Making Kneaded Breads

Making kneaded breads essentially involves five phases: dissolving the yeast, mixing the dough, rising the dough, shaping the dough and varying the crust. Here you'll find the basic directions for success.

  • Step 1: Dissolving the Yeast

    The initial step for making batter breads requires dissolving the yeast. Follow the directions below.

    • Be sure the yeast is fresh by checking the expiration date on the package.
    • Test the temperature of the liquid ingredients with your hand (they should feel warm, but not hot) or test with an instant-read thermometer. The temperature should be warm (105°F to 115°F for active dry yeast; 95°F for compressed, fresh yeast). Liquid that is too hot will kill the yeast; liquid that is too cool will not activate the yeast.
    • In a small bowl, combine the yeast with all or a small amount of the warm liquid. Let mixture stand 3 to 5 minutes until it gets foamy and expands.

    NOTE: In many recipes prepared with quick-rising active dry yeast, the yeast is not dissolved in the liquid. Instead, the yeast is mixed with the other dry ingredients in the recipe. The liquid is heated to 120°F to 130°F, then stirred into the dry ingredients. The remaining ingredients are then mixed in. This combination of warmer dough and the quick-rising yeast means the first rising can take as little as 20 minutes compared to 60 or 90 minutes for traditional active dry yeast or compressed, fresh yeast.

  • Step 2: Mixing the Dough

    There are a variety of ways to mix the dough for yeast breads. The most popular methods are listed below.

    Hand Method
    • Warm mixing bowl by filling it with hot tap water. Pour out water and dry.
    • Place dissolved yeast in warm bowl. Add remaining liquid ingredients (any liquid not used to dissolve the yeast, eggs, honey or molasses); mix well.
    • Add fat, sugar, salt spices or herbs and about two-thirds of the flour called for in the recipe.
    • Beat vigorously with a large spoon for at least 1 minute. The results will be a thick, rough, lumpy batter not stiff enough to hold its shape.
    • Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour (about 1/3 cup at a time) to make a stiff, but not dry dough. The secret is to add just enough flour to keep the dough from being sticky. It will hold onto the spoon, but will clean itself away from the sides of the bowl.
    • Dust kneading surface with a small amount (1/4 cup or less) of flour. Grease or flour your hands lightly to prevent sticking.
    • Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Place the heels of both hands in center of dough, using firm pressure, push dough forward against the work surface as far as possible. Fold dough in half. Pick up folded dough and turn it a quarter turn.
    • Continue, repeating these steps for 4 to 10 minutes. As you work, the dough will absorb flour. When necessary, add about 2 tablespoons additional flour at a time to the kneading surface to keep the dough from being too sticky. Be careful not to add too much flour.
    • When you have kneaded the dough enough, it will be smooth and elastic, and tacky but not sticky. A good test is to press the heel of your hand firmly and deeply into the dough; hold it there 10 seconds. If it comes away clean, you have kneaded the dough enough. Dough is now ready for the first rising.

    Standing Mixer Method
    • Warm mixing bowl from a standing electric mixer by filling it with hot tap water. Pour out water and dry.
    • Place dissolved yeast in warm bowl. Add remaining liquid ingredients (any liquid not used to dissolve the yeast, eggs, honey or molasses), fat, sugar, salt, spices or herbs and about two-thirds of the flour called for in the recipe.
    • Attach the flat or paddle beater and beat 30 seconds or until the dry ingredients are moistened. Turn the machine to medium speed. Beat 1 minute or until you have a very thick batter, but not stiff enough to hold its shape outside the bowl.
    • Remove the paddle and attach the dough hook. Beat, adding only as much flour in small amounts (about 1/4 cup at a time) as is needed for the dough to clean the sides of the bowl. Continue beating with dough hook 5 to 7 minutes.
    • Turn off machine and allow dough to rest 10 minutes. After the 10 minute rest, beat with the dough hook 4 to 5 minutes more, adding additional flour if the dough is still very soft and sticky. This second beating takes the place of hand kneading.
    • Special Note: At this stage, many bread bakers remove the dough from the mixing bowl and hand knead on a lightly floured surface several times just to be sure it has a smooth, elastic feel. Dough is now ready for the first rising.
    Food Processor Method
    • Attach metal blade to food processor bowl.
    • Place the dissolved yeast, the remaining liquid ingredients (any liquid not used to dissolve the yeast, eggs, honey or molasses), fat, sugar, salt and two-thirds of the flour in the work bowl.
    • Process 30 seconds, until smooth and blended. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl; process a few seconds more.
    • Add additional flour, 1/4 cup or less at a time, and process 30 seconds after each addition of flour. Continue until dough cleans itself off the sides of the work bowl and forms a smooth ball that whirls around the bowl on top of the blades.
    • Special Note: At this stage, many bread makers remove the dough from the work bowl and hand knead on a lightly floured surface several times just to be sure it has a smooth, elastic feel. Dough is now ready for the first rising.

    Electric Bread Machine Method
    • The best bread machines offer programs for producing several different types of loaves - white; French, etc.; a program that signals when it is time to mix in raisins, nuts and other "add ins"; and a cycle that merely mixes the dough but does not bake it.
    • All ingredients, except for raisins, nuts and other "add ins," are placed in the bread pan at the beginning. Read the instructions for your machine regarding the order in which to add the ingredients.
    • Each machine is different. As each machine varies by manufacturer, it is also important to note in the instructions the temperature at which ingredients should be added to your particular machine. Again, this varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
    • Start machine. The amount of time it takes to make and bake a loaf of bread varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
  • Step 3: Rising the Dough

    Letting the dough rise smooths out and develops the structure of the yeast dough, giving the finished bread a tender, even texture. Follow the directions below.

    • Wash mixing bowl and lightly grease with solid vegetable shortening or vegetable oil, or lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.
    • Place dough in bowl and turn so all surfaces are coated with shortening, oil or cooking spray; this step prevents a crust from forming on the rising dough.
    • Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a clean cloth. Place bowl in a warm (between 80°F to 85°F is best), draft-free place to rise.
    • If your kitchen is cool, place the bowl containing the dough on the top rack of an unheated oven and place a pan filled with hot water on the rack beneath it.
    • The dough should be allowed to rise until it has doubled in size. The amount of time this will take depends on the type of yeast used, the temperature of the dough, the temperature of the environment the dough is kept in for rising and a number of other conditions.
    • When the dough has risen enough, it will appear swollen and puffy and will usually have a few blisters on top. You can test the dough to be sure it has risen enough by the "poke test" - lightly press two fingers about 1/2-inch into the center. If the indentation remains, the dough has risen sufficiently.
  • Step 4: Shaping the Dough

    After dough has risen, it must be shaped. Follow the directions below.

    • Punch dough down, turn it out onto a work surface and knead briefly to remove any gas bubbles.
    • Using a knife or a pastry scraper, divide the dough into the desired number of pieces and let rest for a few minutes before shaping. This rest allows the gluten to relax slightly for easier shaping.

    There are numerous shapes and sizes in which yeast doughs are baked. Some of the favorites are listed below.

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    Loaf Breads
    • Using a rolling pin or lightly floured hands, flatten dough into a rectangle or oval the approximate length of your bread pan.
    • Using your hands, roll or fold dough onto itself, shaping the dough into a "log." Pinch the ends firmly together to seal. Fold ends under.
    • Place the dough, seam side down in a greased loaf pan or dish. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or a clean cloth and place in a warm spot to rise until dough is puffy and swollen and is nicely rounded above the top of the pan.
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    Free-form Loaves, Baguettes or Rolls
    • Using your hands, shape the dough by pressing your hands along the sides with gentle pressure to stretch and smooth the dough.
    • Then, using finger tips, tuck the dough under the bottom of the loaf creating a smooth shape.
    • Press down on the smoothed dough to create the desired shape and size (the dough will stretch about 1 inch as you transfer the shape to the baking pan). Firmly pinch together any cracks or seams to seal.
    • Transfer dough to greased cookie sheet, jelly-roll pan or specialized bread pan. Loosely cover and let rise until double in size.
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    Cloverleaf Rolls
    • Roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls. Dip balls in melted butter or margarine.
    • Place three balls together in greased muffin cups. Cover pan loosely and let rise until double in size.
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    Pan Rolls (Old-Fashioned Rounded Rolls)
    • Roll pieces of dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls in a single layer lightly touching each other in greased baking pan.
    • Fill pan completely with balls of dough. Brush tops of balls with melted butter or margarine. Loosely cover pan and let rise until double in size.
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    Parker House Rolls
    • Roll dough on floured surface 1/4-inch thick. Cut with floured 2-1/2-inch biscuit (round) cutter.
    • Brush with melted butter or margarine. Fold rounds in half. Place 2 to 3 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Lightly cover rolls and let rise until double in size.
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    Crescent Rolls
    • Roll dough on floured surface into a circle 1/8-inch thick. Brush dough with melted butter or margarine.
    • Cut circle into wedges. Beginning at the widest end, roll up each wedge, then curve the ends toward one another to form crescents.
    • Place rolls at least 1-inch apart with points tucked under, on a greased cookie sheet; brush tops of rolls with melted butter or margarine. Lightly cover rolls and let rise until double in size.
  • Step 5: Varying the Crust

    There are different ways to vary the crust on a yeast bread.

    • For a heartier, crispier crust: Bake the bread free form on a heated baking stone. During the first half of baking time, brush the bread with water or lightly spray the loaves with water from a clean spray bottle. Place a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven or on the lowest oven rack during baking. Put the bread pans on the bottom rack or floor of the oven after 15 minutes of baking.
    • For a golden brown crust: Before baking, brush the top of the bread loaf with egg wash (egg mixed with milk or water). Or, before baking, brush the top of the loaf with milk.
    • For a softer crust: As soon as the bread is removed from the oven, brush the top with melted butter. Wrap a hot baked bread in a clean kitchen towel; cool completely wrapped in the towel.

    To avoid random cracks on top of baked breads, just before baking slash the top of the bread with a very sharp knife. This will allow the steam to escape.