Close your eyes. Think back to mom or grandma’s kitchen when you were a kid. Imagine the aroma of buttery, sweet, yeasty homemade bread wafting out of the oven and curling towards you.
Picture the soft, fluffy bread–still hot from the oven–with a dollop of sweet cream butter slowly melting into the pillowy bread. Remember the hot, buttery deliciousness of the fresh bread as you took your first bite. Feel all the feels. Now, imagine that this is happening in YOUR kitchen.
There is nothing quite like fresh, homemade bread.
Unfortunately, so many people are intimidated by making their own bread. They think they need some fancy bread machine to be able to enjoy the aroma and taste of fresh bread. I was one of those people. I’ve never been much of a baker. Furthermore, living at a high elevation (7,200 feet) made making my own bread seem totally unattainable.
I started making my own bread about a year and a half ago.
After binge-watching several seasons of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, I was inspired to give it a go. I have certainly had many loaves not turn out, but I have learned some valuable things along the way. Below are some of my tried and true tips that will help anyone become skilled at the art of bread making. Pardon the puns, I couldn’t resist.
Be sure to check out the links to some of my favorite recipes at the bottom!
Tip #1: Be a Beast When it Comes to Yeast
Yeast is the magical stuff that makes bread rise, at least in most recipes. There are some recipes that use baking powder, or baking soda, or some combination thereof. However, for recipes that call for yeast, it is crucial to know how to properly treat your yeast. First of all, I would definitely recommend a good quality yeast (I’m partial to Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast). Keep your yeast in the refrigerator so that it stays fresh.
Most recipe’s call for you to “activate” your yeast before you add your other ingredients. This is accomplished by mixing your yeast, sugar, and warm water (occasionally milk), and letting it sit for about 10 minutes. The exact amounts of yeast, sugar, and water will differ by recipe. I have found that, despite what the recipe says, it is better to mix all the sugar with the water and yeast at this stage. For example, if the recipe ultimately calls for a 1/4 cup of sugar but advises to just add a “pinch” to activate the yeast, I go ahead and put the full 1/4 cup in. It is also important that the water is warm but NOT hot. If your yeast mixture is nice and foamy in 10 minutes, your good to go. If nothing has happened after 15 minutes, you need new yeast.
Tip #2: There is Power in Good Bread Flour
I have made homeade bread with a variety of different types of flour. Some recipes specify a certain type and some do not. If you are making an enriched bread or a multi-grain bread, it is probably best to just follow the recipe. However, if you are making a simple sandwich bread or rolls that call for all-purpose flour, you may want to consider using bread flour instead.
Generally, I have had better luck by using an actual “bread” flour rather than all-purpose. Bread flour has a higher gluten content than all-purpose and helps to give bread its yummy, chewy texture. I really like using Gold Medal Bread Flour for my rolls and white sandwich bread.
Tip #3: A Good Mixer is a Must
Ok, you CAN make bread without a mixer, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re making some type of no-knead skillet bread. I have a KitchenAid Stand Mixer with a dough hook attachment that I LOVE. The dough hook does so much of the work for you! I like to leave my bread in the mixer until the dough is pulled away from the sides of the bowl, but is still pretty sticky.
Tip #4: Know How to Knead
I find kneading bread dough to be very cathartic! I can take out my frustrations by beating up a piece of dough. To knead your dough you need to have a solid, stable, clean surface. I usually just wash a space on my counter, but you could use a cutting board or baking mat too. I don’t really have a specific technique (you can find some fun videos on YouTube), I just roll and work the dough in a rhythmic manner, adding flour if it gets too sticky.
It is really important to know when you have kneaded your dough enough. The process of kneading your dough is to build up the gluten. If you don’t knead it enough, your bread will turn out flat and dense. At the same time, it is also important not to knead it too much! Over-worked dough produces bread that has a hard crust and is dense and dry.
Most homemade bread recipes will give you an approximation of how long to knead it. There are two tests that I use to see if it has been kneaded enough. The first test I call the “Poke Test.” In the Poke Test you just poke the dough with your finger. If it springs back (it won’t spring back completely) it is probably ready. The second test, and the one I find more reliable, is the “Windowpane Test.” For the Windowpane Test, take a small piece of dough, hold it up to the light, and stretch it between your fingers until it is thin enough for light to pass through. If it stretches very thin without tearing, it is ready. You can see my videos demonstrating these two methods below.
Window Pane Test
Tip #5: Prove Your Dough Properly
Proving your dough is also known as letting it rise. Rise time is different for different recipes, but usually there are two rises each around 30 to 60 minutes. There are some fancy-schmancy proving drawers, baskets, and gauges you can buy, but I just use a large bowl, saran wrap and the drawer under my oven.
First of all, it is very important that you have a large enough bowl to prove your dough in. If your bowl is too small, it will constrict your dough’s rise and the texture and taste will be off. It is also important to cover your dough, particularly if you live in a dry environment. In order to get the right prove, I put my dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. I then heat my oven to 350 and put the bowl in the drawer underneath it (turns out that isn’t just for storing pans). I always make sure to set a timer and let it rise for the full time indicated in the recipe. If your dough is under-proved, your bread will crack.
I hope you have found my tips and tricks helpful! It really is so easy to make delicious, homemade bread! Make sure to check out some of my favorite recipes in the links below. Good luck and get baking!
**This post contains affiliate links for products I use and love. If you click on a link, I may receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you).**
My Favorite Bread Recipes:
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