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.