So, you want to start making bread. Maybe you’ve never made it in the past or perhaps your experience is limited? It’s hard to know where to begin. It’s completely understandable, there are so many bread recipes out there. It can be overwhelming.
For a true beginner, I would suggest starting with either Challa bread or Egg bread.
When looking up bread recipes it’s important to keep in mind that the easiest bread for a beginner to start with is one that has just a few basic pantry staple ingredients and not too many steps. If time is a factor, there are plenty of recipes that will fit any schedule.
Understanding the basics of making bread is a good starting point, from the ingredients to all the steps in between mixing and kneading to the cool down.
Knowing the Basic Ingredients
Bread, when stripped of all the extras is fundamentally flour, water, and a leavening agent – whether commercial or a naturally derived sourdough starter and of course salt. That’s it. If you have flour in your pantry, and water coming from the tap, you’re pretty much set to go…to a degree. If you don’t have commercial yeast, and you’ve got about seven days’ worth of patience you can start your bread-making adventure, by making a sourdough starter (read How to Make a Sourdough Starter for a complete guide). If you don’t have the patience or are eager to get started, run out and buy yourself some active dry yeast.
Tip: Store your unused yeast in the fridge. It will keep much longer.
If you’re looking to get started with a bread that goes beyond your basic flour, water, yeast, and salt and you’re feeling adventurous, other ingredients like milk, butter, and eggs will open the door to an array of rich types of bread like brioche and challa. Speaking of challa, check out my article Which Bread Should I Use For French Toast which includes a great beginner challa recipe.
Basic Bread Making Steps
While there is an element of laissez-faire to bread making, there is a clear process to it that is perfected over time and experience. Having a general understanding of this process will up the game of any beginner and ensure you’re confident throughout.
STEP ONE: Scaling your Ingredients
Sounds simple enough right? well, this is one of the most common places where your first mistakes are made leading to a failed bread. In order to ensure you have a good start make sure to follow these tips.
These tips are crucial and come from many years of experience. I follow these every time I scale bread so don’t overlook these. They will save you many headaches in the future.
- Make sure you are in a quite place without any distractions. shut your TV off, turn down the Radio and lock your kids in their room. I can’t stress enough hoe important this is. You need to be able to concentrate here without any distractions.
- Write out your ingredient list with weight on a new sheet of paper and check mark each ingredient after you have scaled this.
the number of times I have seen people omit an ingredient from their list… MAKE A CHECK LIST!
- Scale all your ingredients out. Don’t start mixing and then add ingredients
- Scale each ingredient separately. Do not use one bowl for all your dry ingredients. and one bowl for your we ingredients. If yo notice you have made a mistake there is no turning back and you will have to rescale everything all over again.
STEP TWO: Mixing Your Ingredients
An obvious step, I know but even within the mixing of the ingredients, there is an ideal order and even process that helps guarantee a better loaf of bread.
If you’re working with yeast, it doesn’t hurt to bloom it or get it starting to produce gases before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients. You bloom your yeast by mixing a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar with the amount of yeast and water suggested in the recipe and let it sit for about 10 minutes. If in that time the yeast is getting all bubbly, you know it’s active (if not, don’t waste your time the yeast isn’t alive). From there you add your remaining ingredients.
If you recipe does not call for sugar in it and you don’t want to use any to bloom your yeast than you can add a bit of flour to the water giving you a batter like consistency. The sugars in the flour will feed the yeast and will help to get it going. Note: this process is a bit slower and will take approximately 30 min to and hour depending on your room temp.
If, on the other hand, you’ve taken the time to create a sourdough starter, then you’ll want to start by weighing out your water and then adding the amount recommended by the recipe, mix and then proceed to add your flour and salt. Mixing the water and sourdough starter first helps ensure an even distribution of the sourdough starter.
STEP THREE: Developing Gluten Structure
Developing gluten structure is a fancy way of saying you need to knead the dough, it needs to be worked. Working the gluten in the dough means you’re going to get a nice fluffy loaf of bread. Working on gluten strength means the gasses that the yeast are going to be producing have a nice elastic skin to hold them.
If you’re working the dough by hand, you’ll want to knead for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. This doesn’t mean the dough needs to be worked continuously, you’ll find that allowing the dough to rest for five-minute increments helps in the kneading process giving you that nice fluffy texture we all know and love.
TIP: Use the ‘Window Pane Test” to know if you’ve kneaded your bread dough enough. Take a small piece of dough and stretch it out, if it forms a thin translucent pane that doesn’t break, you’ve kneaded enough.
NOTE: be careful not to over-mix your dough. by mixing your dough to much or too fast in a mixer will raise the temperature of the dough. this can lead to many issues later on like dough not rising enough of giving you gummy bread and many other issues.
STEP FOUR: The Bulk Proof
Bulk proofing is simply the first fermentation. From the moment the leavening agent is introduced to the rest of the ingredients, fermentation has begun. This primary stage gives the dough time to rise up to double its volume at a steady temperature. Depending on the type of bread you’re making, this stage can be anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 or 4 hours. I suppose I can’t reiterate this enough, but follow your recipe it’s your map to the bread you’re making.
STEP FIVE: Shaping
The shaping stage begins just after you’ve released some of the gases from your bread dough, by punching down or stretching out, depending on the type of bread you’ve chosen to make and allowed it to rest. This short rest period lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, again depending on the type of bread you’re making. Bread leavened with commercial yeast tends to have shorter rest periods than sourdough bread.
After allowing it to rest, it’s time to shape. There are numerous ways to shape bread, though generally, the shape is dependent on the type of bread you’re making. Challa you tend to braid, sourdoughs tend to be rounded, sandwich bread is often baked in a loaf pan – I think you get the point. The easiest bread to shape, however, is the one you don’t have to shape at all. An overnight bread has minimal handling and minimal ingredients and will shock you in your abilities as well as in its flavor.
STEP SIX: Final Rise
After shaping it’s time to allow your bread dough to rest and bulk up again. Whether the final proof is short or long is contingent upon the type of bread you’re making. It’s also at this point that you can choose to extend the proofing by placing it in the fridge if the recipe doesn’t already suggest doing so. This step allows for the flavors to develop by slowing the whole process down.
STEP SEVEN: Baking
You’re almost done, and now you get to bake your loaf of bread. It’s important to ensure an accurate oven temperature, as bread tends to bake at higher temperatures. Read What is the Ideal Oven Temperature for Baking Bread? If you want to learn more. As has likely been overstated thus far, how long you bake for will rely on the type of bread you’ve chosen to make – but many can be ready in as little as 20 minutes. That being said, if you like a nice brown loaf and hate to run this risk of an underbanked loaf of bread adding five minutes to the baking time won’t hurt.
TIP: I will always recommend to leave the bread in the oven a bit longer than you think it needs. Novice bakes are usually afraid to burn their bread and end up taking the bread out of the over too soon. LEAVE YOU BREAD IN THE OVEN! bread that does not have any sugars in it can be left a very long time in the oven before burning so don’t worry about your bread burning
STEP EIGHT: Cooling
While this sounds very simple “let you bread cool” in actuality, most people overlook this step and rush to crack open their freshly baked bread before it had time to settle.
Cooling your bread properly is extremely crucial to the final texture of the product. If you do not cool your bread properly you will end up with gummy texture and your bread will dry out quicker. This is because you will let out a lot of moister out of your bread that is supposed to be slowly soaked up into the dough.
Make sure you place your bread on a cooling rack with plenty of space underneath allowing for good air flow. Breads that have a fat and sugar content in them such as challah bread or brioche require a shorter cooling time than sourdough breads.
For these type of breads ( that have fat and sugar content in them ) i recommend approximately 2-4 hour cooling time.
Breads without added sugars or fats and sourdough breads require a longer cooling time of approximately 4-8 hours.
Cooling your bread properly will not only provide the correct texture but will also allow the crust to form properly.
Remember, no one is born a baker. Baking comes with many failures and frustration in first. Once the process is perfected though there aren’t many more gratifying feeling than that of a fresh loaf of bread that you have produced with your own two hands.
enjoy the process.