How to Make Bread Dough
Take the guesswork out of making homemade bread dough with these step-by-step photos and instructions. We also have a few pointers for working with whole wheat bread dough (it's easier than you think!). You can test these techniques on some of our favorite bread recipes, or strike out on your own and bake your ideal bread recipe.
Whether you're making bread dough for the first time or just need a quick review, count on these steps and tips to make your mixing, kneading, and rising a success every time. Snag a copy of your favorite bread recipe, or choose one of our picks to get started.
Step 1: Mix in the yeast
After you've measured out your flour, it's time to mix it with yeast. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the yeast into the flour. Look for the expiration date on the yeast package to make sure the yeast is fresh (expired yeast could prevent bread from rising).
Step 2: Check liquid temperature
Check the temperature of the liquid with an instant-read thermometer. The liquid should be between 105 degrees F and 115 degrees F. If it is too hot, the yeast will die and your bread won't rise. If it is too cold, the yeast won't activate and your bread won't rise.
Step 3: Beat with a mixer
Add warm water and melted butter to the flour mixture all at once. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed (you can do this by hand as well). Scrape the side of the bowl to make sure all of the flour and yeast are moistened.
Note: Gluten, a protein in wheat flour and several other flours, starts working as soon as the dough is mixed. Gluten gives dough elasticity, helps it rise and hold its loaf shape, and helps it create the desired texture.
Step 4: Stir in remaining flour
Use a wooden spoon to stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. Start with the minimum amount of flour given in a recipe, and add only as much as you need during the mixing and kneading steps. Too much flour creates a dense, dry loaf.
Tip: Stir the dough until it looks ropey and pulls away from the side of the bowl.
Step 5: Knead dough
Fold the dough over and push down with the heel of your hand. Turn, fold dough over, and push down again. Repeat this process over and over. The dough is ready when it is smooth and elastic. This means it is smooth, soft, and holds together nicely in a ball.
Tip: Moderately soft dough, used for sweet breads, requires 3 to 5 minutes of kneading and will still be slightly sticky. Moderately stiff dough, used for most nonsweet breads, requires 6 to 8 minutes of kneading and is slightly firm to the touch.
You can also knead bread in the food processor with the plastic blade or in a stand mixer with a dough hook. These methods take less time, so check the instruction manual for the appliance.
Step 6: Form dough into a ball
Shape the dough into a ball with your hands and place it in a greased bowl that is at least twice as large as the ball of dough. Turn the dough over once to grease the entire surface.
Step 7: Cover dough and let rise
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap that's been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. This prevents the dough from sticking to the wrap as it rises. Let it rise in a draft-free place between 80 and 85 degrees F until double in size. This step is also called proofing.
Tip: Use your recipe as a guideline for rise time, and keep an eye on the dough. Another trick is to press two of your fingers a 1/2 inch into the center. If the indentations remain after you remove your fingers, the dough has doubled in size and is ready for the next step.
Step 8: Deflate the dough
Punch the dough down by pushing your fist into the center. Then use your fingers to pull the edges into the center. This releases some of the gases and makes the dough easier to shape.
Step 9: Shape the dough and rise again
Now your bread is ready to take a quick rest. Then it can be shaped and set aside for a second rise before baking.
This time, stop the dough from rising just short of doubling in size. This will allow it to rise more in the oven and create the ideal loaf size. When the second rise is complete, bake the bread in a preheated oven according to recipe directions.
How to Work with Wheat Bread Dough
Whole wheat flour creates less gluten than all-purpose or bread flour, making a denser loaf. We recommend using a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose or bread flour to make a lighter, higher loaf. Use these tips for making whole wheat bread dough that yields tender bread:
- Whole wheat dough is stickier, so you may be tempted to add more flour or use a lot of flour on your hands when kneading. Instead, put a little oil on your hands.
- To tone down the bitterness of the whole wheat flour, consider replacing 1 to 2 tablespoons of the liquid in the recipe with orange juice.
- Try white whole wheat flour. It has a lighter color and milder flavor because it is made with white wheat, but it contains the same nutritional value and baking properties as traditional whole wheat flour.
Our Favorite Bread Recipes
You can make homemade bread so many different ways—it's worth trying them all! Go healthy by adding veggies to your bread, or check out our favorite sweet breads to serve at brunch.
Working With Other Types of Dough
Start by making bread dough, then try these other yummy baked goods. DIY your own pizza dough, or make your own soft pretzels when you're craving a home-baked treat.