthur, which contains more protein the Gold Star brand.

Try using ancient grains like Spelt, Barley, Kamut, etc. They’re more complex and often nuttier in flavor than wheat flour. White Bread when compared to some other grains tastes like refined sugar. Wheat “won” the competition to be a staple grain for humanity because it provides a high yield and it requires less work and time to thresh than some other grains. In other words, it provides the most calories for the least labor. Which doesn’t mean it tastes the best or is the most nutritious. When substituting ancient grains into a recipe start with up to 20-30% of total flour weight.

Water — Effects of 55%, 60%, 75%+. Higher hydration will tend to provide larger holes in the crumb structure. [More detail]

Salt — Most recipes will call for around ~2%. Salt locks up water and slows fermentation. Improves gluten structure.

Oil/Butter/Fat — How oil effects the relative hydration — treat oil like it was additional water when calculating hydration. Fats can act as “Shortening” and interfere with gluten development, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fats promote browning effects. According to (I think) Modernist Cuisine (baking), 3% oil allows for the most oven spring. If I’m using oil it’s frequently at 3%.

Sugar — Locks up water. Promotes browning.

Diastatic malt. Pizzas up to 2% flour weight. [Verify this -Gemignani]

Eggs in the dough: Make sure to account for the water and salt content of eggs when considering the entire formula.

Egg wash: Will promote browning.

“Regular” yeast vs Instant vs Rapid Rise yeast. I use Instant yeast — I don’t want to do the extra step of “proofing” the yeast in water before I can start mixing (regular yeast). Rapid Rise burns out too quickly. So I use Instant.

Rise time vs yeast % . Both at room temperature for comparison: No Knead Bread 18 hours (1/4 tsp per lb) vs 2 hour pizza dough (1+ tsp per lb)

Autolyse no salt 20 minutes+. Mix the dough briefly with no salt and let sit. Then incorporate the salt and mix. Improves dough structure.

Dough Percentages

Loose Guideline Formulas:

Basic Dough 60 water (2 salt)

Focaccia +15 water, + 3 oil

Ciabatta +15 water

Pizza +3 oil

Preztel, Crispy Breadstick -5 water

Crackers -5 water, + 0 to 10 oil

No Knead +15 water

etc — this section needs attention

Part FOUR: Fermentation, And How To Make a No-Knead Bread

Link to No Knead page. The plan is/was to bake a No Knead during the class, which, if the class is Virtual, maybe not.

Effects of time and enzymes on digestibility. Enzymes break down starches into sugars and make the finished bread more easily digestible. From what I can tell this takes at least a day to really take effect. [Verify this.]

Time vs temperature. Comparing the tastes of a refrigerator rise (up to 3 days) vs a room temperature rise. Lactic acid vs Acetic acid. [More detail]

Per Rose Levy Beranbaum Bread Bible:

Ferment at 55-90F for Lactic acid

Ferment at 40-55F for Acetic acid (vinegar)

According to the Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens Acetic acid stays the same in either range but Lactic acid increases with temperature increase. This is the only source I’ve seen for that statement. [Needs verification.]

Higher for hydration for Lactic acid. Lower hydration for Acetic acid.

Poolish (~30% of total flour. 1/1 ratio of flour to water, trace yeast) (Wetter = more Lactic acid)

Biga (~30% of total flour, at a flour/water ratio closer to that of the complete recipe) (Drier = more Acetic acid)

Pate Fermentee “Old Bread”: Dough that has been stored up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator. One advantage of using a Pate Fermentee (or any starter) is that the finished product will have a more complex flavor. [More detail.]

Part Three: Stretch and Fold, How and why to Slash a Dough, Steaming the oven

Demonstrate Stretch and Fold. Reinhardt has a good YouTube video on the subject as well. Here.

How and why to stretch and fold instead of “punching down”.

  • Distribute the yeast and Degas
  • Improves gluten structure
  • Multiple stretch and folds during bulk rise will further improve structure

Shaping for surface tension. Good surface tension will provide a better rise and the scoring/slashing will open up more. Illustrate techniques for shaping and creating surface tension. Boule and Bagette.

Tools for scoring/slashing dough, options. Lame, sharp knife, serrated knife.

Why steam the oven. Options for creating steam. One option is to pour boiling water into a tray. Another is adding ice cubes to a tray. I use a sheet tray and put around a cup of water into it, then turn on the oven. I do this because I don’t want to crack the glass of the oven door. If you’re going to add the water with the oven on then put a towel or something over the oven door to help ensure it doesn’t crack from having water dripped onto it.
Part Four: Handling Dough — Bread Sticks, Crackers, Pizza Dough, Focaccia, Sandwich Bread

Crispy Breadsticks vs Chewy Breadsticks. Recipe and demonstration. [More detail]

Oven temperature vs oven time. Effects on crust thickness, browning, and pizza or cracker specific crispness. [More detail]

Sheet tray under bread to prevent overbrowning.

Part Five: Resources

A look at the books. [Add descriptions/thoughts about each book]:

Beranbaum – The Bread Bible

Forkish – Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza [A Cookbook]

Gemignani – The Pizza Bible: The World’s Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and More

Hamelman – Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes

Lahey – My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

Reinhardt – The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Saus – Advanced Bread and Pastry

Internal links

No Knead Bread