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La Varenne Pratique: Part 4, Baking, Preserving & Desserts

La Varenne Pratique: Part 4, Baking, Preserving & Desserts

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La Varenne Pratique: Part 4, Baking, Preserving & Desserts

4/5 (15 évaluations)
837 pages
7 heures
Sep 17, 1989


Still innovative in scope and clarity La Varenne Pratique is the essential culinary reference book for novice and expert cooks alike, bringing together a practical understanding of cooking techniques, ingredients and equipment in an unrivaled guide.
Sep 17, 1989

À propos de l'auteur

 ANNE WILLAN is one of the world’s authorities on French cooking with more than fifty years of experience as a teacher, cookbook author and food columnist.  She founded Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in 1975. Her most recent books are The Cookbook Library: The Cooks, Writers and Recipes that Made the Modern Cookbook, with her husband, Mark Cherniavsky, which won the Jane Grigson Award for outstanding literary writing, and The Country Cooking of France, which took two James Beard Foundation Book Awards.  Willan was inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Cookbook Hall of Fame in 2013 for her body of work.  She lives in Santa Monica, California and in France.  

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Aperçu du livre

La Varenne Pratique - Anne Willan

Copyright © 2013 Anne Willan, Inc.

Print copyright @ 1989 Anne Willan


All rights reserved. Published by Anne Willan, Inc.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.

For information regarding permission, write to:

Anne Willan, Inc.

P.O. Box 5180

Santa Monica, CA 90409-5180


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available

Willan, Anne

La Varenne Pratique/by Anne Willan

ISBN 978-0-9911346-3-2 (ebook)

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of publisher.

For the conception and planning of La Varenne Pratique Anne Willan would like to thank Jonathan Clowes and Jill Norman.

The contribution of those listed below is recorded with appreciation.

Chief editor: Amanda Phillips Manheim

Consultant editors: Mark Cherniavsky, Henry Grossi, Barbara Wheaton

Contributing author: Barbara Kafka

Techniques demonstrated by: Chef Claude Vauguet, Director of cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, Paris and Burgundy, assisted by Pastry Chef Laurent Terrasson.

Assistant editors: Laura Garrett, Martha Holmberg

Nutritional consultant: Carol Gvozdich.

Recipe testing and development: Henry Grossi, Randall Price

Technique photography by Jerry Young

Recipe photography by Martin Brigdale

Dishes prepared by Jane Suthering

Art directed by Jacquie Gulliver

Project editor: Emma Johnson

Senior editor: Anderley Moore

Managing editor: Victoria Davenport

Consultant editors: Jill Norman, Jane Grigson

American editor: Erica Marcus

Jacket design: Nancy Kenmore

Production: Eunice Paterson, Henrietta Winthrop

For researching and drafting the following chapters Anne Willan owes a special debt to the following contributors:

Henry Grossi: Soups and Stocks, Pasta, Herbs, Spices and Flavorings,Kitchen Equipment.

Faye Levy: Sugar and Chocolate, Fats and Oils.

Amanda Phillips Manheim: Vegetables, Fruits and Nuts, Grains and Legumes.

Steve Raichlen: Flours, Breads and Batters.

Lynn Stallworth and Martha Holmberg: Preserving and Freezing

Anne Willan would also like to acknowledge expert review and guidance

from Geoff Palmer (plant science) and Jon Rowley (fish)

from Shirley Corriher, Elisabeth Evans, Judith Hill and Susan Stuck

Sources of technical or commercial information consulted in the USA include: American Meat Institute; California Sunshine Fine Foods; Fisheries Development Foundations; Fleischmann’s Yeast; Flying Food; Frieda’s Finest; Lundberg Family Farms; National Meat and Livestock Board; Rodale Institute; South Mills Mushrooms Sales; The Sugar Institute; United Dairy Industry Association; United Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Association; United States Department of Commerce, Office of Fisheries; University of Maryland, Department of Horticulture; Paradise Bay Co., Washington for supplying fresh salmon. In Britain, special acknowledgement is due to Department of Zoology, British Museum (Natural History) for expert help and advice; Elizabeth David Cookshop, Covent Garden, for supplying kitchen equipment; The Mushroom Growers Association.

Digital Foreword

In the print edition of La Varenne Pratique, I wrote, Modern technology, has in effect, transformed how we stock our kitchen and how we handle and prepare food. Some 20 years later, modern technology has transformed the way we consume cookbooks. The original La Varenne Pratique, despite selling more than 500,000 copies worldwide, went out of print. With the original harder to find and more expensive to buy, I felt the time was right to create an eBook edition to make La Varenne Pratique affordable and accessible once again.

This eBook is a digital reproduction of the original, created by scanning in every one of the book's 500-plus pages. Digitizing this complicated book was not without challenges. If a page does not format as you would expect, we suggest that you change the font, font size, or page orientation. The eBook’s images can be enlarged, though they cannot be magnified beyond a certain point, as the images are scans from the original printed book, not high-resolution digital photographs. That said, the images themselves are larger, and easier to study, than those in the original print edition.

We decided to divide the book into four parts to make it easier for readers to digest. Now you can download only the part of greatest interest or all of them as you see fit. To the devotees of the print edition, don’t worry: nothing is missing! Every image and every accent has made it safely across the digital divide. We dropped the index as the search function puts a static index to shame. You can quickly find any term, technique, word or phrase at the push of a button.

While we have sliced, diced and digitized the original to fit modern times, this eBook edition of La Varenne Pratique still celebrates the pleasures of the table inside and outside the kitchen just as before. To everyone who has cherished the print edition and to those who are just discovering the digital one, I again say, bon appetit!


Santa Monica, California 2013


In the past 30 years I have had the good fortune to work in food and in cooking in three different countries—France, Great Britain and the United States. This book is the distillation of that experience. It is also the fruit of almost continuous writing and research, much of it associated with La Varenne, the cooking school which I founded in Paris in 1975.

As its name implies, La Varenne Pratique is a book for the practicing cook. The point of departure is that mastery of ingredients is as important to success in the kitchen as mastery of technique. In each chapter, therefore, we consider carefully how to choose ingredients, how to store them, and indeed how to identify them in the first place. Modern technology has, in effect, transformed how we stock our kitchen and how we handle and prepare our food.

Allied with good ingredients must be a knowledge of technique, and it is here that French skill comes into play. The action photographs in this book were shot with French chefs in the heart of France, yet the techniques they demonstrate have universal application, covering such basics as chopping an onion, as well as the complexities of boning a rabbit and tempering chocolate. The principles of cooking apply equally to English roast beef and to a Texas barbecue.

With a knowledge of ingredients and technique, recipes follow naturally. You’ll find a few of them here to illustrate possibilities, together with lists of many more ideas from around the world. La Varenne Pratique celebrates the pleasures of the table inside and outside the kitchen. It is dedicated to those who love to cook, and those who love to eat. To you all, bon appetit!


Paris, May 1989

Weights and Measures

Part 4









In almost every culture, flour and yeast are full of symbolism. Not for nothing is bread extolled as the staff of life. No part of the repertoire of cooking is as infused with history as the harvesting of grain, the milling of flour, the fermentation of dough and the raising of bread.

Flour may be made from finely ground dried grains, from other seeds, or occasionally from roots or tubers. Wheat flour is by far the most common, while there are strong regional preferences for such flours as rye and buckwheat. This chapter looks at the great variety of breads, some raised with yeast, others with baking powder or soda, some with no leavening at all. Then the multitude of dishes which depend on flour or bread is explored, for example fried breads and fritters, bread puddings, pancakes and waffles, crêpes, batter puddings and bread stuffings.


The production of flour from grain is a complex process. During milling, the grain is reduced, or broken down and sieved into specific parts called fractions. For some types of flour, notably whole wheat, the whole grain is milled; for others, the outer layers of bran and the germ (embryo), which is rich in protein, vitamins and oil, are removed. The endosperm that remains makes up 85 percent of the grain and is the part that supplies the starch. This is the part used in milling white flour. Flours milled from grains other than wheat—for example, rye—are milled from the whole grain. Coarsely ground flour is often called meal, as in cornmeal.

Storing flour

Flour should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place in an airtight container. Over a period of time the moisture and fat content, and sometimes the weight, alter; eventually the flour turns rancid. Refined white wheat flour, semolina flour, white rice flour, and starches like potato starch, keep longest—for three to six months. When refrigerated, white flour keeps well for at least a year. Whole grain flour or meals that contain the oily germ should be used within two months if possible, though they do not deteriorate seriously. It is a good idea to keep these flours separate from any plain white flours to avoid any problems of contamination. Refrigeration doubles their storage time, and they freeze well for six months. Wheat germ must be refrigerated and used within a month. Improperly stored flours and meals can become infested with small harmless beetles called weevils.


There are thousands of varieties of wheat in the Triticum genus, each with distinctive cooking properties. As with all grains, a wheat kernel (berry) consists of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm (see Grains and Legumes). Whole wheat flour is ground from the entire kernel, but for refined white flour, both germ and bran are removed. This is done because the oil in the germ can turn rancid and greatly reduce the shelf-life of flour.

The first step in making white flour is milling and bolting (sifting): the wheat kernels are ground to a fine powder between grooved rollers or millstones, then sifted through fine sieves to remove the germ and the bran, leaving flour that is made up mainly of starch and protein. Stones grind the kernels less finely, but produce less heat than metal, leaving a fuller flavor and greater nutritional value. White flour is bleached with chlorine dioxide to eliminate yellowing and speed up maturation. (Aging or maturing flour develops better baking qualities). Unbleached flour is aged naturally; it whitens to some extent, but has a more creamy color. For household baking, the two flours are interchangeable. Both are usually fortified with thiamine, riboflavin and iron to replenish some of the nutrients removed with the germ and bran.

For the cook, the most important characteristic of flour is its protein content. As the string-like proteins in the flour are kneaded with water, gluten develops and gives dough its elasticity, enabling it to be molded and to form a mesh fine enough to retain the gas bubbles generated by yeast. A hard flour contains a relatively high proportion of protein to starch, and therefore develops the strong gluten ideal for bread making and pasta. Soft flour is the reverse, with a high amount of starch and less gluten-forming protein, better suited to the production of light cakes and pastries.

In general, hard wheats are found in Canada and the northern United States, while soft wheats are found in more temperate regions such as western Europe and the southern United States. All-purpose flour (English plain flour and French farine de gruau, type 45) is a blend of hard and soft wheat flours but m general North American flours contain a higher proportion of hard wheat than their European counterparts. American bread flour (usually chemically treated to improve the gluten’s elasticity), English plain bread flour, and French farine panifiable, type 55 (which is fortified with hard wheat and used by commercial bakers), are harder flours best for bread and pasta.

The hardest flour is made from durum wheat. It is often blended with other flours because some bakers maintain that if durum wheat flour is used alone, the dough develops too much gluten and becomes too elastic. Semolina flour (not to be confused with semolina), is milled only from the heart, or endosperm, of durum wheat and is favored for use in pasta; it is not normally used in bread doughs.

Gluten flour is manufactured from wheat flour from which most of the starch has been removed, leaving 70 percent protein. It is primarily intended for special high-protein diets, and produces a dry, fine-grained bread.

Soft wheat flours, like American cake and pastry flours, are best suited to pastry and airy cakes such as Angel food cake. Regular French flour, farine ménagère, type 45, is also quite soft. Approximate protein levels (which indicate gluten) are often indicated on the packaging of commercial flours. Typically, cake flour—the softest of all—contains six percent protein, soft pastry flour has seven to nine percent, all-purpose about 10 percent, and hard flour up to 12 percent.

Whole wheat flour (UK whole meal) retains all the natural flavor and nutrients of the whole wheat grain. Particularly when stone-ground, whole wheat flour can vary greatly from mill to mill and even year to year. In Britain, a distinction is made between whole meal flour, which is stone-ground and contains only the wheat berry, and brown flour, which has some of the coarsest bran removed and may contain additives. In the United States, finely milled whole wheat flour is sometimes called graham flour, (named for Sylvester Graham, the nineteenth-century Boston reformer), but strictly speaking this flour is made by extracting and finely grinding the bran and the germ, then returning some or all of it to the flour. Its composition varies from brand to brand.

Whole wheat flour is of prime importance in adding character and an agreeably chewy texture to plain yeast breads. However, even with a high proportion of protein, whole wheat flour is more difficult to use for bread, as its bran content reduces the effectiveness of the gluten and inhibits rising. Whole wheat flour is also the base of some yeastless breads such as Irish soda bread and spice muffins. However, it should not be used in pastries and cakes known for their lightness.

Self-rising (UK self-raising) flour is all-purpose flour with baking powder and salt added. It is used occasionally in yeastless breads and in some puddings. However, many cooks prefer to vary the quantities of raising agents themselves, since those contained in self-rising flour can deteriorate over time, especially in a damp atmosphere. Instant flour is a free-pouring product that was developed as a convenient thickener for soups and sauces and is not intended for baking.

Both wheat bran and wheat germ are also available in various forms, used to give body to breads. Other wheat products, including bulghur, cracked wheat, sprouted wheat, and couscous are covered in the Grains and Legumes chapter. Note Each type of flour type has so many individual properties that substitutions are seldom successful, particularly in baking.

Reducing gluten

The amount of protein in a dough, and thus the amount of gluten that develops, determines baking potential and is important in making all breads and pastries. In general, high protein is beneficial to yeast bread doughs, but it can be a problem in puff pastry and folded breads such as Danish pastries or croissants, making them difficult to roll.

Hard flour mixtures, whether bread or all-purpose flour, feel drier and grittier in the hand than soft flour, but the only reliable way to test the protein content of a flour is by using it. Hard flour can be softened by adding one part of a low- or gluten-free flour such as pastry flour for every four parts of hard flour. Alternatively, gluten development can be impeded simply by adding less flour to the dough. A scant cup/110 g of hard wheat flour has the same gluten strength as one full cup/125 g pastry flour. Another solution is to work the dough as little as possible, keeping it well chilled and adding a minimum of water. Leaving dough to rest in the refrigerator also relaxes the gluten and reduces its elasticity.

Note Acid and fat have a tenderizing effect on gluten: adding one teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar or two tablespoons of oil for every cup/125 g of hard flour, reduces elasticity and makes folded breads and pastries easier to roll.


Non-wheat flours and starches are made from a number of dried grains, other seeds, nuts, and even from roots and tubers such as cassava, arrowroot and potato. Their uses are quite specific, as they tend to have strong earthy flavors that do not adapt easily. Historically, in areas where wheat was scarce, they gave rise to regional dishes like Scottish oatcakes and Breton galettes. Only rye flour contains an adequate proportion of protein for bread making, although even this is better mixed with wheat flour. Some non-wheat flours can be used with chemical raising agents.

Corn is perhaps the most useful grain in baking other than wheat. It is frequently milled into meal. Cornmeal is best made into batter and non-yeast breads, as it contains no gluten proteins. It has a pleasantly gritty texture; the best being stone-ground flour from the whole kernel. (Water-ground implies the use of a water mill to grind the flour.) Cornmeal that has been degerminated has had the nutritious germ removed. Although it stores better than ordinary cornmeal, it loses a good deal of body and flavor in the process. Bolted cornmeal has been sifted to remove some of the bran layer, but it does include the germ.

Cornmeal appears in many American breads, usually leavened with baking soda or baking powder. It is the main ingredient in spoon bread—a baked pudding of cornmeal, milk and eggs—and of deep-fried cornmeal balls called hush puppies. Mexican masa harina is a finer corn flour that is treated with lime and used for making tortillas and other flatbreads.

Rye flour is a coarse flour milled from the husked grain. Popular in central and northern Europe, rye breads have a distinctive, sour tang and are often topped with caraway or aniseed. Triticale flour, made from a North American hybrid grain, has the sweetness of wheat flour. However, it is low in protein and must be handled gently. Nutritious triticale flakes may be added to breads for texture.

Oats are ground to meal in several degrees of coarseness, while rolled oats are made by steaming and then flattening the whole grain. Barley flour is tan-gray in color, with a pleasantly malty taste and soft, cake-like texture. Adding lightly toasted barley flour to bread dough produces a particularly tasty loaf.

Rice flour is sold brown or white; the brown variety, milled from the whole grain, bakes to be dark and dense, while white rice flour gives a dry, fine-grained crumb. It is used mainly as a thickener. A thin, edible paper made with white rice flour is used for baking very sticky confections such as macaroons. Buckwheat flour, milled from the seed of a plant related to rhubarb, is dark with a nutty flavor. It is an ingredient essential for traditional Breton crêpes and Russian blinis.

Other foods occasionally milled to make flour include the carob bean, which has a flavor similar to chocolate, and chickpeas, milled into besan flour to make savory fritters (pakoras) and breads. Jerusalem artichoke flour was developed in the 1920s as a nutritious alternative to whole wheat flour, and it is still used in the production of pasta and specialty breads. Soy flour, finely ground from raw soybeans, is high in protein, giving a dark crust and a slightly sweet flavor if used in bread. Breads that have some soy flour included keep well. Soya flour is made from roasted soy beans and has more body and a better taste. Millet flour produces a nutty, sweet loaf with a chewy crust and fine-grained crumb.

In those areas of the world where grains were once scarce, nuts often provide the basis for flour. Typical is sweet chestnut flour, used in Italy to make pisticcini bread, flavored with rosemary, pine nuts and raisins. A tablespoon or two of ground almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts, may be added to breads for additional moisture and richness without changing the balance of a dough.


Starch is a primary component of flour, left when the protein is separated from the rest of a grain or other plant. It is familiar to the cook as a fine white powder used for thickening sauces, fruit pies and puddings, and has the advantage of being shiny and translucent when cooked, with a light texture. Starch is a more effective thickener than flour; up to twice the volume of flour is required for the same effect.

Grains, notably corn, and roots or tubers such as arrowroot, potato and cassava are the two main sources of starch for thickenings. Cornstarch is used for sweet sauces, puddings and Asian dishes. Arrowroot is often used to thicken fruit glazes, savory brown sauces or dessert mixes. However, if arrowroot is cooked for too long, it loses its thickening property. Potato starch has similar uses. Tapioca (finely ground from the cassava root) and sago (extracted from an Indian palm) are also used as thickeners for sauces, puddings and fruit pies. Root starches have a slightly lighter thickening effect than grain starches.


The bread family is best divided into two parts: breads made with yeast and those made without it. Yeast breads range from the basic white loaf and crusty French and whole wheat breads, to rich specialty breads such as brioche. Yeastless breads include quick breads and batter breads such as English scones and American cornbread. They use baking powder and other chemical raising agents, and are quicker to make than yeast breads; indeed, the more rapidly they are mixed and baked, the better they are.

Bread making can never be an exact process. Much depends on the flour, which may absorb more or less liquid according to the type of grain, where and when the wheat was gathered, how it was milled and stored, and the quality and quantity of gluten proteins. For yeast breads, rising time varies considerably with room temperature, while kneading time depends on the flour. High altitude can also affect the way bread rises and bakes; some adjustments for this are suggested in the Cakes chapter.

Baking and cooling bread

An even circulation of oven heat is important so that breads rise and brown evenly. The oven shelves should be set one-third up from the oven floor. Baking pans should be set directly on the shelf, or on a baking sheet, leaving plenty of space for the bread to rise without touching a higher shelf or the top of the oven. To avoid the danger of collapse, do not open the oven until the dough has risen completely and has started to brown, when the pans or baking sheet may be turned around so the dough colors evenly. After baking, breads should be transferred to a rack to cool, allowing the steam to escape, and leaving a crisp crust on the bread. However, delicate yeast breads like babas have a soft crust that may crumble if turned out when hot.

Storing bread

All but the richest of yeastless breads—gingerbread, honey-sweetened and fruit breads—are best eaten within a few hours of baking, while some breads, such as pizza and scones, should be eaten while still warm. Yeast breads reheat successfully in a low oven, particularly if they are only a day or two old. On keeping, plain breads can turn moldy in a humid atmosphere, but more commonly they become so firm that after a few days they are unpalatably dry. French bread, with its open texture and lack of fat, becomes stale within a few hours. Note Dry bread is good for breadcrumbs and croûtes.

Richer yeast or yeastless breads containing a high proportion of fat, eggs or dried fruits have a longer shelf-life but soon lose some of their texture and taste. Storage time for quick breads depends very much on their richness: plain biscuits and scones are best eaten at once, while still warm. However, breads with good quantities of eggs, sugar (or honey) and, most importantly, fat, fruit or nuts, can be kept in an airtight container for a week or more. All baked breads freeze well if properly wrapped.

Glazes and toppings for bread

Almost all breads have some kind of finish added before or after baking. To flavor the crust, the bread may be shaped on a board sprinkled with rolled oats, cornmeal, chopped nuts, or simply with generous amounts of flour. Baking pans may be similarly coated. Egg glaze gives bread a shiny, golden-brown surface; for extra sheen the dough can be glazed, left to dry, then given a second coating of the glaze.

Savory toppings baked with the bread include seeds such as sesame or poppy, coarse salt crystals, and chopped or flaked nuts such as almonds (the bread is first brushed with egg white to make them stick). For a sweet baked topping, the dough may be brushed with water, milk, or lightly whisked egg white and sprinkled with sugar—coarse sugar adds a pleasant texture. Some sweet buns and coffeecakes are baked with a sticky topping. After baking, a sweet glaze made with sugar, milk, butter and honey, for example, may be poured over the bread while it is still hot (see To shape sticky buns), or a soft icing may be spread on top when the bread is cold. In French babas and savarin, the baked bread is soaked in sugar syrup, often flavored with rum, so that it expands and is lusciously moist.

Ingredients for Breads

Besides flour and raising agents, certain other ingredients bring individuality to breads.

Buttermilk and sour cream The acidity of buttermilk or sour cream releases carbon dioxide gas in baking powder and baking soda breads.

Eggs Eggs are often added for richness and to give lightness and color, particularly in quick breads.

Fats Butter is the preferred fat for breads because of its flavor; it may be added in generous quantities in croissants and brioche. Margarine is a possible substitute, while shortening gives a light texture to some coffeecakes and muffins. Oil is sometimes used in yeastless breads, making them moist and dense. A few tablespoons of oil softens the texture of yeast doughs, particularly pizza. Lard or bacon fat is used in some regional recipes. Some breads, such as French bread and Mexican tortillas, contain no fat at all.

Milk and milk solids Milk gives a softer, whiter bread than water. Dry milk has a similar effect without adding liquid.

Salt Salt is almost indispensable for adding flavor; standard proportions for plain white bread are ½ tbsp/10 g salt to 1 lb/500 g flour. Salt slows down the fermentation of yeast and is best if mixed with the flour before adding the yeast. It also affects the rising time—the more salt, the longer the rising time.

Sugar In plain breads, small quantities of sugar help to develop flavor, particularly of whole wheat and non-wheat breads. A tablespoon of brown sugar or honey is often added to the dough, while caramel is used commercially to sweeten and darken rye bread. In yeast breads the sugar is converted into carbon dioxide and alcohol during fermentation. The alcohol is driven off during baking. When fresh or compressed yeast is mixed with sugar it softens to a paste in a few minutes, but dry yeast must first be moistened before mixing with sugar. However, if the recipe calls for a large amount of sugar, which would stimulate the yeast too much, it is usually mixed with the flour so that fermentation starts slowly. For extra sweetness in rich yeast breads, sugar fillings or toppings may be added to them before or after baking.


The most basic yeast dough contains four primary ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. From such simple doughs come white bread, French bread, rye bread, whole wheat bread, country-style loaves, rolls and Middle Eastern pita bread. (In Tuscany the salt is left out of bread so that it will keep for longer, since salt absorbs moisture.) Simple doughs are often enriched with cheese, fruit or vegetables and sweet ingredients like chocolate or molasses. Other simple yeast doughs include sourdough, a specialty of San Francisco, and British crumpets, rounds of thin pancake-like honeycombed bread toasted on a griddle.

Richer yeast breads are almost always based on white flour, together with small or large amounts of butter, eggs, cream, sweeteners, fruits, nuts, herbs, and/or fillings. Many traditional rich yeast breads are associated with festivals, for example the Jewish bread, challah, enriched with egg and sometimes saffron, which is eaten on the Sabbath, and panettone, the Italian Easter bread enriched with butter and candied fruit. The dough for French brioche is so rich in eggs and butter that hardly any liquid is used in the dough at all. In rich yeast breads, the butter is layered into the dough to give a flaky, multi-leaved effect, as in croissants and Danish pastries. Many fried breads, such as crispy, puffed doughnuts, are also based on yeast.

Making yeast bread may seem complicated, but in fact the procedure is simple enough, designed to give a fine texture to the dough, and permit the nutty flavor of the yeast to develop. The breadmaking process begins with dissolving the yeast, mixing the dough, and kneading it to develop the gluten. Then the dough is left to rise. After knocking out the gas produced during rising, the dough is shaped, glazed, scored, and left to rise again until light. Finally it is baked. The method is much the same for almost all yeast breads, although individual steps may vary according to different recipes. Just occasionally, however, whole wheat bread is made like baking powder bread, and no kneading is required (a British wholemeal scone loaf is an example). The result is a crumbly rather than a resilient bread, with a soft crust.

Using yeast

Yeast is a living, single-celled organism. Scientists have identified over 400 species, but it is a specific strain that is used for making bread. Yeast leavens bread by transforming the natural sugars in the flour into tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide that become trapped in the dough. During baking, the bubbles expand to give bread its characteristic texture, lightness and taste. Yeast can only be effective in thick high-gluten doughs that are strong enough to hold in the bubbles. The way in which yeast reacts depends also on the temperature of the dough. The ideal level for fermentation is 85°F/30°C; low temperatures slow yeast activity, and at a temperature above 130°F/54°C, yeast is killed. Yeast is relatively more active in a large quantity of dough, so when doubling a recipe it is not always necessary to double the quantity of yeast.

There are two types of yeast: compressed and dry (the latter may be regular or fast-acting). Compressed yeast, also called fresh yeast, contains about 70 percent moisture and is generally sold by weight. It may be refrigerated up to two weeks or frozen up to two months. As compressed yeast ages, it turns brown and loses its potency. Dry yeast, sold in dated envelopes or jars, has a much longer shelf-life and may be stored at cool room temperature, l tbsp/7 g of dry yeast is the equivalent of ½ oz/15 g of compressed yeast.

There is little to choose between these two yeasts, though some cooks think compressed yeast gives a slightly better flavor. Both compressed and dry yeast are activated by dissolving in warm water (or sometimes milk), at an optimum temperature of 100°F/38°C. Dry yeast does not dissolve well in milk, however, so dissolve it in water first, then add any milk called for in the recipe. Freshness may be tested by dissolving yeast in warm water then adding a teaspoon of sugar; active yeast will bubble and froth slightly within 5-10 minutes. You can use the tested yeast for baking, or test it separately if there is no sugar in your recipe.

Fast-acting or rapid-rise yeast is a special variant of dry yeast with a fine grain that raises bread in as little as half the normal time and gives a good flavor. It does not need dissolving in water, but instead is mixed directly with the other dry ingredients. All the liquid ingredients, including any fat in the recipe, are then heated to 125°F/53°C before being added to the dough.

Selecting and preparing bread pans

Simple breads made from firm dough that holds its shape may be baked directly on a baking sheet. Always use a thick, heavy sheet that will not buckle in the high heat needed for baking. However, many breads rely on a specific pan for shape and character. Most common is the standard rectangular loaf pan. Sandwich bread is baked in a pullman pan with a lid, and French-bread pans (not used by bakers in France) are shaped like a pipe that is split horizontally. Yeast breads, particularly if the dough is rich, rise best in a narrow pan such as a kugelhopf, brioche or charlotte pan, with high sides to support the dough; metal molds are best for a toasted golden crust. Many doughs stick easily so greasing the mold is important. Nonstick pans can be helpful, or a nonstick lecithin spray can be used. Black steel pans reduce baking time and encourage browning. For rich baking powder breads, the mold may be lined with paper (see Cakes and Icings). Note The pan has an important effect on the way bread bakes, and on baking time, so keep to the specified shape and size.


Bread made with a sponge has a better texture. As a preliminary step in yeast breads, a sponge can be made with the yeast and some of the flour. Dissolve the yeast in warm water, allowing 3-4 tbsp/45-60 ml water per ½ oz/15 g fresh or 1 tbsp/7 g dry yeast.

1 Mix the yeast with water, warmed to the temperature recommended for the yeast. Leave until dissolved to a smooth paste, about 5 minutes.

2 To make a sponge: mix the dissolved yeast to a soft paste with a few handfuls of flour. Leave it to ferment in a warm place for an hour or more until it is spongy.


Since yeast rises best when warm, the mixing bowl and ingredients should be warmed. The warmth of your hand is ideal for stirring, though a wooden spoon may be used.

1 Sift the flour on to the work surface with salt and sugar. Make a large well in the center. Pour in the dissolved yeast (Step 1, above) with the other liquids. Alternatively, add the sponge. Start mixing in the flour with your fingertips.

2 Gradually draw in all the flour, mixing with both hands or using a pastry scraper. If the dough is very sticky, add more flour.

3 The dough should be soft and slightly sticky. Scrape up crumbs from the work surface with a pastry scraper or spatula.


Kneading is the most important operation in making bread. It develops the gluten-induced elasticity of the dough and distributes the gas bubbles produced by the yeast so that the bread develops a close, even texture, becoming supple and smooth. Kneading is easier and more effective if you develop a regular, rhythmic action for pushing, peeling back and turning the dough.

There are two methods of kneading, one for firm doughs such as whole wheat or rye, the other for soft doughs such as brioche. Rich doughs, containing more eggs and butter than simple doughs, take longer to knead because the sugar and fat they contain appreciably slow down the development of gluten. The larger the batch of dough, the longer it will take to knead it to the right consistency.

1 For firm doughs: Holding one end of the dough with one hand, press firmly down into the dough with the heel of your other hand, pushing it away from you.

2 Peel the dough back from the work surface in one piece, shape it into a loose ball and give it a quarter turn. Continue kneading in this way for 5-8 minutes, pushing the dough away from you and then gathering it up into a ball.

3 At the end of kneading, the dough should be smooth and very elastic. Note If the dough sticks during kneading, work in a little more flour.

1 For soft doughs: gather up the dough with one hand or with the help of a scraper, then slap it down on the work surface.

2 Continue to knead the dough, throwing with one hand and then the other, for 5-8 minutes, or longer if necessary.

3 At the end of kneading, the dough should be very even-textured and elastic, and should feel soft and satiny smooth.

Mixing and kneading yeast dough by machine

Bread dough, whether firm or soft, may be mixed in a food processor or mixer.

If using a food processor: the machine must have a heavy duty motor, and be fitted with a short, stubby plastic kneading blade or a standard metal chopping blade. Dissolve the yeast. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and process briefly. With the machine running, add the dissolved yeast and liquid ingredients, with just enough liquid to bring the dough together. Process the dough for 45 seconds just to start the kneading, then turn the dough on to a work surface and finish kneading by hand.

If using a mixer: choose a heavy duty machine fitted with a dough hook. Dissolve the yeast in the mixing bowl. Add the liquid ingredients and mix at low speed for a few seconds. Add most of the flour, and run the machine until these ingredients are mixed. Knead the dough at low speed for a few seconds, adding more flour if it is too sticky. The dough should be smooth, shiny and resilient. Stop the machine if necessary to scrape off any dough that is clinging to the dough hook.

Note If the dough slackens and loses its elasticity, it has been overkneaded. As a precaution, turn the dough on to a work surface and finish kneading by hand for one or two minutes.


Dough rises or proofs best in a warm, humid, draft-free place at an optimum temperature of 85°F/30°C, for example in a bowl inside an oven heated only by a pilot light, or on a rack over a pan of gently steaming water. At a lower temperature fermentation takes longer. At higher temperatures gas will be produced more quickly, but the bread will have a sour taste.

To improve its texture and flavor, dough is sometimes given a second rising after punching down (see below), particularly if it is made with high protein flour. This rising usually takes half as long as the first rising. If dough is left too long, air bubbles develop on the surface; when these burst the dough collapses. Very rich, delicate doughs such as brioche are sometimes left to rise in the refrigerator; this slows down the rising so that a close and even texture develops.

1 Shape the dough into a ball. To prevent it sticking, put it

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