Proving, Glazing and Baking Bread

Proving is the name usually given to the final rising of the dough before baking. It’s an important step in determining the final texture of the loaf or rolls. During proving the yeast continues to work creating small bubbles of gas in the bread. These bubbles give the final baked bread a light and airy texture. Underproved bread (bread that hasn’t been proved for long enough) will be dense and heavy.

You may be forgiven for thinking that the longer you prove dough the better it will be. In fact what happens is that the gas pressure in the little bubbles becomes so great that they “burst” and create larger bubbles within the dough. The final baked loaf will contain large holes, or in the case of the loaf in the video, a large cavern at the top of the loaf!

Ideally proving should aim to double the size of the dough and no more.

It is not uncommon to glaze proved dough immediately prior to baking. In the video I show the effects achieved by using a variety of glazes on simple bread rolls.

Milk and salt water darken the crust; the longer the baking time the greater the darkening.

Butter and oils give a more golden colour to the crust and modify the flavour of the crust slightly.

Egg-based glazes give a variety of effects from a satiny sheen to a gloss finish. The other important use of egg-based glazes is to bind external decoration to the loaf, for example seeds, oats or dried fruits (as in the case of Roscon de Reyes). Without the use of an egg-based glaze these decorative ingredients will tend to fall off the loaf easily after baking.

Possibly the most useful gadget I possess in my kitchen is an oven thermometer. It takes all the guesswork out of baking. I know when my oven is up to temperature and what that temperature is. My top tip is to get yourself an oven thermometer if you don’t already have one!

When you start baking the bread you want the temperature in the oven to be stable. In general the oven will be hottest at the top and coolest near the bottom – fan ovens reduce this gradient compared to conventional ovens. I tend to bake my breads and rolls in the middle of the oven and that is where I put my oven thermometer, but you may find you get better results when you bake bread lower or higher in the oven.

Baking times vary between breads and depend a lot on the actual baking temperature. For large loaves in particular there are two ways to know when bread is fully baked. Firstly it will sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom, and secondly the internal temperature should be around 90°C/195°F. I use a meat thermometer to check the inside of my loaves but you can buy digital probes for breadmaking uses only.

If you are new to breadmaking or new to your oven it can take a while to figure out the delicate balance between oven position, oven temperature and baking times. Rest assured that you will overbake or underbake at the beginning but each time you do you’ll remember to alter the baking time or check the bread more frequently. Eventually you’ll get to a point where you know that a certain loaf in your oven for a certain time at a certain temperature will bake to perfection!