Bread Baking for Beginners

April 24, 2020

There's tons of free info online, plenty of books that are available at the library. Flour, water, and salt are all extremely inexpensive. Even a 5 lb bag of excellent flour like King Arthur Unbleached is just a few bucks.

If you create a sourdough starter, you don't need to buy yeast. Using popular home methods, you don't even need a mixer for a lot of bread doughs.

This is a great sourdough starter video tutorial:

My favorite book about baking bread

Flour, Water, Salt, and Yeast by Ken Forkish

I definitely recommend this book!! Super helpful because it goes into detail about the science of breadmaking, and the role each ingredient plays, rather than just giving you recipes to blindly follow.

Forkish's pizza dough recipes are also amazing. I never thought I could make restaurant-quality pizza at home, but his Overnight Straight Pizza Dough really turns out THAT well for me every time.

If you're serious about making pizza, Ken Forkish also published a specific book on this topic, The Elements of Pizza.

What are the best bread baking accessories and equipment?

Some of these accessories and equipment requires an investment, but you will use that stuff your whole life. Bread is going to be almost free for you after some time.

If cooking is an art, baking is a science. You'll want to be as precise as possible. Have a scale, weigh everything precisely, calibrate your oven, mix things consistently, take note of humidity.

If you want more consistency, you can consider getting:

LoafNest: Incredibly Easy Artisan Bread Kit. Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Made in France Non-Stick Perforated Silicone Liner [Blue Gradient]. A Dutch oven is probably the most important accessory you can buy if you're serious about baking bread. You can't really make a good loaf without trapping the moisture in some way. It's an investment.

OXO 11214800 Good Grips 11 Pound Stainless Steel Food Scale with Pull-Out Display,Black,1.2 Get a food scale for more consistent measurements. Once you really learn to bake bread, you won't need a food scale. I'm doing everything by heart now and experimenting more.

9 Inch Proofing Basket,WERTIOO Bread Proofing Basket + Bread Lame +Dough Scraper+ Linen Liner Cloth for Professional & Home Bakers Get a proofing basket for fancy looking bread. A proofing basket is a good investment if you're serious about this. It's cheap too. It can also be called a banneton. Proofing baskets should be made out of wood and come with a liner or without one.

Ultra Cuisine 100% Stainless Steel Wire Cooling Rack for Baking fits Half Sheet Pans Cool Cookies, Cakes, Breads - Oven Safe for Cooking, Roasting, Grilling - Heavy Duty Commercial Quality Buy cooling racks, but most people have these already. Get a proper cooling rack if you're planning to really get into this hobby. It really helps when you're baking a lot of loaves.

Winware Stainless Steel Dough Scraper with Wood Handle Get a dough scraper. It's useful too. It allows for the handling of high-hydration dough without making your hands messy. It works well for scraping the leftover dough from your work surface and for cutting your dough. A large plastic dough/bowl scraper really upped my game and saved so much time and frustration from the dough sticking to the counter.

King Arthur Flour Unbleached Bread Flour, 5 Pound (Packaging May Vary) And then there different types of flour. Rye is best for starters cause it's the most biologically active. Soft white is suitable for delicate things like pastries, tortillas, and stuff, and it will also lighten/fluff up your loaves of bread if it's partially mixed in. Buckwheat has a hearty/earthy flavor if you want a little of that.

Powerful Electric Grain Mill Grinder for Home and Professional Use - High Speed Electric Flour Mill Grinder for Healthy Grains and Gluten-Free Flours - Electric Grain Grinder Mill by Wondermill For me I take it one step further and buy grains and grind my grains into flour using an electric mill. I fancy hard red wheat the most. It's expensive but has an incredibly deep taste.

What are the best books about baking bread?

What's a dutch oven exactly, and do we really need it?

What is the added benefit of using the Dutch oven? Wouldn't it turn out the same if it was baked without it?

Baking bread uncovered allows the moisture to escape. Baguettes and loaves of bread with a crunchier exterior are often sprayed or misted with water during baking to achieve a crunchy exterior. Bread like sandwich bread, challah, and softer types are baked uncovered, no mist or added steam yielding softer bread with a shiny exterior by use of egg wash before baking.

This is the best Dutch oven on the market, bar none:

LoafNest: Incredibly Easy Artisan Bread Kit. Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Made in France Non-Stick Perforated Silicone Liner [Blue Gradient].
85 reviews
LoafNest: Incredibly Easy Artisan Bread Kit. Cast Iron Dutch Oven and Made in France Non-Stick Perforated Silicone Liner [Blue Gradient].
  • LoafNest : The Revolutionary New Way to Easy Artisan Bread at Home. Professional Non-Stick Liner with Custom Cast Iron Dutch Oven for Home Bread Making.
  • EASY: No-Kneading, No-Shaping, No-Mess, No-Fuss, No-Cleanup. Less Than 5 Minutes of Effort to Get Professional Quality Bread at Home.
  • TASTY AND HEALTHY: Crunchy Crust and Soft Airy Crumb. Your Own Healthy Natural Ingredients. Start with just Flour, Water, Salt and Yeast. Add More Natural Ingredients for More Flavorful Loaves.

A Dutch oven will still retain moisture initially, and you'll probably be able to get the loaf out more quickly. I have made beautiful loaves in an even larger cast iron pot with no problems.

If you have a plain cast-iron pot, don't forget to use parchment paper. I have heard some horror stories of loaves stuck in pots using this method!

The Dutch in the 17th century had a better method for producing cast iron cookware. Something about their process made very smooth cooking surfaces. An Englishman took the method back to England, where they were made and exported heavily to the colonies.

In the Americas, many changes were made to the pots for use during exploration and living in the wild. Dutch ovens became a part of American history as the defacto cookware for those heading west.

A lidded Pullman is a great alternative to a Dutch Oven. Personally, I like a loaf of crusty sandwich bread, so I leave the lid off, but if you want softer crust, the lidded Pullman seems to the best.

I also like brushing the loaf with milk when it comes out.

I usually bake around 450-475 with a Dutch oven.

I usually let it go for 30 minutes with the lid on, and then I remove the lid and let it bake for another 15-20 minutes. Pretty much until I see the ears get as charred as I want.

How about cast iron pan, pizza stone, and baking steel?

Cast iron is good, but the reason behind it is to trap the steam and make a nice crust. The same results could be achieved with a clay 'le cloche' type of thing or on the cheap via pizza stone and a lid of some sort.

I've used just about every method out there and can achieve the best results with my le cloche, but this one came out from the stone/lid combo.

I just use a big aluminum lid I got from Sam's club. Put it in the oven while preheating, use gloves to load the bread/lift the lid, and cover for 20 minutes. Voila!

The pizza stone works well, never had any issues. It's made for that kind of dough as pizza dough is high hydration as well.

A baking steel offers superior thermal mass, and the results are a bit better with it versus the results with a regular stone once you cover them up. The baking steel is awesome in that it's huge so I can bake larger loaves, but since they're both covered with a lid, they cook more or less on par with one another.

What about a bread machine?

I love making bread in my bread machine. The bread machine takes all the work out, you just put the ingredients in, and 3-6 hours later you have amazing bread.

Bread from the machine will be better than the one from a supermarket but way worse than an artisanal hand-made one.

I almost always make my own hamburger buns. I use a bread machine set to the dough cycle and then form it into buns and bake them. It only takes a couple of hours of wait and only about 15 minutes of active work, and they taste amazing. I just can't eat store-bought buns anymore. They're either disgusting or expensive.

How to save money on bread baking equipment

Goodwill and some antique stores will sometimes have Dutch ovens for cheap. They'll be old and probably have roosters or flowers all over them, but as long as it's not rusty, it should be fine.

A simple white bread recipe

Typically salt is the key to bread flavor. Using a "pinch" is not enough. I work on a 2% basis (yeast varies depending on your time).

So for a "regular white" 70% hydration recipe, it would be:

  • 500g flour
  • 350g water
  • 10g Salt
  • 7g Yeast (active, dried, or 20g fresh compressed).

10g of salt is not a small amount, its between a teaspoon and a tablespoon in volume.

The recipe makes two loaves.

Regular bread is much easier to work with than sourdough but has a less rich taste.

A simple sourdough bread recipe

  1. You will need some flour, water, and salt.
  2. Just add 4 oz or water to 4 oz to flour in a jar with a loose lid on it, keep doing that every 12 hours until it doubles in size.
  3. Once it doubles in size in 12 hours, use 2 1/3 cups of the starter you just created, with 3 1/3 cups of flour and 1 tbsp of salt.
  4. Knead it for about 20 minutes.
  5. Let it sit between 4 and 24 hours in the bowl, then punch it down, split it in half put it in 2 bread pans, bake at 475 for 35 minutes.
  6. Boom, cheap sourdough.

What about some kind of sweet bread recipe like a Hokkaido milk bread?

I make this bread all the time, and the family LOVES it, so I've dug out my recipe, which I got from a youtube video. It's come out well every time. I make the dough in a bread machine but bake in an oven. I also go by weight, so you'll need a scale. The thing about a scale when baking is that if you eventually want to tweak something you can because everything else you've done has been consistent. That and you'll get pretty similar results every time.

The recipe calls for bread flour, but I've also done this with AP flour, and it's come out fine.

For the starter mix:

  • 40g flour
  • 200g water

Heat in a pan until goo. It can be pretty moist. I aim for a Cream of Wheat consistency.

Let goo get back to room temperature before using, though I've dumped it in slightly warm with good results.

  • 580g flour
  • 60g sugar
  • 12g salt (minus a bit if using salted butter)
  • 10g yeast
  • 10g milk powder (mine is nonfat, so whatever)
  • 260g milk
  • 50g egg (one large egg)
  • 50g soft butter
  • add the goo

The dough should be smooth and only slightly sticky. Proof, flatten, and rest for 15 minutes. Flatten again and shape or put in the bread pan. Rest 30 minutes. Brush with egg wash if you want a perfectly soft top. I often skip that last step, and the top is still soft.

Bake 355F for 25 minutes. About 20 minutes if you're making sub rolls out of it. 15-20 if you're making buns.

There's a lot of ingredients in this type of bread. If you're absolutely brand new to this, you may have a better time starting with plain white bread. Fewer steps and ingredients will just help to simplify the whole process.

Proofing (or rising) dough is when you first make the dough and then you let it sit for a while, typically about an hour, to let the dough roughly double in size. You're allowing the yeast to do its thing so that the final product will come out light and have all those tiny air holes in it. Without proofing, the bread will come out dense and hard.

When you finish kneading the dough, get out a big bowl or just place it on the counter. Put a little oil on it and cover it with plastic or a damp tea towel. Let it sit for roughly an hour until it's doubled in size (no, you don't have to be exactly precise on the doubling). Then you shape it or put it into whatever container you're going to bake it in. Then you let it rise again for about a half-hour.

That final proof takes a little practice, and you'll get better at it. Underproof that final time is ok, but the bread won't be quite as big as it could be. Overproofed, and it'll come out flat and deflated.

Kneading isn't so much about how long you do it, but getting the dough to be the right consistency and smoothness. Generally speaking, the dough shouldn't be too tacky/sticky, it should look smooth, and if you poke the ball with your finger, the dough should softly bounce back. As you get better at knowing when the dough is through with kneading, you'll begin to learn if it needs a touch more water or a touch more flour. Recipes are great to get you very close to that, but they basically all need a little bit of fudging on the part of the baker to add just a touch more water or flour.

Warmth helps the yeast fungus do its magic faster, but there's no temperature requirement. Actually, my pizza dough I'll proof in the refrigerator overnight.

The dough can technically be overkneaded in the same way that it's technically possible to drown in a few tablespoons of water. Realistically, you can't overknead dough.

How about a no-knead recipe?

We love no-knead bread. This recipe has one of the greatest "finished product to effort" ratios around.

We bake a lot of our bread at home, and we use this method. A trick we learned recently is how to make the crust softer.

If you keep the bread for a few days, you can keep it fresher by wrapping it up in a tea towel. But you'll find the crust is lovely and crispy on the first day but gets notably harder in a few days.

So we now lightly brush the top of the loaf with nut oil, macadamia in our case, right after we put the dough in the preheated cast iron pan.

Just take the hot cast iron pan out of the oven, put the dough in the pan, then lightly brush the top of the dough with some nut oil (helps if there isn't too much flour on top) and cook it like normal.

The bread will still be amazing, but the crust will stay lovely and soft for 3-4 days after baking it!

Another great and precise recipe was originally published in the The New York Times.

My first fail at baking bread

The first time I tried baking bread I had a few spices at my disposal. I wanted to be fancy, so I started adding a few dashes of different spices. All the spices were labeled in Spanish, so I didn't really know what each one was. I was looking for cinnamon so I added a spice labeled "Comino." I later realized this was Cumin, which is more common for stews, I believe.

Another problem was I added the spices late, so they weren't mixed properly. So I was eating the bread afterward, and it was ok, then I would bite a pocket of Cumin bread, and it tasted like old soggy socks. It was horrible. It took me a while to figure out what was happening.

Sometimes I regret my homemade bread is so tasty

Once brought a homemade bread to a potluck with the inlaws. Everyone loved it. They loved it enough that there was a vocal disappointment when I didn't bring one the next time we were invited over.

We had dinner with them almost every week. Every time after that, my mother-in-law would call the day before to remind me to bring bread. It became a bit of a chore.

Is baking bread yourself cheaper than buying it?

I make my own bread because I hate super soft supermarket bread, not because it's cheaper. I do find it relaxing, which is cheaper than therapy.

High-quality sourdough bread is VERY expensive where I live, and personally, I prefer eating organic unbleached spelt sourdough, which is hard to find.

I find the active time on sourdough to be way, way less than on yeasted bread.

I spend 10 minutes active time mixing the dough, 8-10 hours passive time raising it, with an optional 2 minute turning/kneading time in there, another 10 minutes shaping, a further 2-4 hours passive proving time, and then the time it takes to bake, most of which is passive time. The sourdough starter involves feeding it about 4 times a week; a cup of flour and 5 minutes each time, max.

Using this approach I can bake bread (even during the workweek) without any real-time imposition. It's extremely easy, cost-effective, and tasty. Probably my collection of thrift-shop baking vessels is the most expensive and time-consuming aspect of it all.

As for cost? My bread is way cheaper than commercial bread of any kind. A loaf costs me about 4 cups of flour, about a heaped teaspoon of salt, and water. The cheapest possible sliced white bread around my neck of the woods is about $1.50, and it is pretty unappetizing. Standard sliced white is about $3.00-$5.00, depending on the brand, and sourdough similar to mine but much smaller loaves, $6-10 each.

Baking bread saves a heck of a lot more per year when you have a family. Four people with a couple of slices of toast each at breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, we easily go through a loaf a day, saving about $4/day or $1300/year.

Then start adding in hamburger buns, dinner rolls, and other one-offs, you're up to at least $1500 per year.

From there, start making non-yeasted baked goods. Cookies, muffins, granola bars. I'd say that if you have teenagers in the house you can save at least $2500/year and everyone is eating food that is both tastier and healthier.

Even if it wouldn't be cheaper, I'd still do it as it's a true hobby of mine. With the energy cost involved in actually baking the bread you bake won't be cheaper... but if you know what you're doing, you're going to be tasting a healthier bread with better ingredients.

Don't bake bread for the money, do it for the taste and experience.

How to get really good at baking bread

Keep a log!

Yep, I do this, and it's invaluable. I have a spreadsheet that lists every variable and a cell for notes/photos, which is insanely useful.

I also make bread pretty much every weekend and I usually make two loaves, but change one variable between the two of them, to get a much better understanding of how the changes affect the outcome. For example, this past weekend, for the final proof I sent one loaf directly to the fridge to retard and let the other proof at room temp for just over an hour. When I baked them the next day the difference was astounding!

Always remember that sticky dough makes good bread! Try working with very high-hydration dough and very high temperatures in the oven. That's the secret to amazing loaves.

I've baked through 200lb of flour and now I am baking my way through Jeffrey Hamelman's bread Bible.

I tried baking bread on and off for literally decades before it all came together for me. The turning point for me was the gift of a sourdough starter that really worked. That was before Youtube and all this Internet info and I just didn't know how to make proper starter by myself. Once you get a good one, everything else just falls into place. Or at least it did for me.

Why I love baking bread so much

Hearing crackling of my first loaf of bread is something I will never forget.

Making a perfect sourdough loaf is a 3 day process and if you try to rush any step, you can always tell in the final bake. Take your time. It's a lesson in baking and living life that I'm still working on 🙂

Is home-baked bread better than a supermarket loaf?

Which bread stays fresh longer?

Fresh bread is definitely better on day one out of the oven. But I will take a 3 day old loaf of bread from the grocery store over a 3 day old home baked loaf of bread.

So if by better, you mean superior taste for a day, then yes. But for some people, better means that it has a longer shelf life so there is less waste.

Can we bake a loaf without salt?

I have made that exact title loaf from FSWY without salt once. My mother in law was on a low salt diet so I made it as usual just without salt. It was very flat and not tasty. I recommend using a different recipe. There are some types of bread that have little to no salt but the FSWY loaves really rely heavily on salt for flavor. A sourdough works better for people who need to limit salt intake.

If you need to limit your sodium intake, you can replace salt with Morton Lite Salt. It contains half sodium and half potassium and it's better for you, in general.

How do I know if my dough is kneaded enough?

I think depending on the moisture, the point for recognising if it has been kneaded enough changes quite a bit. Like I said, my go to is to let it ferment over night and I don't need to knead it all that much/at all. More specific than "it should be smooth" I couldn't tell you.

What to do if my bread tastes too "yeasty"?

How yeasty are we talking? Notice how long you're letting the dough to raise. Because 3h is not that much for the first fermentation (depending on the temperature of the room and how much yeast you put in in regards to flour, and in this case it doesn't seem like too much). You could try another variety of yeast if you don't like that one.

Watch out so the bread is not too dense — and I think that has to do with not letting it have the final proof and/or not developing the gluten enough. Since I'm lazy, what I do is mix ingredients except yeast, let it sit for 30 min and then add yeast and knead it until smooth. Then, cover, put in fridge overnight. Next day, punch the dough down, shape it, let it proof and then it can be baked.

How baking bread changes once you get the hang of it

I don't weigh or measure, and have had very few failures. It's more about the look/feel of the dough.

It's practice/repetition, I think. After a while you just get to know what's going to work, from previous experience.

That, and responding to the way the ingredients are. Flour seems to vary a whole lot in how much water it can absorb, so if it looks dry, I add more water. Also sourdough starter changes with the seasons and so you have no choice other than to be more flexible with it, and let it rise until it's 'done' (or conversely stoke up the oven a bit ahead of schedule).

So just keep baking, and one day you'll find yourself thinking, 'hmm, this needs more X or Y' and you'll be on your way.

Take your bread-baking to the next level

Learn the art of bread baking:

This guy is baking his breads in lava in Iceland.

I wonder if it actually tastes better compared to an oven-baked bread...

My secret to baking amazing bread consistently

You don't really need all these accessories to make amazing bread, but they make your life easier. If I could choose only only 1 item to make my baking awesome, I'd choose really good flour.

King Arthur flour is very good, but it money is no object and I want to bake some exceptional loaves, I always buy flour from Great River Organic Milling. It costs way more than regular flour, but I'm glad to pay premium for its quality.

Great River Organic Milling, Bread Flour, Whole Wheat, Organic, 2-Pounds (Pack of 4)
87 reviews
Great River Organic Milling, Bread Flour, Whole Wheat, Organic, 2-Pounds (Pack of 4)
  • Contains 4 - 2 pound bags
  • Stone Ground made from hard red spring wheat Non-Gmo
  • 100% Whole Grain Flour
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2 comments on “Bread Baking for Beginners”

  1. One day I asked what I do that makes me happy....well I bake.

    So quit my job and openened my own little place. It worked, but i wouldn't advise it 😉

    It is hard work and long hours but i wouldnt trade it for anything.

  2. This is great! Thank you so much for taking the time to write this and sharing it with everyone. I've baked my first loaf today and it came out amazing.

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