So, also to prepare for my little bread class tomorrow, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about bread over the years. I’m sure there’ll be many more thoughts as I continue to work on my bread, but for now, here’s a few things that have helped me along the way.
A few basic pointers:
- Try making bread! It is so much better than anything store bought. The aroma alone is worth all the work!
- Get a thermometer! Baked bread should register at 190 degrees F.
- Make sure your oven cooks at the temperature you think it’s cooking at.
- Be persistent. It takes a long time and a lot of practice to get consistent results (I’m not sure I’m there yet), but all the practice is edible! Okay, there was one loaf once . .
- Make sure you know if your yeast is working or not.
- Always use salt (about 2 t. per loaf).
- Bread dough is wetter than you think! As an old relative used to say, if you’re not willing to get your hands messy, you’re not going to have good bread. If your dough is so dry it doesn’t leave residue on your hands, it probably has too much flour, and will be a dry loaf.
- A dough with powdered milk in it makes really nice sandwich bread.
- Whole wheat flour is pretty dry. If using, make sure the recipe incorporates soaking it, or using mashed potatoes or dried milk to help it be a softer loaf.
- Use reliable sites or cookbooks for your reference. My favorites are King Arthur Flour, any bread book by Beth Hensperger, Jim Lahey’s books, and Josey Baker Bread.
Some other, more involved thoughts . . .
- The best bread incorporates time to do the work. This includes overnight sponges or periods of resting. Time helps relax and build the gluten, giving loaves a wonderful chew and lovely air pockets.
- Most of the equipment you need for bread, you probably already have: a big bowl, spoon, a clean, lint-free kitchen cloth, a colander, a dutch oven. You don’t need a stand mixer or a bread machine or anything else fancy to make a really great loaf of bread. These items will have you on your way to making Jim Lahey’s or ATK or KAF’s best loaves.
- Using natural yeast is incredibly simple! Why didn’t I know this ten years ago?! It seemed so overwhelming, but it’s way simpler and more consistent. If you are still using instant yeast for your loaves, consider giving natural yeast (sourdough starter) a try. You can start your own by mixing equal parts water and flour in a glass jar right now. Leave it loosely covered on your counter, and pour out all but 1/2 c. of it every time it looks brown, dingy, with brown water on top. Within a few days, you’ll have a bubbling natural yeast. Then, you’ll be ready to start a feeding schedule and have it raise your bread.
- Try using a scale. Many recipes today are switching to a scale, and it is very successful.
If using an instant yeast recipe:
- Test your yeast first (especially if it isn’t fresh) by placing it with the warm water and a pinch of sugar. After five minutes, it should be bubbly.
- Warm your water to 110-120 degrees to help the dough start rising quickly.
- For one loaf, you should have about 2-3 c. of flour, 1 1/4 c. water, and 2 t. salt, plus other enhancements (honey, butter, powdered milk). If the salt seems low, you may want to adjust the amount. ALWAYS have enough salt in your dough.
- Give the bread the proper time to rise, preferably at room temperature. The PROOF feature in the oven can cause the loaf to rise too much (over proof). This is actually the worst thing that can happen to your bread.
- If making an enriched (with butter and eggs) dough, make sure to refrigerate it (probably overnight) to allow it to be workable (not too soft). This really just means, follow the recipe, and don’t try shortcuts.
What are your best tips I could share with my friends tomorrow night? I’d love to hear them!