During our Easy Homemade Bread Workshop today I shared my secrets to perfect bread. Here they are.
Make sure your yeast is good. Yeast should be stored in a cool place, if it gets too hot it may not work like it should. Yeast also has an expiration date. If your yeast has expired, be sure to check to see if it will work by placing some in a 1/2 cup of warm water with a tablespoon of sugar. Wait 5 minutes and see if it begins to bubble. If not the yeast will not work in your bread.
Make sure the liquids are the correct temperature before you add them to your yeast. Liquids should be between 115 to 130 degrees. The baby bottle test is what we use to use, but our wrists are all different. It is best to check with a thermometer.
My last tip is to check dough often as you are adding the last two cups of flour. Because we all measure a little differently and humidity plays a part, you will need to add a little flour and then check the dough. If you are using a stand mixer, the dough will be ready when it forms a ball that cleans the sides of the bowl. The dough should feel soft and moist, but not be sticky and gooey.
Turn it out on to a floured surface and if you can kneed it without it sticking to your fingers, it has enough flour. Kneeding is important as it helps the bread form gluten which is the structure of the bread. Kneed until the bread is smooth and elastic. If your dough is too sticky, you will need to add extra flour during the kneeding. You will need to kneed a little longer if you add flour
Be sure to allow dough to rise until it passes the "ripen" test. Stick your finger in the dough and if it retain the dent, it is ready.
Keep these tips in mind and your bread will come out perfect every time.