Making bread dough


For around 1 kg of bread you need:

  • 800 gr flour
  • a little less than 1/2 litre of lukewarm water or milk
  • 8 gr salt (1 teaspoon)
  • 10 to 15 g yeast or leaven


The more dough you make for a baking session, the less yeast you need in proportion to the amount of dough: e.g. for 10 kg flour, 125g yeast is enough. The yeast works better in a large quantity of dough than in a small one. The temperature also plays a role: in summer you need less yeast than in winter.

Yeast can be wet yeast or brewer’s yeast, and dry yeast or baker’s yeast. Both are currently used for white wheat bread. However, dry yeast has to be activated before it is added to the flour and the other ingredients. To do so it is dissolved in lukewarm water with added sugar (1 teaspoon of sugar for every 3 dl liquid). Mixed with water, wet yeast can be added to the flour and other ingredients directly.

Yeast feeds on sugars and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. In dough, these breakdown products make the dough rise. During the baking process, the high temperature makes the carbon dioxide expand, creating the characteristic holes in bread and making it light. The alcohol that escapes from the dough during baking, causes the brown crust and stops the bread burning.


Instead of yeast you can also dissolve leaven or sourdough in water. Leaven is a living organism that reacts to external conditions: temperature, moisture, etc. It thus reacts differently to every batch and you can only learn to work with it by experiment. Leaven is currently only used to make rye bread or mixed bread, not for white wheat bread any more. There is nothing to stop you trying it out though to see if you like it.

Leaven is obtained by mixing flour and water into a soft dough that has to leaven for 1 to 3 days. Then you gradually add flour and water at least once a day, mixing it well for 4 to 5 days until you have enough to prepare bread. Leaven ready for baking is an airy, substantially risen, wet dough whose surface is full of air bubbles.

You can also get leaven by covering a small quantity of well worked dough from the previous batch with salt and storing this in a covered bowl in a cool place. The salt stops mould. Instead of a bowl you can also use a cup placed upside down in a dish of water so that there is an airtight seal.

In practice, the original culture cannot be used endlessly. The leaven is eventually exhausted: rotting bacteria or acetic bacteria eventually get the upper hand over the lactic bacteria.

The evening before baking, the salt is removed from the leaven. If necessary, the dry crust that has formed is cut off and the rest is crumbled into tepid water (1/4 litre of liquid) and soaked. Ensure that all lumps are well distributed. The flour (sieved if needed) is then put in a kneading trough or a wide bowl. Make a well in the middle for pouring in the crumbled leaven. Knead in the flour slowly until you have a sturdy dough. Sprinkle flour over it lightly, and leave the dough to ferment gently at room temperature. The fermentation is complete when the dough shows tearing.


Salt ensures even fermentation in the bread, and makes a sturdier dough. It also improves the flavour. Use salt in moderation: too little salt makes the dough rise too quickly. Too much salt stops the fermentation process and gives the bread an irregular structure.

water or milk

Water gives the bread an even structure and a crispier crust. Milk gives the bread a softer crust and keeps it fresh for longer. The quantity depends on the absorbing power of the flour. Brown flours absorb more liquid than white. If you add too much liquid to the dough, it gives the bread a spongy and open structure. You have to ensure that you get a sturdy dough that is not too dry.

the method for making dough

In this section we treat the “old” process of making dough using the “old” tools.

Put the flour in the kneading trough, make a well in the middle and pour in the yeast or leaven (around 1 part leaven to 5 parts flour) that has been crumbled into lukewarm water. Sprinkle the salt around the outside edges of the well so that it does not come into direct contact with the yeast.

Mix it all together and pour in the liquid. Knead it well for around 10 minutes until you get a sturdy but springy dough. Sprinkle flour on the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands. Then scrape the dough out of the kneading trough with a dough scraper, make it into a ball and leave it to rise in a warm, draught-free place for about half an hour. The dough is usually covered with a cotton cloth. The room temperature has to be 15 to 20°C. When its size has about doubled, the dough feels very soft and porous when you press in your finger.

Cut the dough into pieces with a bread knife or a dough grater. Each piece is kneaded a second time. Ensure that the dough is not pressed in too hard when kneading, but knead by stretching and knocking. The longer the dough is worked to make the bread, the softer it becomes. It will begin to stick to your hands.

The dough can be kneaded and shaped in the kneading trough, on the trough cover or on the table. Flour is sprinkled on the dough to stop it sticking. Wheat bread was generally kneaded by hand, rye bread with the feet because it is harder to work. According to some people, the feet “were not to be washed with soap because it could affect the flavour of the bread, but they were cleaned with warm water and then smeared with rye dough”. (Brood. De geschiedenis van het brood en het broodgebruik in Nederland = Bread. The history of bread and bread usage in the Netherlands: 32).

The pieces of dough are placed on bread trays greased with butter or oil, or on breadboards sprinkled with flour. Cover them and leave them to rise again until they have about doubled in size, which takes about one hour.

The top of the bread is covered with water or cold coffee, just before going in the oven, in order to get a nice brown crust. This is called wetting. Rye bread can be wetted with buttermilk, while luxury bread is coated with beaten eggs.

required temperature of the dough liquid (VAN SEGHBROECK L.: 15-16)

Try to obtain the right dough temperature:

  • for large bread: 26-28° C
  • for small and luxury bread: 25-27° C
  • for butter or coffee biscuits: 24-26° C

If the dough temperature becomes too low, place the covered dough in a warmer environment or a water bath. Always avoid drying and cooling of the dough.

The use of a thermometer is recommended, as “feeling” is not so accurate.

We can fairly accurately calculate the dough temperature with the following table.

an example is given below:

The flour temperature is 18°C, the kitchen temperature 22°C. Then the dough liquid must be 32°C. We look up the flour temperature and kitchen temperature in the table. Where the two temperatures intersect we read off the liquid temperature. This method gives a dough temperature of around 26°C when kneading by hand.

Friction occurs when kneading. This also affects the final dough temperature. When kneading by hand, this rubbing also leads to a higher dough temperature.

Avoid extremely low and high temperatures. Cold flour in winter first has to be put in a warm place. It is better not to knead on a worktop that is too cold or in a very cold environment.

Note: the above table is for a dough temperature of 26°C. For each degree increase, the water must be 1 to 2 degrees higher.