Bread Baking 101
2.03: Making Your Own Bread
Over a hundred years ago, bread baking was a daily chore for most families. In the early part of the 20th century, however, bread baking began in the factory. The general consensus became that making your own bread was difficult and time consuming.
Anyone who makes bread regularly knows that bread baking is not nearly as difficult as commonly thought. The ingredients are simple and few. Making the dough takes no more than ten minutes, and the rest of the work is done by the yeast. Once the bread has risen and is placed in the oven to bake, the whole house is filled with the most wonderful smell. That alone is reason enough to bake your own bread. However if that doesn’t convince you, here a four reasons why you should give it a try:
Homemade bread is healthier than store-bought bread.
Homemade bread is cheaper than store-bought bread.
Homemade bread tastes better than store-bought bread.
Homemade bread really is easy to make!
The equipment needed to bake bread is not a huge up-front investment. In fact, chances are your pantry is stocked with enough to get started right away.
Plastic dough scraper: This flexible, inexpensive little guy is a super-useful tool. Use it to gently ease dough out of a bowl and off work surfaces. It also doubles as a counter scraper for cleanup.
Baking stone: Baking stones absorb and radiate heat and help give your loaves that hard, crackly bottom crust. The thicker the stone, the better. TheBaking stone: Baking stones absorb and radiate heat and help give your loaves that hard, crackly bottom crust. The thicker the stone, the better. There are also good aluminum and cast-aluminum options are also good aluminum and cast-aluminum options.
Dutch oven: Baking bread in a covered Dutch oven traps in moisture, simulating hearth baking. (This is essential for the no-knead method; see below.)
Digital scale: This is not necessary, but it's likely worth the investment. Though most American published cookbooks offer only standard volume measurements, some also include weight. Weighing is more accurate, and often is actually easier than fiddling with measuring cups. Just tare the scale (reset it to zero) with the empty mixing bowl, then add ingredients.
Loaf pans: Great for baking sandwich breads. Available in various sizes.
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowls: A variety of sizes are handy; you’ll need at least one large one for mixing.
Active dry: You will usually see this in small packages in the dairy section. It needs to hang out in warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit) for a few minutes before you use it. This wakes the yeast up and gets it ready for your recipe.
Rapid-rise: This is a hardy strain of yeast, and does not need to be hydrated before using. While it does not actually rise more rapidly than any other yeast, you get to skip the step of hydrating, making the process a couple of minutes faster. It is also more concentrated than active dry yeast, so you will get a fuller rise in some recipes than with the same amount of active dry yeast.
Fresh yeast: This is more prevalent in professional bakeries. This is hard to find and needs to be used up pretty quickly once you buy it. If you do have access to fresh yeast, substitute 0.6 ounces of it for each packet of active dry yeast called for in any given recipe.
Starter: This mix of flour, water and sugar gives sourdough its tangy and complex flavor. Starters rely on the atmosphere to become populated with microscopic friends, and thus turn into an active culture you can use in your bread. Starters need time and some attention but are totally worth the effort.
For the most-accurate way to measure, use a fork to lightly mix up your flour in its bin or bag. Then use a scoop to pour flour into measuring cups and a straightedge to level off any excess flour.
All-purpose: Choose unbleached.
Bread: Also go for unbleached and preferably between 12 percent and 13 percent protein.
Gluten-free: Thanks to some great gluten-free bread baking cookbooks, now you do not have to rely on store-bought goodies anymore. There is also a wonderful new family of gluten-free flours to experiment with, such as teff, buckwheat and sorghum.
Sprouted: This is made from grains that are allowed to sprout; once the shoot appears, they are then dried and milled into flour. It is considered a special-order item; look for it online.
Table salt and kosher salt are not evenly interchangeable in bread baking, so be sure to use whatever the recipe calls for. To be even more precise, if a specific brand of kosher salt is called for, then try to use that; crystal size and weight can vary depending on the brand. Salt sharpens and brightens the flavor in baked goods and helps prevent staleness.
This is water for mixing (and not activating yeast). It should be around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Some recipes will call for spring water, because certain minerals in tap water can have a negative effect on yeast fermentation.
This is perhaps the most-important ingredient for the success of any loaf of bread. Take care not to rush the fermentation and proofing of dough. The longer the dough has to rest, the more flavorful it will be.
Butter, eggs and milk
These are found in enriched breads like brioche and challah. Most recipes will call for unsalted butter, large eggs and whole milk. These three can contribute to the hydration, tenderness, flavor and color of bread.
2.06: Dusting & Kneading
Use a light hand when dusting your work surface with flour; use a quick sideways flick of the wrist to create a light powder coating. Too much flour on the kneading surface can lead to dry bread.
Kneading incorporates the flour and liquid ingredients while helping create the gluten structure that establishes the bread's final texture.
Traditional kneading: This is done in a mixer with a dough hook or by hand. Do not push so hard that you tear the dough, or knead so long that the dough gets taut.
Stretch-and-fold: This is the method of choice for many professional bakers and cookbook authors. The dough is first under-mixed into a shaggy mixture, which rests and is then gently strengthened, to develop gluten, with a series of stretches, folds and rests.
2.07: Fermentation, Proofing & Forming
As your dough sits, all the action happens: yeast and friendly bacteria convert starches into sugars, creating flavor and producing the carbon dioxide that is responsible for the light and airy crumb inside of the bread.
When it is done proofing, your dough should look fuller and doubled in size. If it is tight and dense, let it proof longer; if it is airy and about to collapse, then it has gone too far.
There are two temperature options for proofing and fermenting bread.
Warm: In a warm — but not hot — spot, about 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Generally, the kitchen counter is fine. If your kitchen is drafty, then inside the turned-off oven or the microwave works too. If it is too warm in your kitchen, find a cooler room.
Cold: Putting the dough in the fridge slows the rise, which helps develop flavor. If you get called away for some reason when proofing a dough, refrigerate it until you get back.
Use a gentle hand — if dough gets overworked, it can be tough to form. If the dough starts to feel taut, cover it with a towel and let the dough relax for about ten minutes.
Though it may seem odd, you can take the temperature of bread to check for doneness. Look for 190 degrees Fahrenheit with an instant-read thermometer. The more you bake, the more you’ll be able to rely on look, feel and smell to determine when your bread is ready.
For loaves of un-enriched bread, golden brown is not quite enough. You will want to go a few shades darker; deep, dark brown means more flavor.
A properly baked loaf of bread will feel light and hollow when tapped on a countertop, and your bread should smell toasted and nutty.
It is important to let most bread rest until cool for a creamy crumb. Transfer loaves to a cooling rack, or just use the grates on your stovetop.
2.10: Cooking Assignment #2
You are to choose one of the following four easy 'made from scratch' recipes to Bake Your Own Bread:
Easy White Bread (great for sandwiches)
Remember: Please do not worry if your final product does not turn out perfectly. However, you will need to take photos of the process as you go along, as well as of the final product. Please submit your work in the Assessments area.
Baking Your Own Bread
2.11: Module 2 Quiz
For this quiz, you will write a summary of your bread baking process. Be sure to include key details such as things you learned, what went right; what maybe didn't go so great; how it tasted; and your overall experience. What did you enjoy about this process? What are some things you would do differently next time? I would like you to type at least a one page, double spaced summary (do exceed 16pt size font) so I can ensure that you have the bread baking process down.
Once you have completed your summary, save it and then submit your work in the Assessments area.