Want to make your own bread? There’s just nothing like a warm slice of homemade bread fresh out of the oven. Once you start baking bread at home, you’ll never go back to store bought loaves.
In addition to the delicious flavor, homemade bread is also much less expensive per loaf than supermarket bread, and there are no additives or preservatives.
Baking bread at home is a learning experience. It takes time to understand how the ingredients work together and transform into a delicious loaf of bread.
After several attempts, you will gain knowledge of how the dough should feel throughout the bread making process. You will be able to tell when the dough has been kneaded long enough, easily identify when it needs a bit more flour or liquid, and know the optimal time to place the bread in the oven.
It’s ok to fail. Succeeding without failure teaches you very little. Your failures help you become a better bread baker. So don’t give up. Try again. Eventually, you will get it and be rewarded with a homemade loaf of bread that will taste better than the supermarket breads.
By the way, don’t toss your failed loaves in the trash. Turn those failures into homemade bread crumbs.
3 Ways to Knead Bread Dough
The process of kneading the bread dough mixes the ingredients and helps create the gluten structure that gives the bread texture and helps it rise. As the dough is kneaded, gluten strands form. Gluten makes the dough stretchy which allows it to expand as it rises.
There are several ways you can knead bread, by hand, bread machine, or stand mixer:
How Knead Dough Manually
Kneading bread by hand seems like it is so labor intensive.
Sure, your hands may hurt, and you’ll get bored, and you’ll look for distractions, but just keep kneading. It’s going to be worth it. Besides, you’re getting a great arm workout, and this is the perfect time to do some of that meditation you’ve been meaning to work into your busy life. Plus you will learn how the bread dough feels throughout the kneading process.
It really isn’t that hard. You just have to give it the time it deserves. Think back to our ancestors’ time when every household made bread each day to feed their families.
Once the dough ingredients are roughly combined in a large bowl, it’s time to knead it by hand:
Step 1: Lightly flour a clean flat surface and dump out the dough into a rough pile.
Step 2: Generously flour your hands and gather the bread dough together in a ball.
Step 3: Gently push the dough down and away from you with the heals of your hands.
Step 4: Fold the dough in half, give it a quarter turn, and push the dough down and away from you again.
Step 5: Dust with flour as needed to prevent sticking and repeat the kneading process until the dough is smooth on the outside, no longer sticky, and springs back when pressed with your fingers, about 5-10 minutes. Once your bread dough is kneaded sufficiently, it is ready for its first rise. Follow your recipe for the next steps.
How to Knead Dough with a Bread Machine
A bread machine makes it easy to make bread because it does most of the labor for you. There is also less of a mess to clean up because the ingredients are contained in the bread machine’s pan.
I prefer baking my bread in the oven, but you can bake a loaf right in the machine if you want. Simple follow the recipes that come with the bread maker.
Instead of kneading by hand, I do use the bread machine’s dough cycle to mix the ingredients and provide the perfect temperature for the bread dough’s first rise, and then I form my loaves in a regular bread pan, let it rise, and bake.
Step 1: Add the ingredients in the order your bread machine suggests. Each brand is different. Some suggest adding the liquids first, the dry ingredients, and the active dry yeast on top. Others have you proof the yeast in warm water before adding to the machine’s bread pan. You can use any recipe, but follow your bread machine’s instructions for the order of adding the ingredients to the bread pan for the best results.
Step 2: Select the bread machine’s manual or dough setting. Once the bread dough ingredients are in the machine, select the manual or dough setting. The machine will proceed to combine the ingredients, knead the dough, and give the dough the first rise.
While the machine is mixing, feel free to take a peek inside to observe how the dough is coming together. It will be shaggy at first, and then it will smooth out and eventually form a ball. Your machine may pause several times during the mixing process. This is to let the dough rest, which allows the gluten to develop. Once the bread machine hits the rising cycle, keep the cover closed to retain the heat.
Step 3: Wait for the beep. Your machine will beep to let you know it is finished the dough cycle. Follow your recipe for the next steps.
Kneading the Dough using a Stand Mixer
A sturdy stand mixer with a dough hook can mix and knead the dough easily. The mixer will combine the ingredients, and knead the dough by turning and folding it in the mixing bowl.
Step 1: Add the liquids and yeast to the mixer bowl. Add warm liquids and yeast to a large mixing bowl. Let it fizz for a bit, and then add the remaining ingredients except the flour. Turn the mixer on low to combine the ingredients.
Step 2: Add the bread flour. Add the flour a little at a time and let the mixer blend it in each time. The dough will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl and build up on the dough hook. When this happens, it’s time to begin kneading.
Step 3: Kneading the dough. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn on the mixer and knead on low speed for 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Once your dough is kneaded, check the recipe for the next steps.
10 Tips for Making Homemade Bread
Learning how to bake bread takes time and perseverance. I spent close to two years learning how to bake bread. In those two years, I’ve made every mistake in the book.
I was so determined to figure out this bread-baking thing, that I baked six loaves in one day. I messed up different things every time.
I felt defeated…but I didn’t give up.
I took all that I’d learned from those failed loaves, and baked a perfect loaf of bread the very next day. With every loaf after that, I’ve been having more and more success.
I’m here to tell you it is possible for everyone to bake bread, and I’m going to make it much easier on you by telling you everything I’ve done wrong and share some bread baking tips I’ve learned along the way:
1. Follow the bread recipe instructions
This may seem obvious to some of you. Some of you would never dream of straying away from a recipe. If that’s you, feel free to skip to the next tip. The rest of you are more like me. Hard headed, stubborn souls. Unless you are a master baker (which you’re probably not, because you wouldn’t be reading this if you were) you must follow the recipe exactly as it is written.
Gather the ingredients ahead of time and add them together in the order given in the recipe.
2. Use bread flour
Unless stated otherwise, always use bread flour to make bread. Bread flour is not the same as all-purpose flour. It contains considerably more protein, which will aid in gluten development, making your bread rise better, have an amazing texture, and taste wonderful.
You don’t have to go to a fancy pants bakery supply store to get bread flour. Simply buy King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour at your local grocery store or order online. If you want to be a fancy pants and shop at the bakery supply- go for it! I won’t judge you. Or your pants. Well, maybe the pants. It depends on how fancy they are.
3. Use fresh yeast
Yeast plays many roles in developing bread dough into a fluffy loaf. Yeast is living organisms that convert sugars into carbon dioxide, ethanol, flavor molecules, and energy. Carbon dioxide is formed as the dough rises. Ethanol is formed and reacts to the heat in the oven to gas creating the bubbles in the bread. Yeast also aids in the development and strength of the gluten in the dough.
Dried yeast is probably the most confusing part of making bread because there are a number of choices in the supermarket baking section.
- Active Dry Yeast is a granular yeast that remains dormant until it is activated by dissolving it in warm water before using.
- Instant Yeast is similar to active dry yeast, but it is made up of smaller particles that dissolve quickly. Instant yeast doesn’t have to be activated in warm water before adding to your recipe. Instead, it can be mixed into the dry ingredients with the same result. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise yeast, quick-rise yeast, bread machine yeast, and SAF instant yeast.
Both active dry yeast and instant yeast come in 3-packs and jars. If you bake bread a lot, consider purchasing a one-pound block of SAF instant yeast, dividing it into air-tight jars, and storing it in your freezer.
Are you wondering if you yeast is still good? Test it first by dissolving one teaspoon of sugar in 1/2 cup warm water (105-115˚F). Stir in a yeast packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons of dry yeast until it is dissolved. The yeast should begin to activate right away, and after 10 minutes should rise to the top.
If the yeast is good, you can use it in your recipe right away (remembering to deduct 1/2 cup liquid from your recipe). If the yeast failed to bubble and rise then it has gone bad and should be tossed away.
4. Use warm water, not too cold and not too hot
You know how the recipe says to pour the yeast into warm water? Yeah, it actually needs to be warm. Not hot. Water that is too hot will kill your yeast. Think the same temperature you would make a baby’s bath water. We’re talking lukewarm here. Test it on your wrist or your face if you have to, hands are not dependable temperature gauges. Or use an instant read thermometer to check the water temperature. Ideal temperature is between 105-115˚F.
The vast majority of my failed loaves were caused by this simple mistake. I would use water that was way too warm and kill most of my yeast. When I would go to check on my rising dough, it would be sitting in the bowl looking up at me in exactly the same dense, sticky way it did when I left it.
5. Measure the bread ingredients using a scale
Whenever possible, use a scale to weigh your flour instead of measuring cups. Flour is a very tricky thing. It’s very easy to end up with too much or too little flour when using cups because flour condenses when you handle it.
If your bread recipe has the amount of flour needed in pounds or ounces, grab a kitchen scale and use it. If you are using King Arthur flour, they have a handy weight chart on their website. Each brand of flour is different. Check the website of you brand.
6. Be sure to knead the bread dough long enough
This is one of the most crucial steps, and if you mess it up, your bread won’t rise correctly and won’t have the proper texture. Set a timer if you have to, and when in doubt, keep kneading. If you don’t know if the dough is springy, elastic, or smooth yet, then it isn’t.
See the tips at the top for three ways to knead bread by hand, bread machine, or stand mixer.
7. Cover your bread dough and let it rise
For the first rise, coat a large bowl with oil or butter, place the dough into the bowl, and flip it over so the top and bottom are greased. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel, and let the dough rise until it has doubled in size.
After you have formed your loaf, cover the pan with a towel and let it rise again until double. The dough will rise quicker in warm weather and slower when it is cool.
8. Proof your dough in the perfect place
Place your dough to rise in a warm place, not hot. Make sure it’s not a drafty place, or a place where your curious cat can stick his face in it.
For months during my bread baking failures, I would try to get my bread to rise in a warm oven. I would turn it on to 200˚F then shut it off and put the dough inside. It didn’t rise. It just sat there because I killed the yeast by making the environment too warm.
How to proof bread in your oven the right way: Instead of turning on the oven, use it as a proof box to hold the heat and keep your bread dough away from drafts. This method creates a warm and humid environment perfect for yeast-leavened bread.
Bring a teakettle of water to boil. Place a large baking pan on the lower shelf in the cold oven. Add 3-4 cups of boiling water into the pan. Place the container of bread dough on the rack above, close the door, and let the dough to rise until doubled in bulk.
Dough does rise in cool conditions. It just takes longer. So don’t worry too much and let it be.
9. Don’t let the dough rise too long
You need your dough to rise just the perfect amount. This can be tricky but with practice, you’ll get it right. Dough does a final rise in the oven called “oven spring” and if you let it rise too long before it hits the oven, it will collapse and cause your bread to be dense and hard.
To check if you dough has risen enough, use your finger to lightly press into the dough on the side of your loaf. Watch how the dough responds:
- Dough is ready to bake if the indentation fills in about half way and holds its form.
- Dough needs to rise a little longer if it bounces back quickly and refills the dent completely.
- Dough has over-proofed if the depression doesn’t refill at all. Go ahead and bake it anyway. The top might collapse in the oven, and the loaf might be a bit dense, but it will still taste good.
10. Don’t trust the oven temperature
The actual temperature inside the oven can differ wildly from the temperature you set it to. Get a decent oven thermometer and always follow it.
Along the same lines, be sure to place your bread pans in the center of the oven, where the heat tends to be most consistent. Placing them along the edges, or too close to the bottom or top can lead to uneven baking.
Another thing to remember is every oven is different. Yours might bake the bread quickly while your friend’s oven may take longer. For this reason, you can’t exactly trust the baking time on recipes. Keep close track while baking and check the bread frequently toward the end. You will know it’s done when you flip it out of the pan, tap on the bottom and hear a hollow sound. Any other sounds and it needs a little more time.
Bread Recipes to Try:
Here are some bread recipes to get you started:
- Country White Bread – ImaginAcres
- Potato Bread Recipe -The Pioneer Woman
- Classic Whole Wheat Bread – King Arthur Flour
- Roasted Garlic Rosemary Bread – Grow a Good Life
The more you read, the better you’ll get at baking bread. If you’ve tried and failed with baking bread, you need this book. Bread Baking for Beginners totally saved me when I was on the verge of giving up trying to bake bread. This foolproof book is chock full of bread baking tips, and over thirty easy recipes for different breads.
The bread recipes from this book come out perfect every time. If you’re still struggling with baking bread, I can’t recommend this book highly enough!
I hope these bread baking tips help encourage you to keep trying. Do you make bread regularly? What tips can you add?
This article was originally published on 3/11/2013 it has been updated with more information and new photos.