Is there anything more satisfying than cutting into a delicious loaf of freshly-baked bread? Perhaps the only way this could be more satisfying is if you’ve prepared and baked the bread from scratch. Of course, the idea of making bread can be intimidating—but it’s something that many of our ancestors did without giving it a second thought.
If you’re looking to get into bread-baking (or just want to give it a try), there are a few important fundamentals to keep in mind.
1. Precision is Key
First, understand that when you’re working from a bread recipe, there really isn’t any room for error. While you may be used to taking some liberties with other types of recipes, bread recipes are very precise. This means you’ll need to be especially careful when measuring and adding your ingredients; being off by even a small amount could result in catastrophe while baking bread.
2. Don’t Over- (Or Under-) Knead
Kneading is an important step in nearly any bread recipe (unless you’re following a no-knead recipe), but it’s common for beginning bread bakers to over- or under-knead their dough. When you knead the dough too much, you’ll end up with bread that is heavy and dense. Not kneading it enough, on the other hand, can prevent it from rising.
As a general rule, you should knead bread dough until its consistency is similar to that of chewed bubble gum (not the best visual, but it’s accurate!).
3. Invest in a Mixer With a Dough Hook
If you plan on making bread even a few times a year, then investing in a stand mixer will probably be worth it. Specifically, a stand mixer makes incorporating ingredients much easier and can save you time in your recipes. Even more specifically, a stand mixer with a dough hook will save you a great deal of time and energy compared to mixing dough by hand.
4. Keep Extra Ingredients On-Hand
When you’re getting started baking bread, you’re going to make mistakes. It happens. This is why it’s a good idea to keep plenty of extra ingredients (especially yeast and flour) in your pantry. This way, when you inevitably make a mistake and have to scrap your dough, you can start over immediately without having to run to the store to pick up more ingredients.
5. Don’t Kill the Yeast
Last but not least, remember to treat yeast delicately; your recipe relies on yeast being activated in order for the dough to rise. Too much heat can kill yeast, so be sure to always use lukewarm (not hot) water when adding water to a bread dough recipe. How warm is too warm? Generally, most yeast can withstand temperatures of about 120-130 degrees. Anything hotter than that and you’ll risk killing it off.
The Final Word on Baking Bread
Keeping these bread-baking fundamentals in mind as you get started can make all the difference in your success. By following these tips, you don’t have to be a professional baker to serve up delicious home-baked bread. From rolls and baguettes to brioches and more, you’ll be impressing your loved ones with your new-found baking skills.