Bread is delicious. That’s why it’s served by the basketful at restaurants before your meal; who can complain about a long wait while they’re stuffing their face with a bounty of baguette? One thing bread is not, however, is quick to make. Unless you cheat and use your bread machine, preparing a new loaf is very much a labor of love. It takes time to dissolve the yeast, more time to knead the dough, and even longer still to let it rise multiple times before you bake it. But if you love the taste of that freshly baked, crunchy yet soft slice of bread, you’ve got to try making it at home. It simply gets no better than homemade bread. So what’s the trick to not ending up with a dry, un-leavened loaf? Attention to the details!
My first attempts at making bread were ugly. Sure they tasted alright, but I didn’t even want to serve it to my friends with its gnarled and knotted appearance. These were relegated to sopping up sauces and soup on my plates only. After reading a few different cook books, though, I realized many bakers had different ways of preparing their bread. I took style snippets from several of them until my bread finally resembled something edible. Here is what I found to be most important in creating a good loaf.
1. Use warm water to dissolve the yeast. When I used cold water, it took longer for the yeast to dissolve and I feel like it may not have fully gotten there. It’s important to have the yeast fully dissolve to ensure a homogenous mixture that allows all areas of the dough to expand.
2. When adding herbs or other flavorful ingredients, it helped decrease clumps if I folded these into the dough when kneading it. When I combined the herbs into the flour before mixing, some of the flour would be left dry and clumpy which resulted in a sometimes uneven consistency.
3. Lastly – and I think most importantly – let the bread rise twice! After kneading the dough into a large ball, put it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it. Let it rise for an hour, then divide the dough into your cooking pans. Let the dough rise another 30-45 minutes as it most likely wants to stretch out a bit more. This should make your bread taller and less dense, which will allow it to cook more thoroughly and give you bigger slices. I don’t know about you, but the bigger and softer a slice of bread is, the more I love it.
Hopefully these tips help you in your next attempt at baking your own bread. Let us know how it turns out! Did these tips help at all? Or did they mess with your mojo? Leave us a comment with your take.
If you need a good bread recipe, you can find one on my blog.
Andrew Johnson is an activist and engineer living in Louisville, KY. He loves cooking, bourbon, and baking, in no particular order. You can find him onTwitter and Tumblr, or at his randomly updated foodblog. If you couldn’t tell by his handles, he is a giant, standing 6’10’’ above sea level.