Monday, October 27, 2014

7 Tips For New Bread Bakers-What I Wish I'd Known

bread, baking bread, tips, homemade bread,

My mom taught me how to make bread when I was a little girl.  It was a really fun activity for a kid, kneading dough, watching it rise, slathering it with butter warm out of the oven (actually, also fun for a grown up).

So when I was first married, I thought nothing of cracking open my fresh copy of Joy of Cooking
and going to town on one of their bread recipes.  Imagine my dismay when the loaf turned out to be pure garbage.  But I knew how to bake bread!  I'd done it a million times!

Turns out, I didn't really understand the nuances involved.  The little things my mom took care of that I didn't fully understand.  Over the next few years (and lots of phone calls to my mom) here are seven things that I learned about baking bread:

No Knead Bread
The Second Rise Is Always Necessary-I love to tinker with recipes.  When I made that first loaf as a newlywed, I decided that waiting for that second rise was just too much of a pain.  Turns out, that second rise is extremely important.  It creates air pockets in the dough and shapes your bread into the loaf.  Without it, your loaf is very very heavy.

Whole Wheat Challah
The Amount Of Flour/Water In A Recipe Is Fluid-It depends who you ask as to which ingredient is supposed to be fluid.  My mom always says the amount of flour you put in depends on how dry your dough is.  Peter Reinhart says that the amount of water you put in the recipe is fluid depending on how dry your dough is.  I've done it both ways.  It works pretty well both ways.

The most important thing is to let your dough speak to you.  I know, that sounds crazy, but trust me, it works.  If the dough is sticky, add a LITTLE bit more flour.  If the dough is dry to the touch, a little more water.  Your dough should be tacky like that blue sticky tack your teacher used to hang stuff on the wall when you were a kid.  If you are going to err on one side or another, make the dough more wet at first because you always add more flour in on the second knead.  We tend not to like to get bread dough on our hands and so we make it too dry and then have a heavy loaf.

Monkey Muffins
Overproofing The Dough Tastes Bad-If you let your bread dough rise (proof) too long the yeast run out of food to eat.  Your dough becomes flaccid and smells like skunky beer.  When you are making a sourdough culture this is not a bad thing.  When you are making direct method (single day, 2 rise) bread, the flavor profile can get intense.  You only want to let it rise to about double the size of your starting dough.  Depending on the temperature of your house, this usually takes about 1-1 1/2 hours.  If your house is unusually warm, this might go faster.  Pay attention.  

Cinnamon Swirl Pumpkin Bread
Bread Is Pretty Forgiving- I know I have told you all the things that can go wrong, but really, you can fix the flour/water problem pretty easily.  If you let your dough rise too long, punch it down and let it go again, you will just have a little more flavor than you expected.

Homemade Naan
People Really Love Homemade Bread-I know that I love homemade bread, but I grew up with it.  I assumed it was one of those weird things that only my family enjoyed like Dite Rite or excessively sweet desserts.  Turns out though, almost everyone I have run into loves homemade bread.  And more than that, they love it when you bake bread just for them, shows you're willing to put out a little effort to say I love you.  Luckily, many bread recipes make two loaves.  One for you to keep and one to give to someone you care about.

French Bread
Instant Yeast Is A Lot Easier To Use Than Active Dry Yeast-I grew up using active dry yeast.  To make active dry yeast work, you have to add it to a little bit of warm water for 15 minutes at the start of your recipe to "activate" the yeast.  Instant yeast or bread machine yeast needs no warm up.  You just add it directly to the dough.  This is nice because you don't have to worry about what that extra bit of water will do to your dough.  If your recipe calls for active dry yeast and you only have instant yeast, just remember to add in that extra bit of water because it is usually accounted for in recipes calling for active dry yeast.

Apple Cider Doughnuts
Bread Machines Aren't Necessary-Some people love their bread machines.  I am not one of those people.   To me, it is a big heavy machine that took up cabinet space and really limits the kinds of bread I can make.  One of the best things about baking bread is its simplicity.  All you really need is a bowl, a spoon, some bread pans and time.  And most of your bread baking time is really passive time you could be doing something else like laundry or watching the Gilmore Girls on Netflix.


  1. This is such a great post! I love to make bread, but I learned a few things - which is great! We love to make homemade bread. It's so much better than store-bought. And, with these tips, there's less chance for making an error. GREAT read. :-)

    1. Thanks Kristi! I love making bread too, you just can't beat the taste!

  2. You have no idea how helpful this post is! I'm so excited to try my hand at making bread now :)

    1. Yay! Baking bread is one of the most satisfying baking projects ever. I hope you love it!

  3. What a great resource! I'm one of those bread machine lovers (guilty as charged) but there are still lots of tips here that apply to bread machine dough too. Love it!


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