How to Bake Bread

How do I know my bread is done?

We get a lot of e mails from our wonderful students about the actual baking process which may not go exactly to plan when they get home.

Here is a list of the top five concerns:

1.  How do I know the bread is done?

2.  Does a big loaf (1 kg) take longer than a small loaf?

3.  My bread sounded done but is quite underdone in the middle.

4.  My bread gets too brown on the top.

5.  What is the optimal temperature to bake bread?

So, let’s take these in turn.  However, the first thing to do is to get an oven thermometer and check the temperature of your oven.  If you are trying to bake at 220 and you are really baking at 200 or 240 you will have to adjust your timings or get your oven mended.

Bread is done when it sounds hollow
Tap, tap, tap

1.  Bread is done when it sounds hollow and feels thin and crispy on the bottom.  Bread is also done when the inside temperature is 98 degrees celsius.  You can buy a clever bread thermometer from a good cook store or catering supply company (or try Bakery Bits or Creeds online) and then you will always know if your bread is done.

You can also take the bread out of the oven (and out of the tin if it is in one) and tap the bottom of the loaf.  It really does sound hollow if it is done.  If it does not sound hollow just put it back in the oven (either in or out of the tin) and leave it for another five minutes and then check it again.  If you are uncertain, do this anyway and observe the difference in the sound.

For those of you whose sense of touch is more acute than your sense of hearing (that includes me) your bread is done when it feels “thin”.  By that I mean when it feels like there is nothing underneath the crust – like a snare drum, rather than a drum with cotton wool under the surface.  I have difficultly describing it in any other way.  Once again, give the bread a tap and if you are not sure, put it back in the oven for 5 minutes and then try again. Observe the difference so you can get really good at knowing when it is done.

2.  A big loaf does not necessarily take longer than a small loaf – although it depends what you mean by small and big.  A loaf weighing 500 g takes as much time as a loaf weighing a kilo.  A loaf weighing 100 g takes less.  Bread rolls (usually 100 g or less) take less time than a big loaf and for that reason it is a good idea to bake them at a high temperature in order to make sure they go brown when they are done, and do not stay a pale, sickly colour.  But for medium to large loaves, it’s kind of like a turkey:  the bigger it is, the less it takes per kilo to cook because the internal temperature of the bird rises and it begins to cook itself.  Try it some time.  Put a 1 kg loaf and a 500 g loaf in at the same time.  They should take about the same time to cook.

3.  If your bread is underdone in the middle it cannot have sounded hollow.  It must have sounded dull when you tapped it.  Just be brave and leave it in the oven for another 5 minutes at a time until it really does sound hollow.  Or, get a thermometer!

4.  If your bread is getting too brown try baking it on a lower shelf in the oven or covering it with aluminium foil part way through the baking process.  If you have a sweetener in the bread (honey, sugar, molasses, malt syrup, etc) your bread will brown more quickly as the sugar caramelises.  If all else fails, bake it for longer at a lower temperature, but don’t go below 200 degrees celsius.

5. There are plenty of tempuratures at which you can bake bread.  The conventional domestic cook book calls for you to bake bread at 200 degrees.  This is probably because early domestic ovens only went up to 200 degrees and so home cooks were advised to bake at 200 degrees!  Aga cooks were advised differently because the top oven of an Aga is much higher than that.  Commercially baked bread (whether in a factory or by a craft baker or by the village baker with a stone oven) is baked at much higher temperatures for shorter amounts of time.  Sourdough bread is baked at a different temperature to encourage oven spring in the less powerful natural yeast.

As a guide (and it is really only a guide) you can think about the following:

Bread Rolls – at 220 for 20 minutes or on the bottom shelf of the top oven of an Aga for 12-15 minutes.

Bread with commercial yeast (500 g to 1 kg) – at 200 for 45 minutes, at 220 for 30-35 minutes or on the bottom shelf of the top oven of an Aga for 20-25 minutes.  You can also put your oven up as high as it will go and then reduce the temperature when you put the bread in (not an Aga of course) and then take 5 minutes off the cooking time.

Sourdough bread (500 g to 1 kg) – at 230 for 10 minutes and then at 200 for 30 minutes; at 25o for 10 minutes then at 230 for 10 minutes then at 200 for 10 minutes or on the bottom shelf of the top oven of an Aga for 30 minutes.

Some kinds of bread – especially those with padding such as mashed vegetables or scalded grains or flour – will be more cake like in texture and so must be baked at a lower temperature to ensure they cook through before they burn.  If you are doing something like this you may be asked to heat the oven to 250 and then bake the bread at 180.  Do follow the recipe at least the first time if there is an unusual baking instruction given – the writer usually has a reason for it!

Still unsure?  Come and take a course with us and learn how to make bread at home!

21 thoughts on “How to Bake Bread”

  1. As a rough guide, I usually reckon that if you double the size of anything you are baking, you should increase the time by 50%. This seems to work.

    However, from a sciency point of view, you really should increase the time by about a quarter. Why? Well, it’s just sums!

    If you double the size whilst keeping the same shape – the same proportions – then your 2X size has twice the volume. However, the volume, as you no doubt remember from school is length x width x depth. You’ll be increasing each of these by much less than twice – in fact, you’ll be increasing them by the cube root of two!

    (The “cube root”, for those not into maths, is the number which, when multiplied by itself twice, gives your target number. For instance, the cube root of 8 is 2, because 2 x 2 x 2 = 8.)

    The cube root of two is about 1.26 – essentially 1¼.

    Most of your cooking time is taken with the heat actually penetrating the stuff you’re baking to get to the middle – the last place that gets hot. If you increase the weight by a factor of 2, each dimension will go up by about 1¼.

    A bread that normally takes 35 minutes to bake will need about 42 minutes if you double the weight keeping everything in proportion.

    If you just make it twice as long but the same width & depth, no extra time should be needed.

  2. The most important is the shortest dimension (usually width or height of the loaf). If you double the weight of the loaf by making it longer but the same cross-section the time will NOT change…
    I am more interested at the moment is the effect of overcooking bread. I am suspicious that some of the crumbly wholemeal bread I am making sometimes is due to overcooking the bread. I like the crumb slightly chewy…
    Have fun. Old_Robin…

  3. If you are cooking in almost any domestic oven, convection or fan, put it on MAX for the warm up period. Put the bread in (with pan of water if you like) and leave on MAX for the first ten minutes at least. Then turn down to 180 C for the rest of the cooking period.
    Most ovens claim to go to 220 C or more but can rarely hold more than 200 C on MAX setting. Industrial Baking ovens or wood-fired ovens can be nearer 300 C and produce that nice scorched thick crust I love.
    MAX will probably be Gas Mark 7 (which is 218 C) and turn down to Gas Mark 6 ( 204 C) or Mark 5 (191 C).
    Hope this helps. Get to know you own particular oven by pushing it as hard as you can. I love well done crust….

  4. at 67 I’ve just started for fun. My breads ok but feel a bit spongy and cake like ;can you please help?
    PS your technical no-how has been very useful thankyou


    1. Dear Glyn

      Firstly thank you for your comment and I am so pleased for you! If your bread is spongy and cake like it could be one of three things:

      1. The flour. If you get strong bread flour your bread will have a less cakey texture.
      2. The kneading. Are you kneading for a good 10 minutes – even in a machine?
      3. The temperature. Bread likes to be baked at a high temperature. I live at altitude and always start bread at 450 f (230 c) for 10 minutes and then bring it down to 200 for a further 30.

      Try altering theses (one at a time!) and see what happens! Jane

  5. Dear Jane,
    Thanks very much for your advice; of course I will put it into operation


    1. Hi Maggie Ann

      In a gas oven bake the bread as high as possible – away from the direct heat source so they don’t burn on the bottom and in the highest place so they have a chance of getting brown. I bake bread rolls at 220 or 230 and bread at around 200. However, for gas I would put bread in the oven as high as the oven will go and then reduce the heat to 200 and bake for 45 minutes or so. You will need to check and get to know your oven!

    1. Hello and thank you for your comment. I know about salt bread but I have not baked it in years and when I did it was withe a friend’s dad – his recipe. So, I am afraid I cannot help you! If you look in google I am sure you will find many recipes.

  6. Tks I read all comments re- bread. It’s a great help to me. Started bread making 3 months ago. Succeeded n now produces v good sourdough bread. ( Singapore)

  7. Baking temperature and time to a large degree depends on the size of the loaf AND what flour you are using. And big is a relative term. The usual bread loaf runs somewhere around 500 grams to up to 1,000 grams. However when it comes to items like deli rye you could be talking about a Kilogram loaf. And the only sure way of baking any loaf is by internal loaf temperature. If your’e talking Rye which gets gummy the correct internal temp of that loaf would be closer to 210 degrees F. Most rustic bread from 205 up to 210. And the bake temperature can be from 400 to 475 degrees F. However if you’re talking about a Kilo loaf of rye the bread’s crust will burn before the internal temperature reaches 210 degree F. The only solution is to reduce baking temp to 375 degree F after the first 15 minutes at say 425 to encourage maximum oven spring. The best bet is to keep loaves around the 500 to 700 gram level which allow for the typical 475 degree F bakes with reductions to 425 after the crust has set. Bread should be baked both for the correct internal temperature as well as color. I’ve seen bakes that reach 210 degrees F and still look pale. Those should be left in the oven until the correct color is reached. There is no danger of over baking when this is done. I’ve no experience with smaller loaf size so I can’t comment on those.

  8. Hi, I’ve found that although temperature is important it is less important than the amount by which temp drops when you open the oven door. The ‘oven spring’ we talk of requires a hefty each of heat to get your lump of dough leaping up. If you imagine that you are putting cold dough into the oven as well as letting f heat escape through the open door you can see why that might be problematic. I get around this by increasing the thermal mass inside my oven. I bake directly on a tile from the floor of a commercial deck oven (you can by these from manufacturers but I scabbed mine from a maintainenance engkneer!), and also I have three fire bricks on the base of my oven. It takes about an hour to heat up but works brilliantly like an Aga does with its huge cast iron bull.

  9. Dorcas olobatuyi

    Hello, I started baking bread like three weeks ago, thereis no bread flour where I live so I use all purpose flour. The bread shape do come out nice but after getting cooled it always become crumb when eating like cake. no matter how I knead the dough the bread will still becomes crumbs when it cooled down and am eating it. I really don’t know what to do.

    1. You can add more water to the dough or add a bit of fat (butter, olive oil) also – how long are you kneading it? It is possible to over knead. If the gluten is low, you may be overkneading it. Do let us know!

  10. Pls let me know how to bake sourdough in an oven that won’t go beyond 200 C. Thanks

    1. Hi! Don’t worry about that at all. Just increase baking time to about 45 minutes. Always test to make sure it is done!

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