Yeasted Dough

There is nothing in this world that is quite like the scent of freshly baked yeasted dough products. With all due respect to other baked items, in my humble opinion, yeasted dough pastries are the kings and queens. They are so soft and comforting, with a variety of colors, shapes and fillings. Why is it so that so many people are avoiding working with yeasted dough?

As with any type of baked goods, we’d simply need to learn to control the ingredients in order to feel confident. If a dough is too sticky or under-proofed, there is always something we can do about it in order to fix the issue.

This page is dedicated fully to correct baking of yeasted dough pastries, with emphasis on basic knowledge, and less focus on laminated yeasted doughs as they are a very complicated and unique topic for discussion. I hop you will find new information that will interest you, and assist you in baking your next, perfect yeasted dough pasty!

1. What are yeasts?

Baking yeasts, similarly to their other yeastly siblings, are fungi. This is a single cell organism that metabolizes just like any other living being. When baking, yeasts are being used to leaven the dough, in contrast to using chemical leavening agents such as baking powder and soda. Yeasts require food, oxygen and optimal temperature in order for us to maximize their full potential, and in return, benefit a well proofed dough, that is stable and fragrant.

Baking yeasts are common in the form of dried yeasts and fresh yeasts blocks. Some would claim that using fresh yeasts help get better results when compared to using dried yeasts. Personally, I cannot confirm this claim. But there is no doubt that fresh block of yeasts does smell wonderful. Dried yeasts can be stored for a very long time in the freezer. Therefore, as someone who baked a lot with yeasts, this is a very practical feature.

2. Types of flours that are commonly used in making yeasted dough

Most hombakers will successfully execute many recipes using the good old all-purpose flour. However, there is also bread flour. This flour contains higher amounts of the wheat protein, gluten, therefore its contribution in creating a more stable pastry is preferable.

3. Different types of yeasted dough

Yeasted dough recipes are a common request among baking fans. Each one of us, most likely treasures at least one recipe of a yeasted dough cake, and I haven’t even mentioned yet the plethora of recipes available online. But why do we need such variety in the first place?
Like many other bakers, I also have at my disposal several yeasted dough recipes that I am using repeatedly, as I know that each type of dough would not necessarily be the right kind for its purpose.

My approach is as follows: it is more impressive and interesting to me to work with a dough recipe that will be suitable for a wide range of usage, compared to many different dough recipes that would work well for only one purpose. The different recipes all over the web were adapted from basic dough formulas, and I guess it’s not really possible to crown the perfect dough. As with many things in life, everything is relative, even considering a yeasted dough.

  • Bread dough- the most basic bread is a mixture of flour, yeasts and water. Upgraded breads such as Challah, also contain oil, eggs and sugar in order to enrich both texture and flavor. Generally speaking, however, the simplest bread can be made out of three ingredients only.

  • Enriched yeasted dough- this dough is enriched with milk instead of water, butter instead of oil, and eggs that contribute both fat and extra liquid.
    The amounts of butter and eggs in this dough are smaller when compared to a brioche dough (the richest dough), however this is a classic home-made dough that many are familiar with when making classic yeasted dough pastries. It is super nice to work with and tastes great.

  • Brioche dough- as mentioned before, this is the most enriched dough out of them all, with the largest amounts of butter and eggs. Additional fats and liquids cause this dough to be very sticky and not very user friendly.
    However, if you let it rest overnight, allowing it to slowly proof and stabilize, you can easily work with it just like any other type of yeasted dough breads.

  • Laminated yeasted dough- these most beloved and famous doughs are categorized into two: laminated croissant dough and laminated brioche dough. Both are enriched with butter and contain extra butter folded into them, creating a layering effect of dough-butter. During baking, the dough layers practically get fried by the butter and the result is crisp and crumbly pastries with the most powerful and wonderful flavor of butter.

4. Correct preparation and kneading of yeasted dough

When preparing yeasted doughs, it is very important to maintain the correct order of ingredients that go into the mixing bowl. Simply put, all of the ingredients should be added into the bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the dough hook, except for the butter. All of the ingredients must come together to a single and durable dough, and only then, cold butter cubes are being gradually added.

The butter should be cold straight from the refrigerator since the action of kneading by the machine is an intensive mechanical activity that produces a lot of heat as a result from the friction created by the dough slamming against the bowl. The butter’s temperature prevents over-heating of the dough and allows to finish the kneading process at a temperature that is optimal for the yeasts’ activity (for the same reasons, it is also important to use cold eggs and milk).

The reason for adding the butter after the dough is formed, is since the fat actually prevents a good gluten network development, by coating the protein molecules and preventing them to bond to one another.

Regarding the myth that claims that salt should not be added together with the salt: well, I can testify that I’ve tried kneading my doughs with and without salt, and could not detect and dramatic difference. It should make more sense (and here’s a thing no one almost ever mention), to add the sugar towards the end of the kneading process. Sugar is also known as a gluten development inhibitor. I’m quite sure that you were often kneading your doughs for so long, however the finished dough was not 100% smooth. This happens because of the addition of sugar.

A word about correct kneading:
Yeasted doughs should be kneaded in a standing mixer bowl only, that is fitted with the dough hook (or the paddle attachment, in case the amount of dough in the bowl is too small for the dough hook to pick it up and knead it efficiently). For those of you who love straining their arms and shoulders for a whole hour in order to properly knead the dough, I am not going to stop you.

However, I think a tiny disclaimer is in order, when we’re dealing with small amounts of dough (around 300g in total), I’d totally prefer to knead it by hand, as the machine will not be very effective for such small amounts.

The kneading process must be slow. Speed number 1 or 2 at best. The motor of commonly used household mixers cannot tolerate the intense friction of the dough with the bowl, which puts your machine at risk of breaking if you raise the kneading speed to higher settings. Professional bakeries are using serious kneading machines that are not only very effective, but are also very quiet compared to household standing mixers.

This comes at a price though.
Kneading time should be between 10-15 minutes, with some needed help to occasionally scrape the bottom of the mixer’s bowl in order to ensure even kneading.

The best way to tell whether the dough was sufficiently kneaded, is to perform the “window pane test”. You simply take a small piece of dough and stretch it between your fingers to form a very thin layer of dough that is almost see-through. A well kneaded dough should also have beautiful and smooth surface.
There are some difficulties in telling how good enriched brioche doughs were kneaded.

The window pane test would not be as successful for less enriched dough, but it is still recommended to give it a try. At most cases, we should rely on the kneading time as a main indicator for good kneading. Enriched doughs are proofed overnight in the refrigerator in order to allow the butter to set and solidify, the flour will absorb the liquids and the dough will relax so it will become easier to work with.

5. Correct proofing

When working with yeasted doughs, there are commonly two types of proofing. The initial proofing that goes between two – 24 hours (depending on the recipe). It is mainly used for sufficiently relaxing the gluten network, to allow the dough to be rolled without any resistance. My personal recommendation is that any kind of yeasted dough should be going through a full night in the refrigerator.

Patience is a virtue when working with this type of doughs. The second proofing occurs after shaping the pastry. It commonly lasts up to 1 hour (again, depending on the recipe), at room temperature (250C).In order to test for a successful second proofing, we perform the finger poke test:

  • If the hole is getting filled back with air rapidly, we need to allow the dough some additional proofing time.
  • If the hole is slowly getting filled back, proofing step is complete and we can put our pastry in the oven.
  • If the hole does not fill back, the dough is over-proofed and therefore will not rise properly during baking.

6. Correct baking of yeasted dough pastries

Most yeasted dough pastries are baked at a temperature that ranges between 170-1800C, with the fan mode turned off, and a baking rack is placed at the lowest level inside the oven. It should be highlighted again that the biggest baking efforts for most household ovens, are focused at the lowest part, which is covered.

Enriched yeasted dough pastries that are filled with heavy fillings, should typically be baked for 30-40 minutes, with the ideal internal temperature of 970C, which guarantees that there are no underbaked bits of dough.
Breads and Challahs can be considered done at lower temperature that ranges between 90-920C, since there is no filling that interrupts proper baking of the dough.

7. Additional notes regarding yeasted doughs

    1. It is possible to tell in advanced whether it is going to be easier or challenging to work with a specific yeasted dough, by taking a look at the ratio of liquids to flour (liquids = water, milk and eggs). Please note that most yeasted dough you are making time and time again, contain liquids that are between 50-55% of the flour’s amounts. This ratio guarantees that your dough will be a dream to work with, and very rich when its done baking.
      Yeasted doughs with 60-64% liquids compared to flour, are more characteristics of a brioche dough.

    2. Please refrain from altering the flour to liquids ratio in the recipes you put to the test. If a specific dough turns out to be sticky, it is totally fine. Remember this dough will get a very long rest in the refrigerator, and its going to be a lot of pleasure to work with.
      Additional flour will impair the final taste and texture of the pastry. This includes the extra flour we add when flouring our counter before rolling the dough. Which leads me to my next point.

    3. When flouring our counter, the intention is to lightly dust it with flour. Remember that all that excess flour will eventually be absorbed into the dough and change the ratio of ingredients.
      There are certain cases where recipes will explicitly specify to generously flour the counter, however the authors of such recipes have already taken the final result into account.

    4. Maintaining moisture:
      There’s high importance to maintain the moisture of the pastry even before it goes into the oven. I am using a small water spray bottle which is filled with water, in order to moisten my pastries at each of the following working steps:
      • After shaping the pastry
      • After the second proofing
      • As soon as I get the pastry inside the oven

Theses extra water additions are enriching the dough with liquids, contribute to a steam rich environment during baking, which encourages nice rising of the pastry in the oven and enhance the chances of it staying moist for longer. The fourth addition of moisture comes at the form of a simple syrup, brushed as soon as the pastry comes out of the oven. A simple syrup is a mixture of sugar and water in a 1:1 ratio.
A cold syrup should be brushed over a hot pastry. The differences in temperature encourages proper soaking by the pastry and a shiny finish.

Egg washing pastries before baking:
The purpose of brushing the pastry with egg wash is to give it a browned look. My personal opinion about the matter is that it is not really necessary and I can’t quite see the point in doing this, except for specific cases. I don’t like the idea of wasting a whole egg to brush a single (or a couple) of cakes.
Spraying the pastry with water does exactly the same. We should also remember that browning of pastries occur naturally due to the high contents of gluten, and sugars that are caramelizing during baking.

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