Have you been failing your way through baking bread? Here are our top 10 bread baking tips for the unsuccessful baker.
Baking bread 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.
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With practice, 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. Your failures help you become a better bread baker. Succeeding without failure teaches you very little. 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.
10 Beginner Tips for Making Homemade Bread
I spent close to two years learning how to bake bread. In those two years, I’ve made every mistake in the book.
Learning how to bake bread takes time and perseverance. One day last year I was so determined to finally 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 I’d learned from those failed loaves and the next day I baked a perfect loaf of bread. With every loaf after that I’ve been having more and more success.
I’m here to tell you it is possible for every person 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 to make it easier on you.
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 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.
4. Measure the bread ingredients using a scale
Whenever possible, use a scale to measure your flour instead of measuring cups. Flour is a very tricky thing. It’s very easy to use 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.
5. 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.
It’s hard to over-knead bread. It’s easy to under-knead it.
Sure, you’re hands will 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 work out 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.
6. Cover your bread dough and let it rise
For the first rise, coat a large bowl with oil, place the dough into the bowl and flip it over so the top and bottom are oiled. 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.
7. Proof your dough in the perfect place
Place your dough to rise in a place that is warm, 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 breads.
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.
Though dough will rise in cool conditions, it will even rise in the refrigerator, it just will take longer. So don’t worry too much and just let it be.
8. 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 for too long before it hits the oven it will collapse and cause your bread to be dense and hard. Using a 6-quart food storage container with measurements on the side helps to make sure the dough rises just the right amount.
9. 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 always remember is that 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’ll 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.
10. Study up!
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?