How do I know my bread is done?
We get a lot of e mails from our wonderful students about the actual baking process which may not go exactly to plan when they get home.
Here is a list of the top five concerns:
1. How do I know the bread is done?
2. Does a big loaf (1 kg) take longer than a small loaf?
3. My bread sounded done but is quite underdone in the middle.
4. My bread gets too brown on the top.
5. What is the optimal temperature to bake bread?
So, let’s take these in turn. However, the first thing to do is to get an oven thermometer and check the temperature of your oven. If you are trying to bake at 220 and you are really baking at 200 or 240 you will have to adjust your timings or get your oven mended.
1. Bread is done when it sounds hollow and feels thin and crispy on the bottom. Bread is also done when the inside temperature is 98 degrees celsius. You can buy a clever bread thermometer from a good cook store or catering supply company (or try Bakery Bits or Creeds online) and then you will always know if your bread is done.
You can also take the bread out of the oven (and out of the tin if it is in one) and tap the bottom of the loaf. It really does sound hollow if it is done. If it does not sound hollow just put it back in the oven (either in or out of the tin) and leave it for another five minutes and then check it again. If you are uncertain, do this anyway and observe the difference in the sound.
For those of you whose sense of touch is more acute than your sense of hearing (that includes me) your bread is done when it feels “thin”. By that I mean when it feels like there is nothing underneath the crust – like a snare drum, rather than a drum with cotton wool under the surface. I have difficultly describing it in any other way. Once again, give the bread a tap and if you are not sure, put it back in the oven for 5 minutes and then try again. Observe the difference so you can get really good at knowing when it is done.
2. A big loaf does not necessarily take longer than a small loaf – although it depends what you mean by small and big. A loaf weighing 500 g takes as much time as a loaf weighing a kilo. A loaf weighing 100 g takes less. Bread rolls (usually 100 g or less) take less time than a big loaf and for that reason it is a good idea to bake them at a high temperature in order to make sure they go brown when they are done, and do not stay a pale, sickly colour. But for medium to large loaves, it’s kind of like a turkey: the bigger it is, the less it takes per kilo to cook because the internal temperature of the bird rises and it begins to cook itself. Try it some time. Put a 1 kg loaf and a 500 g loaf in at the same time. They should take about the same time to cook.
3. If your bread is underdone in the middle it cannot have sounded hollow. It must have sounded dull when you tapped it. Just be brave and leave it in the oven for another 5 minutes at a time until it really does sound hollow. Or, get a thermometer!
4. If your bread is getting too brown try baking it on a lower shelf in the oven or covering it with aluminium foil part way through the baking process. If you have a sweetener in the bread (honey, sugar, molasses, malt syrup, etc) your bread will brown more quickly as the sugar caramelises. If all else fails, bake it for longer at a lower temperature, but don’t go below 200 degrees celsius.
5. There are plenty of tempuratures at which you can bake bread. The conventional domestic cook book calls for you to bake bread at 200 degrees. This is probably because early domestic ovens only went up to 200 degrees and so home cooks were advised to bake at 200 degrees! Aga cooks were advised differently because the top oven of an Aga is much higher than that. Commercially baked bread (whether in a factory or by a craft baker or by the village baker with a stone oven) is baked at much higher temperatures for shorter amounts of time. Sourdough bread is baked at a different temperature to encourage oven spring in the less powerful natural yeast.
As a guide (and it is really only a guide) you can think about the following:
Bread Rolls – at 220 for 20 minutes or on the bottom shelf of the top oven of an Aga for 12-15 minutes.
Bread with commercial yeast (500 g to 1 kg) – at 200 for 45 minutes, at 220 for 30-35 minutes or on the bottom shelf of the top oven of an Aga for 20-25 minutes. You can also put your oven up as high as it will go and then reduce the temperature when you put the bread in (not an Aga of course) and then take 5 minutes off the cooking time.
Sourdough bread (500 g to 1 kg) – at 230 for 10 minutes and then at 200 for 30 minutes; at 25o for 10 minutes then at 230 for 10 minutes then at 200 for 10 minutes or on the bottom shelf of the top oven of an Aga for 30 minutes.
Some kinds of bread – especially those with padding such as mashed vegetables or scalded grains or flour – will be more cake like in texture and so must be baked at a lower temperature to ensure they cook through before they burn. If you are doing something like this you may be asked to heat the oven to 250 and then bake the bread at 180. Do follow the recipe at least the first time if there is an unusual baking instruction given – the writer usually has a reason for it!
Still unsure? Come and take a course with us and learn how to make bread at home!