Bread baking is not complicated or difficult but there are a few small things, bread baking tips, that you can do to really ensure that your homemade bread works out perfectly every time.
Firstly here are a couple of considerations before you actually get started in the kitchen.
- All my recipes are tried and tested in my own regular home kitchen. Some recipes feature some specialised bread making equipment but most of what I use you will already have in your home kitchen, so my first piece of advice is get into your kitchen (after reading the rest of this page of bread baking tips !) and give bread baking a go. Resist the urge to immediately go out buying expensive equipment, you might find that you don’t need it. Furthermore, after a few attempts at bread making you will figure out what equipment really is essential for your bread baking and be able to make more informed purchases.
- Fit bread baking into your normal day to day schedule, around all the other things that take up your time. You should never have to say “ I cant make it, I have to stay home and take care of my bread”. Whatever time you have to bake homemade bread will be enough, sample baking schedules are included in some of my multistage recipes to show you that it can even be fit around a full time career and hectic family life.
My bakers dozen of practical bread baking tips
Now for my bakers dozen of real practical bread baking tips to consider and apply to every bread you bake.
1. Measuring your ingredients.
Its important to measure out your ingredients accurately. Even the liquid component should be measured by weight rather than volume. Like all cooking the amount of salt you use is really to your own taste, you may want to add a little more if you prefer your food well seasoned.
Use warm water to make your dough. Yeast does not like being plunged into cold water.
Yeast and salt do not get along, so when you are weighing out your ingredients keep the yeast and salt separated. The best way to do this is to always add your ingredients to your mixing bowl in this order: First to go in is the water (or whatever liquid is required), then the yeast (stir a little so it can start to dissolve in the water), then the flour (on top of the yeast and water but don’t mix yet), finally add the salt on top of the flour (the yeast is shielded from the salt by the flour). Now you can mix it all together. This is especially important if you are using fresh yeast as direct contact with salt would destroy the fresh yeast.
4. Kneading I
Knead your dough by hand, its worth it. By all means let the dough hook of your electric mixer do the hard work for you, but after the machine has done its job take out your bread dough knead it a little by hand, just 1 minute of stretching and folding is enough. The reason I stress this is because for a well structured dough the gluten needs to be really stretched and your machine cannot do this as well as your hands can.
5. Kneading II
Resist the urge to add extra flour whilst kneading. Your dough should not need any extra flour , provided you have accurately measured the recipe ingredients. Adding copious amounts of flour to prevent sticking whilst kneading will result in a hard, dense and tough loaf. If the dough is a little sticky and difficult to handle at just keep kneading it will become supple and elastic. To help, you could use a dough scraper to periodically free your hands and work surface of sticky dough. Furthermore, you could lightly oil your work surface and hands.
6. Bulk proving
Proving is a bakers technical term for rising. Its all about temperature and time. Moderate warmth will speed up the yeast and the dough will rise quickly whereas cold will slow things down. With experience you will learn to play with time and temperature to fit bread baking conveniently into your daily schedule. For example, it’s a Saturday morning, you are at home getting chores done. Make some dough, leave in a warm kitchen to prove for maybe just 45-60 minutes whilst you do something else around the house and your bread will be ready by lunchtime. Alternatively on a work day you can mix your dough in the morning, prove it over the day in the fridge and continue with bread baking after work in the evening. However it is timed, look at the dough rather than the clock to decide when its ready. In the first “bulk proof” the dough should have at least doubled, if not tripled in size. This does depend a little on the type of flour and leavening method you are using, rye flour sourdough, for example, will not rise as much as wheat flour yeast dough.
Shaping your bread dough is more important than you would think in terms of your bread result. Its not just about getting your dough into the right shape its your last opportunity to give the gluten a final stretch and strengthen your dough enough to hold its shape in the final stages of proving and baking. So heres what you should do; tip out the risen dough and flatten it into a rough rectangle. Using your fingertips press down all over the surface of the dough and squeeze out trapped air pockets. Then roll up the dough into a log, all the time squeezing out any air. Re-flatten the dough again and then fold, roll and shape into whatever you final form you want for your bread. Whether you are making a free bake round or oval shaped loaf or even if the dough is going to be baked in a loaf tin, you should tightly tuck under the dough ball at this stage to give a smooth tight surface. Having tension in the dough at this stage will force the gluten to stretch and strengthen one more time during the final rise, that is what gives your bread dough strength and structure and allows it to hold its shape in the oven.
8. Final proving
A well shaped dough ball can be left to re-rise on a baking sheet or peel. Use proving baskets for sourdoughs or artisan type recipes where the dough is typically a little wetter and will hold its shape better in a proving basket. Of course, loaf breads should be finally proved in the baking loaf tin. When the dough has not quite reached double in size its ready for the oven. If the dough has gone beyond this stage and is overprooved, you will simply have to bake it, but the end result will not be so good.
There are many different ways to bake a loaf of bread, on a baking sheet, on a baking stone, in a loaf tin, in a dutch oven, under a cloche. Most of my recipes do not require specialised expensive bakeware, just use whatever you have while you get started with bread baking at home. Invest later.
10. Slashing the top of the dough
Cutting ~1cm deep slashes into the top surface of the dough before baking will help the bread to rise nicely in the oven. You are also directing where the dough will rise by providing a weak spot (the cuts) in the surface, without this the dough will find its own weak spot and usually split and explode out from the sides during the oven rise.
Always pre-heat your oven to its maximum setting for at least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake your bread. You need high heat for maximum oven spring and for a nice crust on your bread. You should get your bread into your hot oven as quickly as you can to avoid heat-loss. Bake very hot on max for the first 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to a normal 180-200 degrees baking temperature for the rest of the baking time. Baking with steam will also help get a good crust on your bread. You can do this by placing a roasting tray of water on the floor of the oven. Your bread is fully cooked when its sounds hollow when tapped underneath.
Always cool your bread on a wire rack to allow the steam to escape, otherwise it will go soggy underneath.
13. Storing your bread
If you need to store your bread for any longer than 24 hours use plastic zippy bags and your bread will stay fresh for 3-5 days (some breads, sourdoughs in particular stay fresh for longer). Most home made breads freeze perfectly. So any extra bread you have baked can be bagged, frozen and enjoyed at a later date.
I hope you find these bread baking tips helpful and feel inspired to bake bread in your own home kitchen. Questions or comments are very welcome.