Proofing,or proving, is the the final dough-rise step before baking. To have a light, airy, bread, you must allow your yeast dough to rest before baking. The yeast interaction with the starches and sugars in the dough is quite complex, but here is a quick overview:
When you allow your dough to proof, the dough will become delicate, as it’s filled with numerous air pockets. Shaping the dough at this point will lead to crushing the nice large air pockets that have developed. Those beautiful holes in freshly baked bread have become a mark of true artisan bread and are coveted by bakers everywhere. The secret to those holes is proper proofing.
Doughs will be of varying consistency, some wetter and stickier than others, depending on the level of hydration. Wetter doughs are more difficult to shape as gravity will constantly be working against you, it is best to proof dough in a proofing basket or in a loaf pan to give your loaf structure. For proofing done in a proofing basket, you will simply turn out your floured dough onto a baking sheet or stone before placing it into the oven. For loaf pan proofing, you will proof and bake in the same pan.
Proofing baskets and bannetons are traditionally made of wicker or another light, dry wood and come in round or elongated forms. Some modern proofing baskets are made of silicone or plastic, but, aside from being dishwasher safe, they are not as useful as neither silicone not plastic is able to “wick” away moisture from the dough. Some proofing baskets are lined with linen, or other cloth liner, to prevent the dough from sticking to the sides of the basket. Banneton baskets, also called Brotform baskets, provide the loaf with shape, structure, while wicking away moisture from the crust. A banneton is used for round loaves, called boules. A proofing cloth, or couche, made of linen or other coarse material is typically used for longer loaves such as baguettes.
How To Make Simple Delicious Bread
The ingredients in most breads are the same, leaving the amounts of each ingredient and the order of steps as the reason for the difference in flavors and textures.
To make your sponge, mix a “paste” of the following ingredients.
Leaving the covered sponge to set at room temperature allows the yeast to work and develop flavor. Add the sponge to the dough once the sponge has at least doubled in size and is nice and bubbly. Never add salt to yeast. (or any acid for that matter)
To make your dough simply mix a good ratio of cool water to flour. The dough should be a bit sticky and wet. Take care not to add too much water. After the mixture is well-combined, let the flour and water dough rest for at least 20 minutes–this will allow the gluten to develop and the flour to absorb the seemingly excess water, leaving a nice tacky dough for you to work with.
The Bread Dough
Add the sponge to the dough and knead, adding flour as needed to keep it from being too sticky. You can either add salt at this step, once the two have been incorporated or wait for one rise before adding.
Divide and shape the dough at this step, using flour to keep it from sticking too much, or oil, depending on your proofing method and desired crust. You can shape the dough into loaves, boule, baguettes, rolls, etc. at this step and place the smooth shaped dough in your proofing basket, baking basket, or loaf pan to rise. To form a nice crust (as opposed to soft crust), you will want a wooden or wicker proofing basket or banneton or proofing cloth. Though proofing in a loaf pan can be much simpler, since most pans made of metal or glass, they are not able to wick away moisture from the crust. As a basic rule, let the dough double in size. Generally speaking, overproofing will ruin the structure of the bread, leading to collapsed loaves or holes that are too large, while underproofing will lead to a denser, less flavorful bread. It is up to you to find the optimal proofing time for your loaves.
Always preheat your oven. If you’ve used a banneton, gently turn out your dough onto your chosen pan or stone and dust away any excess flour. If you proofed your dough in a pan, you are ready to place it in the oven. Baking techniques vary from chef to chef, but find a nice hot temperature–I would say 375 degrees F is the lowest you would want to try–and give it a try. Some bakers will add a pan of water to the oven to add steam to the dry heat, resulting in a chewier crust. The bread is done when knocking on the beautifully browned crust gives a nice hollow sound. Let the loaves set after removing them from the hot oven to redistribute the moisture inside. A cooling rack will help to prevent the crust from becoming soggy.
Once the loaves are cool–or you just can’t wait, enjoy!
Getting the Proper Tools for the Job
You can proof your dough in a loaf pan. TechnoBake carries the gorgeous line of Panibois Wooden Bakeware and Molds. With the various sizes and shapes available, you’ll have no trouble personalizing your products. Click here to shop the Panibois line. For a quick reference of baking mold sizes and shapes, read our blog on “Baking Mold Dimensions.”
You can use a proofing basket. See our Bannetons and Baskets.
If you’re looking for advanced tools for your kitchen, shop our Baking Tools section for dough dividers, dough wheels, scoring blades, dough dockers, seamless linen by the meter, and paline, among others.
If there is a tool you have not been able to find on our site or elsewhere, contact us and we will gladly see if we can help.