How to make dough

Since we introduced cinnamon buns to our bakeries we’ve been getting to grips with the art of dough making. Whether you are making sweet rolls like these or a plain dough for other bready treats, we uncover the process behind dough.

A favourite quick breakfast treat in America, cinnamon buns are made from sweet dough that rises with the help of yeast.

Master the stages of making a basic yeast dough and you’ll be armed with a recipe that can be made into a variety of buns, rolls, breads and doughnuts.

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Sweet dough relies on a higher fat content than other savoury dough and this gives it that fluffy, soft texture when you pull the baked roll apart. This is why we add butter into this particular recipe, as basic savoury dough doesn’t have butter in it (occasionally it may call for a little oil).

So what are the main stages of dough making?

Whether dough is sweet or plain, the key steps to making dough are:

  1. Activating the yeast, if necessary. This means adding it to liquid.
  2. Mixing the wet and dry ingredients to make dough.
  3. Kneading the dough on a floured surface to create elasticity.
  4. Rising the dough in a covered bowl. Sometimes called the ‘first rise’.
  5. Knocking it back into the bowl with a fist to remove air. 6. Shaping the dough into whatever shape it will be baked in.
  6. Proving (or proofing) the dough to let it rise one last time before being baked.
  7. Baking the dough into bread.
  8. Cooling in the tin and then on a cooling rack.

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But what makes the perfect dough light and airy?

The magic ingredient is yeast. Our cinnamon buns use dried active yeast, this needs to be dissolved in water or liquid before mixing into the dry ingredients.

What is dried active yeast?

Dried active yeast and fresh yeast, both of which can be used in bread making, need liquid to get the yeast fermenting before adding to the dry ingredients. This kind of yeast usually needs a longer time to be left to rise than instant yeast, which we will explain in more detail.

What is instant yeast?

Instant yeast/fast acting yeast/quick rise yeast/rapid rise yeast (so many names!) doesn’t need activating and comes ready to use. This type of yeast can be added straight into your dough mixture. The granules are much smaller and dissolve instantly into the dough once the wet ingredients are added.

The benefit of this sort of yeast is that it is perfect for making bread in a bread machine. If you are unsure of which kind of yeast you are using, check the packet instructions, as it will tell you if it can be added into dry ingredients with no need to let it activate in liquid.

How long do I need to activate yeast for?

When activating yeast, we recommend leaving the yeast for 20 minutes until the liquid becomes frothy, this means that fermentation has begun and carbon dioxide is releasing. When bread is baked, carbon dioxide gets locked into the structure of the bread and this is what creates air bubbles.

What does kneading do?

Kneading dough is important because it develops the gluten in the bread. This is what makes dough stretchy and elastic in texture.

How do I knead dough?

Flour a clean work surface lightly (you can also oil the surface for savoury bread) and use the ball of your hand/heel of your hand to push the dough into the work surface and stretch it away from you.

This dragging process stretches the dough out and makes it elastic and silky. Let the dough spring back into a rough ball shape and turn it a quarter turn and repeat the dragging process.

After about ten minutes of this and your hand will begin to tire, but your dough will be perked up no end! The resulting dough should be smooth and soft and bouncy.

How do I test if dough has been kneaded for long enough?

Dough normally takes around 10 minutes of kneading to be elastic enough to bake. If you want to test if your dough has been kneaded sufficiently, break a small ball of dough off (around a golf ball size) and stretch it flat and thin using your fingers.

If it stretches without breaking or tearing, that means it has enough elasticity. It should be thin enough that you should be able to see light through it – this is called the ‘windowpane test’. This will test if the gluten has been developed enough by the kneading.

What does knocking back dough do?

Knocking back the dough is when you punch the dough (gently) back into the bowl after the first rise. The purpose of this is to remove any really large air bubbles that may have formed. It gives you a more even dough when baked.

Do I need a special proving drawer to make my dough rise?

No, while it is lovely to have special equipment, a proving drawer isn’t necessary and generations of bakers have made wonderful breads without a proving drawer.

A clean bowl covered in cling film left in a warm place for around 40 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size is enough. A warm tea towel over the cling film can help.

The recommended proving time is up and my dough still hasn’t doubled in size. What should I do?

If your dough hasn’t risen high enough in the recommended proving time, just let it sit. Dough can be left happily proving for up to an hour more. Making sure it has enough warmth is important, so check your dough isn’t sitting in a draught.

How do you test if dough has risen?

Press your fingers lightly on the top of the dough and if they leave an impression, it has risen.

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To have a go at making our Cinnamon Buns, get your copy of Home Sweet Home here.

Or try our Cinnamon Buns in-store, available at our bakeries baked fresh every day. For more baking how-to guides and tips, visit our Videos and Tips.