How to Make Yeast Breads
Yeast breads have a reputation for being complicated, but really, anyone can make them once they've learned the basics.
Yeast is a living organism that produces carbon dioxide bubbles, which cause bread to rise. It's available in several forms, but for our recipes we've used active dry yeast. Always remember to check the expiration date on the package of yeast to make sure it's fresh. Learn the strategies you need right here to make the perfect batch of yeast bread.
Dissolve dry yeast in water warmed to 100° to 110°–this step is also called proofing. It's always a good idea to use a thermometer to measure the temperature of the water until you feel comfortable recognizing the target temperature. You can also test the warmth of the liquid on your wrist–it should feel no warmer than a hot shower. About 5 minutes after mixing the yeast with the warm water, the mixture will start to bubble. If it doesn't bubble, the water was either too hot, which killed the yeast, or too cold, which inhibited its growth.
Note: Glass bowls and wooden spoons are preferable to metal ones, which can react with the dough and affect the bread's flavor.
The remaining ingredients are added to the yeast mixture to create a dough. Turn the dough out onto a smooth, lightly floured surface, and lightly flour your hands. Using the heels of your hands, push the dough away from you.
Lift the edge farthest away from you, and fold it toward you. Give the dough a quarter turn. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the dough feels smooth and elastic; this usually takes about 8 minutes. Using a timer is a good way to ensure proper kneading.
After kneading the dough, place it in a bowl coated with cooking spray; turn the dough so all the sides are coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and place it in a warm place (85°), free from drafts. You can create this environment by placing dough in a cool closed oven above a pan of boiling water.
The dough needs to rise until it's doubled in size, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. To check the dough, gently press 2 fingers about an inch into the dough. If the dough springs back immediately, it hasn't risen enough. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready.
Punch the dough down by pressing into the center with a closed fist. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes (this rest period makes the dough easier to handle), and then shape it into the desired form (rolls, loaves, etc.) for the final rise. Place the shaped dough on a baking sheet or in a pan. Coat the dough lightly with cooking spray, and cover it (just as you did for the first rise). The rising procedure and checking for doneness are the same as for the first rise. Then bake the bread according to the recipe's directions.