Baking and Slicing Bread
In the oven, yeast dough becomes even more active. Shocked by the heat, interior gases explode and the dough balloons, an expansion called "oven spring." This drama continues until the yeast is killed by the heat and the protein structure of the bread solidifies. As baking concludes, the crust deepens to a rich, golden brown and an irresistible aroma fills the kitchen. Certain breads, such as French baguettes, require special finishing touches. As shown in our Advice on Special Finishes, slashing the crust and creating steam in the oven are necessary to assure the distinctively crisp crust.
Turn the finished loaf out of the pan or slide off the baking sheet and cool at least partially on a rack before serving, and completely before storing. Otherwise the crust will become soggy from escaping steam, and while hot bread tastes wonderful, it is gummy when sliced.
Some loaves, particularly those destined for sandwiches, benefit from a day of storage before eating. This delay allows the crumb to set and cut more neatly. Always slice with a serrated knife and a sawing motion.
Testing for Doneness
Before removing the finished loaf from the pan, be sure it is done by tapping the surface with your knuckle. If it sounds hollow, it is completely baked; if not, return it to the oven for a few more minutes.
Removing Bread from Pan
Immediately after baking, remove the loaves from the oven. Invert onto a cooling rack. Cool upright on a rack that allows air to circulate fully all around the loaf. Donít cover in any way or the crust will lose its crispness.
A fully cooled loaf slices best. Set the loaf on a wooden bread board. Use a serrated knife that is longer than the width of the bread. Cut with a back-and-forth sawing motion.
Wooden Bread Box
A wooden bread box allows the loaf to be sliced while trapping crumbs. To ensure smooth slices, use a serrated knife.