What a satisfaction to bake bread at home: kneading water, yeast and flour together and watch the dough grow, then put it in the oven. Even if everything seems simple, in the preparation of homemade bread there are mistakes not to be made: in fact, in order to obtain an excellent final result, it is necessary to pay attention to a series of fundamental steps. There are several phases that make up the baking and it can often happen to find yourself with a raw loaf inside, or too dry, too fragile, too hard. Let's find out what are the 11 mistakes to avoid to bake bread at home and get a result like that of the bakery.
1. Don't choose random flours
In the preparation of bread, the choice of flour is the first important step: there are many bread-making flours and it is not always easy to understand which is the best one. Both soft and durum wheat flour are suitable for baking, although the latter one is mainly used for the production of dry pasta.
Also soft wheat flour is widely used for the production of bread. In this case, a distinction must be made based on the degree of refining: in fact, soft wheat flour is divided into 00, 0, 1 and 2 flour.
Type 00 flour is the most refined one and least rich in fiber and nutrients;
Type 0 flour is less refined and darker;
Type 1 flour, often stone ground, is richer in nutrients and contains bran;
Type 2 flour is also called semi-wholemeal: it has a greater quantity of fibrous components and seed germ.
For the preparation of bread, the most suitable flours are the less refined flours, but which nevertheless contain a certain dose of gluten, which is essential for leavening. So, if you choose soft wheat, focus on a type 0 or type 1 flour.
Another important thing to keep in consideration is the "strength of the flour" which is indicated with the letter W, in reference to the protein content. The higher this value, the more we are in the presence of strong flours, which absorb a greater quantity of water, making the dough long-leavening. For the preparation of the bread is therefore indicated a strong flour with W between 300-320.
2. Do not salt the dough at the wrong time
Although it may seem like a trivial element, adding salt to the dough also has its value: never put it together with the yeast, because it slows down or blocks its activation, but add it as a last ingredient. First dissolve the brewer's yeast in the warm water, add it to the flour and knead. Once the liquids have been absorbed and the yeast blended well with the flour, add the salt. Knead again for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast, and let it rise.
3. Work the dough the right time
The real key to obtaining a well-leavened bread is gluten: a complex of protein substances contained in the flour, which manages to give the dough elasticity and strength. The kneading serves in fact to develop the glutinic mesh, an impermeable net that retains the leavening gases and allows the bread to become soft and fragrant.
Even if you used the right flour, does the bread weigh a brick? Then it means that you have not worked the dough enough. If you knead the bread by hand, it takes at least 15 minutes but, to understand if you have worked the dough enough, do this test: moisten your fingers, take a piece of dough and spread it slowly in every direction. A sort of semitransparent veil must be formed: if this occurs, the processing times are adequate.
4. Too much water in the dough
Excessive hydration of the dough can also compromise the success of homemade bread. The advice is to use a little water at the beginning and, after obtaining a good bread, try to increase it little by little. If you knead by hand, 60% hydration should suffice: then 300 grams of water per 500 grams of flour.
5. Keep in consideration the fermentation phase
The preparation of the bread is made of a series of operations that follow one another. Once the dough phase is over, the fermentation begins: the yeasts produce carbon dioxide which inflates the dough. Normally the dough is given the shape of a sphere but also of a loaf. In this part of the process the dough takes strength, retaining the leavening gases and keeping the shape: it is therefore a phase of growth of the dough that must double its volume. For a correct working there must be, then: kneading, rest of the dough, division into pieces, molding and leavening of the loaves.
6. Bad forming
To form your bread in the right way, touch is a fundamental sense: feeling the dough under your hands is in fact more important than you think. In this case, experience is an essential component, combined with a certain sensitivity: the first few times, let someone who is already an expert support you, or attend a specific class. You can also do it by yourself, but it will take longer, with the risk of making the same mistakes several times. But start to follow this advice: form the loaves trying to give maximum tension to the surface, avoiding to tear it and sealing the closing edge well. Then let the shapes rise against the floured pan, so it will not tend to open.
7. Do not rush the leavening times
Leavening is another delicate phase, in which you can run into some mistakes. If you use brewer’s yeast, it will take about 3 hours, while with sourdough starter the leavening will be longer. If the bread does not rise properly, it will not cook well in the oven: it will be almost raw on the inside and with a too thick crust on the outside. The ideal temperature for leavening is between 26° degrees and 28° degrees, avoiding drafts. Cover the dough with a clean cotton cloth and a plastic bag.
To understand when it's time to put the dough in the oven, you can do several tests. The first is to see if the dough has doubled its volume; the second consists of a “touch test”: press the dough with your fingertip, if it returns up slowly then it is ready. If, on the other hand, it rises too quickly, it must still be left to rise, and if it does not move, it means that the leavening has gone beyond the set times. Finally, you can make the “ball test”: take a piece of dough, form a ball and dip it in cold water, if it will rise to the surface, then it is time to put it in the oven.
8. Be careful with gluten free flour
If you want to prepare a gluten-free bread, it is important to know that gluten-free flour does not rise, precisely because it is gluten-free, or in any case it does not rise like normal flours. It is therefore necessary to use special flours, perhaps made with specific mixes. Therefore, avoid replacing wheat flour directly with rice flour, buckwheat flour or corn flour, otherwise you will have to throw the dough away.
9. Don't make mistakes with the baking times
After the leavening phase it is important to choose the right time to bake our bread. Imagine leavening like air bubbles inside the bread: in each bubble there are the yeasts that enlarge them and that make the bread grow. Therefore, bread should only be baked when it has doubled in volume. In fact, if you bake it first, the bread will remain compact and it will not grow, if instead you wait too long, the bread will go limp and it will be too hard. Experience will also help you understand the perfect moment, with ever greater precision.
10. Do not underestimate the baking time
The traditional oven we have at home does not have a uniform temperature, so it is important to turn it on first, putting a saucepan with water inside. In this way the steam will moisten the surface of the bread, so that the heat does not reach the bread too quickly inside. It is also essential to know your own oven, whether it's the electric one or gas one: if the upper part gets too hot, cover the bread with a sheet of parchment paper, if instead the lower part of the oven is too warm, place the bread above. Bake the bread only when the oven is hot, and do not open it for the first 20 minutes, so as not to spoil the leavening. Depending on the shape of your bread, choose the right temperature: for small ones, the temperature must be around 230° degrees, while for larger bread 210° degrees will suffice. Before baking the bread, cut the surface: the cuts will allow the bread to grow without forming cracks.
11. Don't neglect the cooling phase
After baking the bread, the cooling phase is also important: once baked, let the bread cool on a raised grill, or place it diagonally near a clean wall of the kitchen, so as to circulate the air and prevent the steam from making it soften the crust. So do not leave the bread in the oven if you do not want to obtain bread with a soft bottom.