YES, YOU CAN
Bread baking, like life, can be done simply or elaborately. You can make bread with a few basic ingredients and without a lot of gadgetry. And you don’t have to be an expert to do to. Anyone can make fine artisan breads at home, all it takes is the knowledge of ingredients, equipment, and techniques. Most home bakers don’t have a fancy brick oven, and many people get nervous at the mere mention of the word “yes at”. Not to worry; it isn’t as scary as you think. For one thing, commercial yeast is easier than ever to use. Thanks to the development of instant dry yeast, you can blend the yeast granules with the flour you are using without having to proof it first. A big plus.
If you think baking bread will be hard to fit into your schedule, there are several ways to save time. Many doughs, such as pizza and sweet rolls, benefit from being mixed the night before and allowed to slowly rise in the fridge over night. Or, if you prepare a dough that doesn’t require a prolonged resting period, you can pull a crusty, satisfying loaf out of the oven in a few hours.
Perhaps you’ve found the time to bake bread by using a bread by using a bread machine (there’s no shame in that), but now you’re to take the next step. or you used to bake bread and want to get back into it again. Now’s the time! To get you started, here are some hints.
PREPARATION IS EVERYTHING
Before you do anything, read the recipe so you’re sure you understand the ingredients you need and the techniques and the timetable you are to follow. Next, get out your thermometer. By using a thermometer, you’ll be able to make sure your ingredients are at the correct temperature needed to provide the right environment for the yeast. The best way to ensure this is to control the temperature of your liquid and have the rest of your ingredients at room temperature. So, for example, if you store your flour in the freezer, be sure to take it out ahead of time.
BREAK OUT THE SCALE
Many home bakers rely on measuring cups to portion out their recipe ingredients by volume. It’s probably what you were taught to do, and it may seem to work well enough. Professional bakers, however, are always looking for consistent results and they search for ways to control the end product. knowing that the amount of flour in a measuring cup can and does vary (due to humidity, settling, how and when the flour was milled, the type of cup being used, and the way the cup was filled), professional bakes remove those variables by weighing their ingredients. Scales simply provide a more accurate measurement. If you don’t have a scale or aren’t ready to give up your measuring cups, that’s not a problem – I will provide volume measurements in my recipes for you.
GET A RISE OUT OF YOUR YEAST
There are several types of yeast available, but I recommend using instant dry yeast. It comes in packets or in bulk, and does not require proofing in warm water before you use it. You simply mix it with flour before adding other ingredients. Instant dry yeast is often labeled as “Bread Machine Yeast” or “Rapid Rise.” If the label isn’t clear, check the instructions for how to use the yeast granules with the dry ingredients, you’ve found the right yeast. Unlike “active” dry yeast, instant dry yeast will not make your bread turn gummy.
MIX IT UP
As you mix bread dough, there are several goals you need to keep in mind. Of course, you’re trying to combine the ingredients into a homogenous mass, but that’s not all. Proper mixing ensures that the flour absorbs the liquid appropriately and distributes the yeast uniformly. The right mixing technique will incorporate air and develop the gluten (or structure of the bread), resulting in bread with good volume and a good internal structure. So what is the right mixing technique? Different types of breads rely on different methods. Some call for short mixing periods, while others insist on longer mixing – it all depends on the level of gluten development needed. Read your recipe throughly and mix your dough according to the specified directions.
GIVE IT A REST
Once you have mixed the dough, consider the environment in which you’re placing it for the fermentation stage _ the period when the yeast goes to work and the dough rests and expands. If it’s a cold winter day and the temperature of your dough is cooler than expected, try to put it in a warm area, say, on top of a preheating oven or on top of your fridge. Check the dough periodically and move it if it gets too warm. In the summer, if you’re in a hot kitchen, you may want to try affecting the outcome before you mix the dough – make your water slightly cooler than directed to compensate for the ambient heat.
IT’S ALL IN THE FOLD
If folding sounds new to you, perhaps it’s because in the past you’ve “punched down” or “deflated” your bread dough, or heard others describe it this way. Pummeling your dough is too rough a treatment, so please resist the urge. Why fold your dough? Because folding is just as important as mixing for the structure of the bread. Through proper folding, you redistribute the yeast, which allows it to continue to do its thing – create great bread. Here’s how you fold: gently stretch the dough to elongate it, then fold it into thirds like a sheet or a towel, making sure to dust off any flour on the dough as you go ( you don’t want raw flour added to your dough). Finally, cover your dough and watch the clock until it’s time for the next step.
TURN UP THE HEAT
It’s wise to preheat your oven from 25 to 50 degrees higher than the temperature at which you intend to bake. Here’s why: when you open the oven door to load your bread, it can take a minute or two to get it in there, and a considerable amount of heat is lost while the oven door is open. Preheating at a higher temperature can compensate for this loss of heat. Once the bread is in and the oven door is closed, you can adjust the controls to lower the baking temperature and your oven will be at the right temperature from the start. But before you even get to the baking part, it helps to know your oven. If you haven’t already, read the manual to see how it works, and use an oven thermometer to test for hot spots. If something seems off, have a professional service the oven.
BRING ON THE STEAM
Some bread recipes instruct you to steam the bread once it’s in the oven. You may wonder whether you really need to do this, especially if – like most home bakers – you do not have a steam injected oven. Steam, in the early stages of baking, helps prevent the crust from forming too early, therefore allowing the bread to rise as high as it can. Steam also makes for a better quality crust that is thin, crisp, and glossy.
It’s easy to get steam into a regular oven: select a cast iron skillet or an old cookie sheet that you don’t mind warping. Fill it halfway with water and place it in the bottom of the oven while you are preheating, or for about 10 minutes before you plan to bake. This will produce steam when you need it. Using ice cubes by throwing them into a hot pan just as you put the bread in, I do not recommended. They don’t melt fast enough to produce the steam you need for proper “oven spring”
KEEP YOUR COOL
When your bread comes out of the oven, remove it from the pan or baking tray and place it on a cooling rack. This allows for proper airflow, lets the crust set up properly, and prevents the bottom of the loaf from getting soggy after contact with a solid surface. Cooling is an important step, so resist the temptation to tear right into the warm loaf of bread you just baked. A cooled loaf of bread will keep its shape and the crust will look good, just as it does in a professional bakery.
You now have the keys to making quality artisan bread at home. Remember to enjoy the experience, share it with others, and bake often!
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