Monday, January 19, 2009

Some Tips on Making Great Bread

I know I promised the orzo risotto recipe tonight, but the picture is being held captive on my memory card while the camera battery recharges. So, I thought would share some sagely advice on baking bread from my, uh, weeks of experience as proprietor of a home bakery. It seems that so many people are afraid of making anything leavened, no doubt because the first loaf they ever tried to bake turned out as as dense as a brick and just as tasty. Bread really isn't that hard to make, but it does take some practice to make a really good loaf. The more bread you bake, the better it will be. Here are some tips to help you on your way.

Your bread is only as good as your ingredients. Chuck out that yeast that's been kicking around the fridge for the past year and buy a fresh container. Get some organic flour.
Get a few tools. A baking stone is essential for making artisan breads. An instant read thermometer will tell you when your bread is done. Speaking of tools, a stand mixer helps bring dough together quickly, especially if you are making a lot of bread. But don't let the mixer do all the work. Kneading the dough with your hands will give you a feel for the dough and will let you know if it is too wet or too dry. Find a good place for your bread to rise. Bread will rise even in the fridge, but it goes a whole lot faster in warmer temperatures. I have found the top of the radiator works well in the winter. You can also see that I cover the bowls of dough with plates--no need to use plastic wrap. You will also notice the cookbooks. Get a good cookbook. I really like Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.Above all, keep on baking. You will undoubtedly crank out a few losers, but you will soon develop a feel for the perfect dough, know when a loaf is baked, and be able to make more complicated breads.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips! I added your link to my Vegan Info LJ - a plethora of Vegan Links.

http://veganinfo.livejournal.com/

Have a happy day :)

wisconsin mom said...

any thoughts on dry yeast packets?

yasmin said...

Thanks for the tips. As a very recent forager into breadmaking, I have to say there's something really special about baking bread. Have you tried sourdoughs yet?

DJ said...

Thanks - I have definitely noticed that my loaves and kneading technique have improved with time. Now I just need a bread stone (sigh!)

Zephyr said...

Yay, bread info! Feel free to give more tips/recipes, please! I've dabbled in bread baking (and it's all gone shocking well) and just started making sourdough a week ago. Now that I'm feeding my starter I'm going to be baking bread pretty regularly and any help or suggestions are appreciated.
On a slightly different note, I'm going to get a kitchenaid mixer soon and was wondering if you have any suggestions on particular models. I plan on using it for some bread kneading, as well as making cakes, cookies, maybe cupcakes, pizza dough, etc. Thanks in advance!

Rebecca Guthrie said...

You are so right. My first couple of loaves were awful. I've been improving, slowly. Thanks for the post!

borboleta africana...é um peixe said...

thank´s for your usefull tips!...

Anonymous said...

i'm about to dive into the world of bread baking - i've only made basic whole wheat breads, although they turned out fantastic.

i got the bread baker's apprentice for xmas, but have only made the pizza dough so far. do you have any suggestions for what to make first?

Eating Consciously said...

Thanks for the tips. I usually make everything from scratch, but bread seems to be one of those things I'm willing to buy premade. It just seems like it takes wayyyy to long for me to commit to.

Bianca said...

I got a Kitchenaid mixer for Xmas and I can't wait to use it for bread!

Ah, I miss having radiators! I have stupid central heat in my new house. It doesn't work nearly as well.

GEORGE ALAN FRAMPTON said...

I have a 32 page booklet, published by Fleischmann's, called "When you Bake - with yeast." From the look of the photos and graphics of women baking in high-heels, it is from the 50's. I acquired it when my grandmother died.

To the point ... I was always afraid to try baking a loaf of bread, so I started with the easiest bread recipe I could find. It was for batter bread. There is no kneading involved, the bread has the texture more of a cake, but the yummy taste of homemade bread. It does have an egg in it, but I replace it with ground flax.
I'd never heard of batter bread before. Have you every made any?

I've just purchased a baking tile, and am ready to try some of the artisan breads.

Valerie

T said...

Thanks for the tips! They came right as I was getting ready to go on a baking kick! Winter + poverty brings out the baker in us all...

Jess said...

I tried making focaccia for the first time today, and the recipe didn't call for salt. Bread without salt kind of sucks. Even though it had a lovely texture and the coarse salt and rosemary sprinkled on top was tasty, there was a marked lack of something in the finished product that I attribute to the omission of salt. Do you think it's safe to say that whenever a bread recipe calls for no salt, we can ignore them?

Thanks for your bread tips, I'm teaching myself and the encouragement helps :) Keep them coming!

Chiko and Jon said...

Great post, I bake my own bread every week. One little trick to get some more nutrition in your bread is to add unsweetened multi-grain hot cereal to your dough. I use Bob's Red Mill 7 or 10 grain mix, and substitute 1/2 cup of the cereal mix for 1/2 cup of the flour. In addition to several whole grains, it's got flaxseed and soy in it so you get protein, fiber and omega 3's. Also, if you are going to make bread regularly, pinch off a tennis ball size piece of dough and keep it in the fridge. After 5 days or so it will get a little vinegary smell to it but don't worry. You end up with a sourdough starter to add to your next batch of dough. It won't eliminate the need for yeast, but it will add a really nice yeasty chewiness to your bread.

Craig Photography said...

Great Blog!!!!! Thanks for sharing all those tips.. it will help this dad.

Peace ~ John

Vegan Dad said...

wisconsin mom,
Nothing wrong with the packets, but they are expensive. Look for larger vacuum sealed packages of yeast at your bulk food store.

yasmin,
I have yet to conquer sourdough. Many failed attempts, but no successful loaves.

zephyr,
Go big. It is worth it. I have the Professional 6 model with a 12 cup capacity and a heavy duty motor. The Professional 7 is out now, and I think the bigger, stronger machines are worth the money.

anonymous,
The ciabatta is amazing (I blogged about it). I also made the stollen for Christmas. Honestly, that is all I have made, but my plan it to work through the book recipe by recipe.

george,
There are some Britsh breads that are essentially batter breads. The cookbook "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" works essentially on the same principle--no knead doughs that are kept in the fridge and used throughout the week.

Jess,
Salt helps regulate the yeast action in bread, and also makes it taste good. There is an Italisn bread made with no salt (the name escapes me), and is suppposed to ne eaten with salty foods.

Vita-VEGAN-Vegamin said...

Thanks for the tips. Love your blog and your recipes btw!

Anonymous said...

You may never want to use a kitchen-Aid after you watch the no knead bread method as in the youtube video below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13Ah9ES2yTU

best wishes to VeganDad

Maria

Sarah said...

Hey - I put my bread in the oven (off) with a pan of hot water to rise. It seems to work pretty well - just thought I'd share. Love the blog!

Anonymous said...

I've been okay with the bread baking, but I've had shocking results with Spelt bread. It is just hard and flat and dense. The only way I can get it to rise about 1cm is to add 1 Tbsp of plain flour, which defeats the purpose of having spelt..
Do you have any suggestions?

JK from Oz