What Are the 12 Stages of Bread Making?

Breadmaking involves a series of 12 stages that play a crucial role in developing the bread’s texture, flavor, and structure.

In this article, we will explore the key phases of bread making, providing an overview of each step to help you create homemade bread successfully.

The 12 stages of bread making are as follows:

• Scaling the ingredients
• Mixing the dough
• Bulk fermentation
• Folding and streching
• Dividing 
• Preshaping
• Bench proofing
• Shaping 
• Final fermentation
• Scoring 
• Baking
• Cooling and Storing

1. Scaling the Ingredients

The first step in making bread is to select a reliable recipe and carefully measure the listed ingredients. This ensures that each time you make bread, you use the exact amount of ingredients required, resulting in consistent texture and flavor.

Using a precise scale to measure the components by weight, rather than volume, is crucial for accuracy. Different ingredients have different densities, and their volume can vary due to factors like sifting or compression. On the other hand, the weight of an ingredient remains the same regardless of external factors.

If you are interested in learning more about the components of bread, you may wish to check out my article on basic ingredients in bread and their functions for a detailed guide.

A black digital kitchen scale showing 10 grams, with a glass bowl with salt on the scale.

2. Mixing the dough

When it comes to baking bread, mixing or kneading the dough is absolutely crucial. However, before you begin mixing, it’s important to ensure the water temperature is just right to achieve your desired dough consistency.

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Mixing the dough serves multiple important functions:

  • It ensures that all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
  • By hydrating the flour and activating the yeast, mixing kickstarts the fermentation process, allowing the dough to rise.
  • Most importantly, it helps develop the gluten structure, which gives the bread its texture and elasticity.

Be mindful not to overdo it with the mixing. If you overwork the dough, the gluten bonds can break apart, and nobody wants a loaf with a collapsed structure. While it’s nearly impossible to overwork the dough by hand, it’s easier to unintentionally go overboard with a powerful mixer.

Mixing Techniques

Hand mixing involves combining the ingredients for bread dough using your own hands. This method provides a direct connection with the dough, allowing you to feel its texture and consistency. Hand mixing is often preferred by traditionalists and those who appreciate the hands-on experience of bread baking.

Using a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment is a popular and convenient method for mixing bread dough. It saves physical effort compared to hand mixing. The powerful motor and dough hook of a stand mixer work together to thoroughly mix and knead the dough, developing gluten and creating a smooth, elastic texture. If you want to learn more about stand mixers, I recommend reading my article on Kenwood Chef mixers, where I share my first-hand experience.

Bread machines are automated devices explicitly designed for baking bread. They come equipped with built-in mixers and heating elements, allowing them to handle the kneading, fermenting, and baking functions. These machines offer convenience and simplicity, making bread baking accessible to everyone.

3. Bulk Fermentation (Primary Fermentation)

After the dough is mixed, the yeast and flour are hydrated, and the process of dough fermentation begins. There are various ways to initiate fermentation, such as using a sourdough starter, pre-ferments made with yeast, or baker’s yeast.

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During fermentation, enzymatic processes break down the starches in the flour into simple sugars, which become a source of nourishment for the yeast. As the yeast feeds on these sugars, it produces carbon dioxide gas, which becomes trapped within the dough, causing it to rise. Additionally, alcohol is a byproduct of fermentation, contributing to the bread’s flavor profile, and it evaporates during baking.

The primary fermentation stage is super important because it’s where the majority of the dough’s flavor develops. This stage also leads to the production of organic acids, which contribute to the bread’s taste, strengthen the dough structure, and help prolong its freshness.

For bread made from wheat, it is advisable to maintain a temperature range of around 75-78°F (24-26°C) during fermentation. This temperature range promotes optimal yeast activity and enhances flavor development.

4. Folding and Stretching

Folding and stretching the dough serves three important purposes: it removes excess gas, evens out the dough’s temperature, and strengthens the dough by stretching and aligning the gluten strands.

During fermentation, incorporating the technique of folding the dough can significantly enhance the quality of your bread. To fold the dough effectively, start by sprinkling some flour on your work surface. Place the dough on the floured surface and gently fold one side over the dough, gently pressing out some of the trapped gas. Repeat this process with all four sides of the dough.

The frequency of folding the dough depends on various factors such as the dough’s hydration, desired strength, and fermentation duration. Doughs typically require at least one fold to release excess gas. High-hydration doughs and those made with weaker flour can benefit from multiple folds to improve their structure. However, it’s worth noting that certain breads, such as rye bread, may not require folding at all.

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5. Dividing the Dough

When it comes to making multiple loaves of bread or intricate baked goods like braided bread, dividing the dough becomes a crucial step in both commercial bakeries and home kitchens.

Dividing the dough allows for precise portioning, ensuring consistent sizes and baking times for each individual loaf. To achieve accuracy, it’s highly recommended to use a reliable kitchen scale for measuring the dough and then dividing it into equal portions. If necessary, make slight adjustments by adding or removing small pieces of dough until the desired weight is achieved.

This precise division is key in determining the size of the resulting loaves and selecting the appropriate pans or proofing baskets. Over time, you’ll develop a sense of how a risen loaf should appear and fit in a pan or basket.

Keep in mind that the weight of the baked product will be slightly less than that of the raw dough due to moisture loss during baking. Take this into account when portioning the dough to ensure the desired final size.

Before you begin dividing the dough, ensure your hands, scale, and work surface are lightly floured. This simple step prevents the dough from sticking. Treat the dough gently, avoiding any unnecessary tearing or ripping. Use a bench scraper or a sharp knife to make clean, precise cuts, maintaining the dough’s structure and preserving any trapped air.

Dividing and Preshaping Bread Dough

6. Preshaping the Dough

The primary goal of preshaping is to give the dough structure and tension, resulting in well-shaped loaves with an even crumb structure. Preshaping aligns the gluten strands, redistributes gas bubbles, and prepares the dough for its final shaping.

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To preshape the dough, gently pat it into a rough shape, usually round or oval, taking care to degas it while avoiding complete deflation. Place the preshaped dough on a floured surface for the bench rest phase.

7. Bench Rest

During the bench rest period, the preshaped dough is allowed to relax and become more pliable for the final shaping. The gluten structure typically requires 5-20 minutes to relax, after which the dough can be shaped again. The duration of bench proofing is influenced by how tightly the loaves were preshaped.

To prevent the formation of a surface crust, cover the preshaped loaves with plastic covers during the benching phase.

Multiple pieces of read dough on a floured granite surface shaped to uniform balls.

8. Shaping

Shaping bread dough is the step of giving it its final form before undergoing the final fermentation and baking. The specific shaping technique varies depending on the desired type of bread.

For round bread like boules and rolls, tuck the edges of the dough underneath while rotating it on a floured surface, creating tension on the surface. When dealing with long loaves such as baguettes and batards, elongate the dough into a rectangle, fold it in thirds, and roll it tightly. It’s important to be mindful of squeezing out as little air as possible during shaping.

After the initial shaping, ensure the seams and edges of the dough are properly sealed by gently pressing and pinching them together. This step, regardless of the bread type, helps maintain the shape and prevents the dough from splitting during baking.

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9. Final Fermentation

The final fermentation phase, also known as proofing, takes place after the dough has been shaped and is ready for its last rise before baking. During this crucial stage, the dough undergoes important transformations to develop its final flavor, texture, and structure.

In this phase, the yeast continues to feed on sugars, producing carbon dioxide gas that causes the dough to rise further. Additionally, the yeast and lactic acid bacteria create flavor-enhancing by-products, including organic acids, which contribute to the delicious taste of the bread. The duration of the final fermentation phase can vary from 1 hour to two days, depending on factors such as the dough composition and ambient temperature.

Depending on the bread type, the shaped dough can be placed in proofing baskets, couches, baking pans, or baking trays for the final rising phase. It’s essential to keep the shaped bread covered during this phase to prevent the surface from drying out.

Avoiding both over-proofing and under-proofing is crucial, as they can negatively affect the taste and appearance of the bread. Allowing the bread to rise fully before baking is not recommended, as it may lose its ability to expand properly in the oven and result in collapse. Ideally, the bread should be proofed up to a maximum of 90 percent of its final rise before baking.

If you’re curious to learn more about this topic, you may wish to read my article on the consequences of baking under the proofed dough and how it can impact your bread.

A round sourdough bread decorated with scoring and flour.

10. Scoring the Bread

Scoring involves making shallow cuts on the surface of the dough, which serve an important purpose. These incisions allow the release of gases trapped inside the dough and create weak points that enable controlled expansion during baking. Without proper scoring, bread can burst through weak spots, resulting in irregular shapes. Just before baking, it’s important to score the bread. However, if your dough has over-risen, be cautious as it may deflate when slashed.

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When scoring bread, using a sharp metal tool is essential to avoid tearing or compressing the dough. You have various options for scoring tools, such as a bread lame, scissors, a razor blade, or a utility knife. Additionally, lightly flouring the surface of the dough before scoring helps prevent sticking.

While traditional scoring patterns, like those used for baguettes, are common, there’s room for creativity. You can dust flour onto the dough surface before making cuts with a scoring tool, allowing you to create intricate designs or patterns, resulting in visually appealing and decorative bread.

It’s worth noting that some breads are baked without scoring. Enriched bread, such as brioche or challah, with their softer texture, does not require scoring. Similarly, small individual rolls like dinner rolls or hamburger buns are typically shaped individually and do not need slashing. Additionally, ciabatta, known for its rustic appearance, is traditionally not scored. Its high hydration and slack dough naturally result in an irregular shape and a distinctive crust.

While we’re discussing bread scoring, I encourage you to read my article on the consequences of not scoring bread.

Scoring Baguettes

11. Baking

During the baking process, various significant transformations occur in the dough, involving physical, biological, and enzymatic changes.

The first notable transformation that takes place in the oven is the oven spring, which marks the final stage of fermentation. As yeast produces carbon dioxide and enzymes convert starches into sugars, the dough rapidly expands until yeast cells die at around 140°F (60°C).

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With the increasing temperature, starches undergo gelatinization, gluten coagulates, and a crust forms through the Maillard reaction and caramelization. Additionally, moisture loss occurs throughout the baking process.

Most types of bread are considered fully baked when the internal temperature reaches around 190°F (88°C), while baguettes typically require a higher temperature of 212°F (100°C), as stated by kingarthurbaking.com. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can determine if the bread is properly baked by tapping its bottom, which should produce a hollow sound.

12. Cooling and Storing

After baking, it’s important to allow the loaves to cool down at room temperature. The flavor and aroma of well-made bread improve once it has completely cooled. Some bread types, such as sourdough, require a few hours or more for the flavors to blend perfectly, while bread with a significant amount of rye flour may need 24 to 48 hours to develop its full flavor.

If you plan to consume the bread within a few days, storing it at room temperature is ideal. You can use a bread box, a paper bag, or loosely wrap it in a clean kitchen towel. It’s important to provide some airflow to prevent moisture from being trapped and the crust from becoming soggy and soft. Avoid storing bread in the refrigerator, as cold temperatures can accelerate staleness.

For longer-term storage, freezing is a great option. Wrap the slices or the entire loaf tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and then place them in a freezer bag. Frozen bread can maintain its quality for several months without significant loss. When ready to use, the frozen bread should be reheated to temporarily restore its freshness.

Final Thoughts

Breadmaking involves understanding and implementing the 12 essential stages we covered in this article. It begins with scaling and mixing the ingredients to achieve proper hydration and gluten development.

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Bulk fermentation enhances yeast activity and flavor development. Folding, stretching, dividing, pre-shaping, and bench-proofing prepare the dough for its final shaping. Final fermentation allows the dough to rise and develop flavor. Scoring the bread before baking adds a decorative touch and promotes controlled expansion. Finally, the baking process is followed by the essential steps of cooling and storing.

By following these 12 steps of bread making, you can create professional-level homemade bread.

Debora

Debora

My name is Debora, the founder of My Delicious Sweets, and a qualified confectioner with broad experience in the confectionery industry. On my blog, I will share important, interesting, and fun facts about food, along with some of my favorite recipes.

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