Soft bread or buns are a delicious treat all day round and it feels really comforting to be able to sink our teeth into a fresh, warm bun.
Some people may ask why some bread are soft while others are harder. Well, soft bread has carbon dioxide trapped in it which is produced by the yeast and water. When water is steamed when the bread is baked, carbon dioxide gets trapped by the gluten mesh causing the bread to expand. The dough then takes its shape.
Some reasons why the bread is not soft:
1. Dough too dry
This is a common mistake made by bakers. Gluten needs moisture to stretch and form the structure that traps air in the bread. If the bread dough is too dry, it would not form a good gluten and the bread would not have a good elasticity to rise.
Also, for soft bread, steam is needed to be produced and be trapped in the bread. If there is insufficient water, steam cannot be produced.
2. Yeast inactive/ inhibited
Is the yeast used is too old, had been in contact with salt or do not have enough water to work with, the yeast would not be able to function properly and cause the bread to rise nicely during fermentation. Yeast has a few functions. Firstly, it converts sugar into carbon dioxide to cause rising of the bread dough. Next, yeast also adds flavor to the dough. It is advisable to put the yeast and the salt at different ends of the bowl so that the salt would not inhibit the yeast from causing the dough to rise.
3. Dough not well kneaded
Kneading improves the structure of the bread dough as the gluten molecules are stretched allowing them to link up. This makes the dough stretchy and pliable, formimg a structure that traps air when the dough rises during baking. Under kneaded dough does not have enough structure so air cannot be sufficiently trapped in the bread.
4. Dough kneaded for too long
This does not usually occur but if you over knead the dough, the structure of the bread would be too rigid and this prevents the structure from expanding.
5. Dough under-risen
Different books have different rising time for the dough. It is usually between 45 minutes to an hour but this is not good enough especially if the yeast used is old. If old yeast is used, rising time goes up to 3 hours.
6. Dough over-risen
If the dough rises too long, the yeast will be exhaust the sugars in the dough and this leads to a loss of air during baking, this makes the dough denser.
For nice soft bread, start off with really sticky dough and let the dough stretch on the counter top. This builds up gluten really quickly. After this, knead the dough for about 1 minute adding flour in between until you have a soft dough that sticks a bit to the counter top. This stickiness is an indication that there is enough moisture in the dough. You can add a bit more dough and then stop adding anymore to avoid the dough from drying out. If you want to prevent sticking, you can add vegetable oil instead of flour.
Knead the dough until you reach the consistency you want. Initially when you start kneading, the dough would be rough and pull into pieces easily. However once you keep kneading, the dough would become more elastic and stretchy. For a soft bun, make sure the dough is able to stretch out to about one and the half arm length.
Next, rising time needed for the dough also depends on the temperature and humidity of the environment, the activity of the yeast and other factors. For a soft bun, the dough should rise to not only double its original size. It should at least triple its original size so make sure you place the dough in a large bowl. Once the dough has risen to triple its size, slash the dough with a knife about ½ inch down and do it quickly to avoid punching down the dough. Slashing would split the top portion of the dough allowing the dough to rise more efficiently once it is placed into the oven.
Another tip to note is to make sure the oven is PRE-HEATED before the dough is baked. The high temperature would make the yeast active allowing fermentation to occur. Also, the high temperature allows the steam to get trapped by the gluten mesh before the vapour evaporates. If the dough is not slashed, the dough would not rise nicely.
Next time when you try making bread, look out for these pointers and you will definitely see a difference in the bread quality and texture 🙂 Happy baking!
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