Food & Wine

How to Bake Bread: For Beginners

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Tools and Tips For Starting Your Quest for the Perfect Loaf

The sourdough bread craze that took hold of our nation during the beginnings of COVID-19 self-isolation is starting to wind down. Many have given up on the pungent starter in their fridge, but some Americans are fully invested in their new bread-baking identity. However, as you start to explore breads beyond the classic sourdough, a whole new set of challenges in the kitchen awaits. 

Luckily, some tools and tips can help you be on your way to becoming a great baker. Here’s how to bake bread in a beginner-friendly way. 

Tip #1: Do Your Homework

Just as you may have spent days scrolling through online details on proofing times, you need to do some more research on general bread-baking techniques before your expert baking can begin. Don’t know where to start? Reading a cookbook like The Bread Bible, which, according to a recent survey, was one of the top five cookbooks in the nation, offers you everything you need to know. 

Tip #2: Weigh Things Out

One of the most popular tips from bakery pros to amateur bakers is to measure out ingredients by weight, not volume. Using a kitchen scale helps match your own baking to the recipes you read and can be life-changing when you start to develop your own bread recipes as a master baker. 

Tip #3: Harness Your Flour Power

Great flour is the key to great bread, but not all flours are equal. While you may have gotten away with switching out whole-wheat for white and self-rising for cake in the past, you will need to be selective about flour varieties as you build up your baking skills. Reading guides can help set you on the right track, but also make note of how different flours bake in your oven and keep in your cupboard. 

Tip #4: Handle the Heat

Just as breads can often go awry with inaccurate measurements, they can also be thrown off by improper heating. And while your oven monitor may say it is 350℉, home bakers often are failed by their appliances. A surefire way to make sure that your oven temperature actually matches that of the recipe card is to buy an oven thermometer to sit inside your oven. By having the proper temperature, you can earn the perfect soft bread to crispy crust ratio that all bakers dream of. 

Tip #5: Show Some Proof

Proofing dough is essential to all yeast-fueled bread rises. And yet, figuring out the exact point of perfect proofage can be a challenge. You will have to control timing, temperature, and humidity in your kitchen as you determine which environment results in well-rested bread. But many chefs will be quick to tell you that once you master proofing, you can fit it into your schedule, leaving plenty of time for working through other cookbooks or even getting out of the kitchen. 

Tip #6: Bake, Bake and Bake Some More

Just like all things in life, practice is key to becoming a great bread maker. On the bright side, bread baking offers the opportunity to master both a science and an artform. There are so many delicious possibilities to get into! Plus, given its popularity, bread-baking communities are easy to find online. 

So good luck! And…don’t forget to put on an apron.

Photo by Mariana Kurnyk from Pexels

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