Let's Bake Homemade Bread


It's easier and far more satisfying than you might imagine.

By FamilyTime

 

The best way to learn how to bake a good loaf of yeast bread is to do it!

You can read about it, talk to fellow bakers, watch videos and programs on the Food Network, but until your hands are buried in bread dough, until you smell the yeasty aroma of the rising dough, until your kitchen is rich with the heady scent of baking bread, you won't have a clue.

And the best part about baking bread, is it's easy. You won't fail. Subsequent loaves may be better, but your first one will be wonderful in its own right.

Begin with the Essentials
Flour is the number-one ingredient in bread. Most home bakers begin with white flour and certainly a loaf of white bread is awesome. As you progress, you will want to experiment with whole-wheat and other whole-grain flours.

There's a reason to buy bread flour rather than all-purpose. Bread flour is milled from hard wheat, which simply means its protein content is higher so its gluten structure is stronger.

Look for flour on supermarket shelves called "bread flour" and if you're not sure, read the nutrition label. The protein content should be 14 percent or higher. If you have no choice, use all-purpose flour.

Yeast is remarkably reliable. Buy packets of active dry yeast in the supermarket, where it should be stored in a refrigerated aisle. Store it in your own refrigerator and use it by its expiration date.

Unless your tap water is terribly hard or very soft, it's fine for bread baking. If in doubt, use bottle spring water but this is rarely necessary.

Most bread recipes call for salt and ordinary table salt is fine. One word of warning: don't be tempted to sprinkle the salt in with the yeast as it proofs. Salt inhibits yeast development, just as sugar or honey enhances it.

Bread Pans
Bread can be formed into free-form loaves and baked on baking sheets. Most beginners prefer to bake bread in standard loaf pans.

Buy metal or glass pans that are approximately 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. If the measurements of the bread pan you have in your cupboard are slightly different, don't worry. It will work.

Mixing and Proofing the Dough
Today's yeast is so foolproof many recipes don't call for proofing it. But to give it a head start, do so by sprinkling it over tepid water and letting it sit for about 10 minutes. It will bubble and swell.

Use all the water called for in a recipe but only as much flour as needed to make dough that holds together. This will vary depending on the natural humidity and the particular flour's capacity for absorbing moisture.

Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface. This prevents sticking but more importantly the dough picks up more flour as it's kneaded.

The first rising (also referred to as proofing the dough) should be in a warm, draft-free area of the kitchen. This can be a corner away from a door or window or even in the turned-off oven. Plop the dough into an oiled or buttered bowl, turn it over several times to coat it with the fat, cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap, and let it rise.

Once the dough is doubled in size, punch it down to expel the air, form it into a loaf (or two, depending on the recipe), and let it rise again.

Baking the Bread
After a second rising, bake the bread in a preheated oven. The high temperature sets the structure of the bread as much as the rising does.

When the bread is done, it will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. It will also be nicely browned and firm.

As tempting as it is to cut into the warm, just-baked loaf, it's advisable to let the bread cool completely before slicing.

Eat freshly baked bread within a day or two. Bread freezes well, so if you bake several loaves, wrap the cooled loaves in plastic and then put them in a freezer bag and freeze for up to three months.