At ThermoWorks we know that baking a great loaf of bread is as much about temperature as it is about time and chemistry. From start to finish, a fast and accurate thermometer can help you turn your next loaf of split-top, focaccia or french into a masterpiece.
Any great loaf of bread starts with great yeast. As a matter of fact, bread wouldn’t be bread without it. From the onset, most recipes will tell you you’ve got to give your yeast a swift kick in the pants to get those microorganisms multiplying, and most recommend you do that by dissolving them in a small bowl of warm water and sugar. The sugar feeds them, the warm water wakes them up.
Problem is, not many recipes tell you just how warm your water should be; nor do they tell you that your yeast will die – right along with your hopes of a delicious loaf – if the water is too hot.
Some “experienced” bakers will tell you to run water over your wrist and if it’s hot – but not “too” hot – you’re okay. But because all wrists are not created equal, this method is as useless as a bowl of dead yeast. Professionals suggest you use a thermometer to gauge the temperature of the liquid to which you add the yeast, and that it be somewhere between 105°-115°F. Warm enough to help dissolve and activate it, but not too hot to kill it.
You also have an opportunity to take advantage of a great temperature tool during the rise. Most recipes tell you to let your dough rise for an hour or so (depending on the type of bread and yeast used) in a warm place. Some even go so far as to say, “room temperature.” That begs the question, what’s constitutes a warm room and what exactly is room temperature?
Those in the scientific community testify that room temperature is taken to be about 73°F. However, they’re quick to point out that room temperature is not a defined scientific term and unlike Standard Temperature and Pressure (STP), has slightly different interpretations.
When it comes to baking bread however, 73°F seems like a fairly safe bet. Meaning, bread left to rise at that temperature will almost always perform as expected.
A quick wave of your Super-Fast® Thermapen® and you’ll have a good indication of the ambient temperature in your kitchen. Although not optimized to read ambient air, the ultra sensitive, super-fast thermocouple probe will begin reading the surrounding ambient temperature as soon as the probe is opened. Wave the tip back and forth for a few seconds and it should come to actual room temperature. If it reads 70° – 75°F you’ll know you’re in the optimum bread-rising zone.
Once your bread is baked, a thermometer should be on standby to gauge its internal temperature. The folks at America’s Test Kitchen have a few general rules for bread doneness. They suggest 170°F for richer doughs and 200 – 210°F for leaner breads. They also suggest you pull bread from the oven when it’s just a few degrees shy of the target temperature, as residual heat will finish off the baking.
The simplest way to take the temperature of bread baked in a loaf pan is to pierce the thermometer through the top crust into the center. But it’s not the best way, since it leaves behind a conspicuous hole. Instead, insert the thermometer from the side, just above the edge of the loaf pan, directing it at a downward angle toward the center of the loaf. For bread that is baked freeform, tip the loaf up (you’ll need an oven mitt for this part) and insert the probe through the bottom crust into the center of the loaf.
An accurate thermometer (used properly) will help you bake with confidence. However, what happens when your loaf of choice is a rustic bagel or an artisan baguette? When it comes to rustic and artisan breads, is internal temperature (by itself) sufficient proof that your bread is fully baked?
Keep an eye open for our next post where we’ll discuss thicker-crusted varieties and the importance of temperature, time and color.