There’s nothing quite so delicious as homemade bread. Biting into that fresh, soft fluffiness, preferably dripping with butter, is one of the best eating experiences. But sometimes, homemade bread comes out dense and solid.
How do you make sure your homebaked bread turns out soft?
To make bread soft, ensure that the loaf rises well and retains moisture. For effective rising, see that the yeast is fresh and active, use bread flour with a good percentage of gluten, and knead effectively. To add moisture, include fats, milk, or eggs in the dough, or use the Tangzhong method.
Commercially baked bread often seems softer than the bread you bake at home because they use chemical dough enhancers and flavoring agents. But there are some baking secrets you can learn at home to make your homemade bread soft.
1 – Watch Your Yeast
Yeast is the organism that makes bread rise, so you need to begin with the raising agent to create soft, light bread.
Most bread recipes begin with activating the yeast by mixing the yeast with warm milk or water or combining the yeast with the flour and adding the warm liquids to that.
Bakers differ as to which is the best yeast to use, but the easiest is high-quality, fast-activating yeast, which you add directly to the flour.
Whether you choose fresh or dry yeast, make sure that it has not expired. Test or “proof” your yeast by combining one teaspoon of yeast with ¼ cup of warm water and ¼ teaspoon of white sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes or so. If the yeast is still active, your mixture should be foamy and bubbly. If not, throw out the yeast.
However, the best yeast in the world won’t create soft bread if you neutralize it at the beginning of the baking process. Yeast is sensitive to heat, and even 10 degrees difference in temperature will affect the yeast’s growth.
If the liquid you add to it is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If the fluid is too cold, the yeast won’t activate. Any liquid should be lukewarm or body temperature, no warmer than 110⁰F.
Ideally, warm the mixing bowl first and have all ingredients at room temperature, including flour, milk, water, and eggs.
2 – Use Bread Flour
Choosing the correct type of flour can help your bread to be soft and tender. Rather than using cake or all-purpose flour, use unbleached bread flour, which will absorb more moisture and has a higher protein content, around 12 to 13 %.
The particular protein in bread flour is gluten, a web-like protein molecule that develops when flour is handled or kneaded and becomes stretchy. To make it soft and springy, you want to build this texture in bread, so choose strong flour that contains a high percentage of gluten.
3 – Add Fat
Fat plays a vital role in baked goods, helping to trap air in the dough. The air helps the bread to rise and remain moist.
Most bread recipes include either butter or oil. For example, focaccia bread uses olive oil for flavor and tenderness. On the other hand, brioche is made with a lot of butter to create a delicate crumb. The softer the bread, the more fat the recipe includes.
It is essential to add the fats at the correct stage of dough preparation – adding too much fat too early can hamper gluten development. Recipes for butter-rich bread tend to have the butter added gradually once the dough has been kneaded.
Even if a loaf doesn’t contain oil as an ingredient, you will often oil or butter the dish in which bread will be proofed or rise. During proofing, dough exposed to the air can cause moisture in the bread to evaporate. Instead, covering the dough with olive oil creates a barrier that prevents the dough from drying out.
You can also add fat to the bread at the end of the baking process, for instance, brushing the crust of a freshly baked loaf with butter or drizzling focaccia with olive oil.
4 – Add Milk
An easy way to make your loaf more tender is to add milk to the dough – you can replace the water in the recipe with milk. Milk contains fats, which add to the moisture and airiness of the bread.
5 – Add Eggs
Another ingredient that will make your bread soft and light is eggs. Eggs add fats, increasing the richness of the bread and air, which makes for fluffier bread. Think of how soft challah is – this bread contains both eggs and milk.
6 – Add Potato
A surprising ingredient that creates softer bread is potato. Potato is an old-fashioned bread ingredient, as the starch in the potato forms a very tender loaf.
You can either bake potato bread, where mashed potato is an ingredient, or replace the liquid in your recipe with potato water (the water in which potatoes were boiled).
The taste of the potato disappears, and you will enjoy waxily soft bread that makes incredibly delicious toast.
7 – Use The Tangzhong Method
The Tangzhong method of making bread is an Asian innovation that produces the delightfully soft milk bread famous in Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
The Tangzhong method involves cooking some of the flour and milk before adding it to the rest of the bread’s ingredients. Heating the flour and milk to about 149⁰F (65⁰C) locks in moisture by activating the starch in the flour, allowing it to absorb twice as much water as usual.
The extra moisture turns to steam in the oven, increasing the bread’s feathery lightness and lengthening its shelf life.
This approach creates an almost pillowy texture in your bread, probably the softest bread you’ll ever eat. You can use the Tangzhong method for making bread, dinner rolls, or even cinnamon rolls.
8 – Knead Well
You can use the best yeast and add milk, eggs, and potatoes to your dough, but you will produce a tough, dense loaf unless your bread is kneaded well enough to activate the gluten.
Underdeveloped gluten is the main reason for poorly risen and heavy bread, so kneading is essential in the bread-making process.
You can use a standing mixer with a dough hook or knead by hand. Either way, you need to knead for about 10 minutes until your dough is ready for proofing. Well-kneaded dough is smooth, less sticky, and stretchy. It feels somewhat like your earlobe.
To test that your dough is adequately kneaded, take a golf-ball-size piece of dough and stretch it between your thumb and fingers, rotating and pulling. If your dough can stretch out thin enough for light to shine through, it is properly kneaded. If the dough tears as you start stretching it, knead more.
9 – Don’t Slice It Immediately
It’s tempting to slice open your loaf as soon as it comes out of the oven – the smell is divine, and your mouth will be watering.
However, to keep your bread soft and moist, leave the bread on a well-ventilated cooling rack until it has thoroughly cooled. Slicing the bread too early will allow much of the moisture to escape, and your bread will dry out.
If you are baking bread, you can ensure a soft, delicately crumbed loaf by using good quality yeast, increasing the moisture content of the bread by using bread flour, adding fats, and guaranteeing the dough has been properly kneaded.