Make your Own Delicious Home-Baked Bread

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Few experiences delight the senses as stepping in from the cold outdoors and into a cozy home rich with the smell of baking bread.  Grab a stick of butter, settle into the breakfast nook and get ready to enjoy one of the most cherished comfort foods.  What?  You haven’t ever lifted a loaf of home baked bread from your own oven?  Don’t despair … it’s not as hard as it looks!

For the uninitiated, bread baking is fraught with peril … activating the yeast, kneading the dough, finding the right spot to let the dough rise, and shaping the dough into a reasonably tantalizing shape.  But bread making is one of the most basic cooking skills learned in cultures around the world and can truly be mastered by anyone.

Bread comes in many shapes and forms:  unleavened flat breads, such as tortillas and pita, quick breads like Irish Soda Bread and corn bread, sweet breads such as zucchini or whole wheat raisin bread and yeast breads like sourdough and potato bread.  Start with something simple – sweet breads mix up just like cake batter – and work your way into more advanced techniques.

Quick breads and sweet breads require little experience to perfect and are a great way to introduce children to the joy of cooking.  With a few simple ingredients:  flour, oil, water, sugar, salt and baking soda or powder, anyone can churn out a satisfying loaf for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  If you’ve had the good fortune to inherit recipes from friends or family members, give them a try.  It’s likely that they’ve worked out all the kinks and your finished product will satisfy the most discerning palate.

Unleavened breads are a great introduction to feeling the dough.  Since the dough toughens when overworked, the beginning or intermediate baker quickly learns how much muscle is too much.  For best results, mix the dry ingredients, add the wet, stir together with a wooden spoon or spatula until the dough begins to take shape, and then turn out onto a floured board or counter to finish mixing.  Gently but firmly gather the dough into a rough ball shape and press and roll outward starting at the edge nearest you.  Turn the dough ¼ turn and repeat until the dough forms a nice ball (about 15-20 quarter turns).

If you’ve decided that you’re ready to tackle yeast breads, invest in a good book that offers helpful hints, shortcuts and a wide variety of bread recipes.  Photographs are a huge help, and a good bread book will include abundant photographs that demonstrate every step in the bread making process.

Here is a list of the most common challenges to yeast bread baking and a few tips to help you avoid them:

Activating the yeast:  Dry yeast is by far the easiest and most affordable way for the fledgling baker to start their bread.  It is live yeast that has been cultured and dried into granules to extend shelf life.  Quick acting yeast reduces rising time and is a great alternative for the avid home baker.

Yeast dies if the activating liquid is too hot and will not activate if the liquid is too cold.  Optimal blooming temperature is around 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  Tip:  If you don’t own a candy thermometer, test the temperature of the liquid on the pulse point of your wrist.  The liquid should be slightly warm to the touch.

Some recipes call for the yeast to activate in water and butter or salt.  Tip:  Adding a little sugar, honey or syrup will provide extra nutrients to encourage the yeast to achieve full bloom.

Kneading:  This develops the gluten in the flour, which allows the dough to inflate.  Overworked dough gets tough, will not rise properly and results in a loaf hard and tough enough to drive nails.  Under worked dough may deflate if the gluten has not been adequately agitated.  Tip:  Work your dough on a lightly floured surface to prevent sticking.  Properly kneaded dough will have the same silky texture and shape as a baby’s bottom and softly gives when indented with a finger.

Rising:  Dough should be placed in a large, lightly oiled bowl that will allow the dough to double in size. Tip:  Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap to hold in the heat and retain vital moisture.  Plastic wrap releases easily and keeps the dough’s skin intact.

Covered dough needs to rest in a warm (not hot) draft-free location.  Tip:  Before kneading the dough, turn on your oven for 5 minutes to take the chill off.  When the dough is finished, open the oven door slightly to release excess heat.  Place the dough in the bowl, cover, place in the oven, and close the door for rising.

Shaping:  Rustic loaves may be shaped by hand while sandwich loaves are placed in pans for their final rise and baking.  Tip: Gather the dough into a ball and pinch roughly in half.  Gently work flour into the break and place the break on the bottom of the finished loaf.  This ensures a top crust free of defects.  Cover the loaves and return to the oven for their final rise.

Baking:  Some recipes call for the loaves to bake at moderate temperatures (350 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit) for 30-45 minutes.  Tip:  For a crunchy outer crust and tender center, bake standard size bread loaves for 20 minutes at 420 degrees Fahrenheit.  Tap on the crust.  If it sounds hollow, the loaf is done.

Allow the loaves to rest in their pans for 5 minutes after removing from the oven before turning them out onto cooling racks. Tip:  Use a baking rack from your oven if you don’t have traditional cooling racks.

If this all seems like too much, you can still achieve the heartwarming scent of home-baked bread with an affordable bread machine.  Modern machines are energy efficient and easy to use … simply dump in your ingredients, select the appropriate settings and let it go.  In about 4 hours you’ll enjoy a hearty loaf of home-baked bread.

Our final tip:  Bread hot from the oven is extremely tender and tears easily.  Invest in a good bread knife and slicing guide to serve up tender, perfect slices to your guests.

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  5. Health-friendly Ways to Deal with Mold in Your Home
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Comments

  1. Robin Dial says:

    Let the bread rise in a cold oven. No need to cover.

  2. Jill says:

    There’s nothing better than fresh bread from the oven.

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