A guide to baking bread at home for a novice. Recommends making your own bread in an automatic bread machine. Discusses practical details for mixing the dough, leavening with yeast, baking, storage and cutting of a fresh loaf of bread.
Baking bread at home is a different option from purchasing bread in a grocery store or bakery. There are two main paths that can be pursued: the use of an automatic bread machine, and electric or hand kneading with oven baking. There are a great many variations on ingredients and procedures that are best explored by experimenting and recording the results in a notebook.
Why bake bread at home?
|Healthier eating||More time and effort is required than simply purchasing a loaf of bread|
|Better tasting bread||Home baked bread has a short shelf live of only 2 to 4 days before it becomes crumbly and moldy|
|Saving money||It is difficult to slice thinly and evenly|
|Experiment with different recipies||Bread machines create a thick and chewy crust that some people cut away and discard|
|A sense of accomplishment||Inconsistent results: some batches may not rise enough and may be fully or partially discarded|
|An exceptional economic survival skill||Requires tools, supplies and an enclosed heating source|
Cereal grains, usually wheat, but could be others such as rye, ground into flour.
A liquid, usually water, but could be milk.
Leavening agent, normally yeast. Sourdough breads also use bacteria with the yeast.
Salt, normally iodized table salt, but uniodizedrock salt or sea salt can also be used.
An optionalsweetener, normally white sugar, but brown sugar, molasses, honey or others may be used.
An optionaloil or fat, such as canola oil. Breads without oils or fats are considered to be “French” breads. Their texture is a little drier and less spongy.
Additional: Nuts, raisins, cranberries, spices, seeds or other ingredients such as eggs or bean flour.
A cereal grain, or mixture of grains,is the main ingredient in bread. All of the other ingredients serve to make the grain easier and better tasting to eat.
The starting point is toselecta primary grain and to consider mixing it with other grains. Hard red or hard white wheatare the most commonly usedprimary grains. They have the highest proportions of gluten. It is the elastic gluten that permits the high rising of yeast leavened breads.
Choosing a cereal grain:
Wheat allergies: choose a non wheat cereal grain such as rye.
High rise desired: choose a hard wheat with a high gluten content.
Lowest cost: choose the least expensive grain available.
Most nutritious: select a mixture of several grains such as spelt, quinoa, triticale, kamut, millet, oats, barley, ryeetc.
Flour is the ground form of a cereal grain. It main contain the whole grain (whole wheat flour), or selective parts of the grain (white flour).You can purchase either flour, or the whole grains themselves and grind them at home just prior to use.Pastry flour comes from soft wheats which are low in gluten and not recommend for bread. All purpose flour is a mixture of hard and soft wheats and can be used.“Bread Flour“ is the recommended type of flour to use as it is ground from high gluten hard wheat.
Irecommend that you store large quantities of the whole grains and grind them into flour yourself.There are many different models of home grain mills readily available topurchase.
The most commonly used liquid is lukewarm tap water. If you have hard or salty water, it may be necessary to reduce the amount of added salt. If your dough doesn’t rise enough, trythe same recipe with purified water. Cold water is normally used to retard the action of the yeast for sourdough breads. Water that is too hot may kill the yeast.Milk is alsocommonly added, either straight from thefridge,in powderedform, from canned condensed milk or even long storingroom temperature UHT packaged milk. If a high percentage of milk fat is present, then consider reducing or eliminating the optional oil or fat ingredient discussed below.
Leavening(rising) is the trapping of small bubbles of carbon dioxide or airinside the dough to make the loaf of bread light and soft. The leavening of bread is usuallyperformed by biological agents.Bakersyeast ismost commonly used in either a dry powdered form or from a moist pressed brick. Brewers yeast could also be used. Some sourdough bread starterbatches call for leaving the mixture out in the air to collect naturally occuring yeast spores. A sourdough mixis a stable collection of both yeast and bacteria. The most common chemical method of leavening is to use a baking powder or baking soda. Mechanical leavening is normally performed by beating egg whites or creaming a sugar into a fat and trapping tiny air bubbles.
Iodized table salt isnormally used. Salt is required tocontrol the action of the yeast and to prevent the dough from rising very high and collapsing during baking. Sea salt, rock saltor potassium chlorideare three other commonly usedtypes of salt. If you are on areduced salt diet, try experimenting with reduced quantities of salt. You may enjoya loaf of very low salt bread with a collapsed concave top more than unleavenedproducts such as crackers or flour tortillas.
Granular white sugar is commonly used. Brown sugar, molassesand honey are other common options. If you are on a reduced sugar diet, then you should consider using either a whole wheator a sourdough recipe. The yeast normally feeds on the sugar component of the dough, but it can also use the grain if the fermentation time is lengthened. Sugar substitutes can be used as flavourings as long as your recipe considers an alternate food source for the leavening yeast or bacteria.
Optional Oil Or Fat
The least expensive heart healthy oil with a neutral taste to use is canola oil. Corn oil, vegetable shortening and milk fats (cream or butter) arealso commonly used. Specialty oils such as olive oil can be used to add distinct flavours.Oil seeds such as flax can be ground in a clean coffee grinder and added as the oil ingredient with the benefit of added fiber.
A very great variety of extra ingredients may be added. They can range from grains such as sunflower or flax seeds,to sweetners such as raisins, or evencrunchy like pecans. A small amount of bean flour can increase the nutritional completeness of the bread. Eggs are often added to the sweet breads to make a firmer loaf. A cake is generally a sweet type of bread that is mechanically leavened with eggs and chemically leavened in the oven, as distinct from dough that is slowly leavened with yeast and bacteria before baking.
ThreeStages Of Bread Making
There arethree stages to bread making:
Mixing of the ingredients to create the dough.
Proofing or retarding where the yeast and possibly bacteria leavens the dough either quickly or slowly.
Baking to cook the dough into bread.
There are several methods of mixing the ingredientsto create the breaddough:
automatic bread machine
manually with a spoon
small handheld electric mixer with beaters
large counter top electric mixer with a dough hook
I recommend using an automatic bread machine. If your family normally purchases bread from a store, you are more likely to continue using a bread machine on a regular basis than any of the other methods. Used bread machines can be purchased very inexpensively at garage sales, flea markets and online from people who live nearby. Most stores thatsell small kitchen appliances will also carry several new models to choose from. You could also ask to borrow one from a friendto try it out for a few days. It takes less than 5 minutes to load up and start an automaticbread machine. The bread will be ready in about 3 hours with no further action from you. A loaf of breadcan be left untouched in the machine for another dayuntil you are ready to remove and slice the bread at your convenience.
If you do not have access to electric power or can not afford the machines,a large strong spoon and mixing bowl can certainly be used. It will take between 5 and 10 minutes of vigorous effort to createa properly mixed batch of dough. A small had held electric mixer will speed up the process, butthe dough will become very thick and difficult to work. You may have to use a spoon for a few minutes to complete the mixing.
An electric mixer with a dough hookisanother good method ofmixing the ingredients if you don’t want to use a bread machine. It is also possible toprograma bread machine to mix the ingredients, just like a counter top mixer with dough hook, for you to take out and bake in a regular oven.
Some bakers follow up the basic mixing process byhand kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface for up to 10 minutes. An automatic bread machine performs a similar operation by mixing the dough again for several minutes after a short rise period. A dough hook could also be used either for a long time during the initial mixing, or again after a short rise period.
Proofing Or Retarding
The dough can be leavened either quickly or slowly depending upon the temperature and humidityenvironment. After mixing, the dough is normally placed ina differentcontainerto rise. A common step is to “punch down” the dough after a short period of rising. This usually involves kneading the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface for up to 10 minutes. This “punch down” may bedone more than once after the dough rises again. A bread machine will automatically perform this operation by rotating the impeller for a few minutes. A dough hook could also be used to perform this “punch down” or kneading operationafter one or more rise periods.
The temperature is very important, and is initially determined by the temperature of the water used. To retard the rise, normally used with a sourdough bread recipe, the dough may be placed in a refrigerator for as long as 24 hours.A retarded rise will produce a sour flavourfrom having the bacteria causemore leavening activity than the yeast. For normal yeast leavening,a comfortableroom temperature is usually just fine. To speed up the action of the yeast, the dough may be placed in a slightly preheated oven that has been turned off, or in a gas oven with the pilot light providing some heat. A pot of hot water may also be placed in the oven to increase the humidity and to keep the temperature elevated.
The humidity surrounding the rising dough is also important. A low humidity will result in an unappealingdry and crumbly crust after baking. During the rise period, the dough is normally covered with a moist towel or plastic film and may be lightly misted with a water spray bottle.
The metal or ceramic baking container shouldeither have a nonstick surface or be lightly oiled with a dusting of flour or cornmeal.After the dough has been placedin this baking container, it should be monitored periodically until the desired amount of final rise has completed. Carefully remove the covering cloth or plastic sheet.Some recipes call for the top of the dough to be sliced with a sharp knife, while others call for the top to be brushed with a water and cornstarch mixture, eggwhites or butter.It ispossible to cut or brush the top of a loaf ina bread machine, but you will have to set the program to not start the bake cycle until you have completed these extra actions. Placethe dough in the oven without shaking or banging the container to avoid collapsing the dough.
Once in the oven, it is common to attempt to raise the humidity while baking. This is normally accomplished by spraying the cold oven walls with water and / or placing a large flat pan of water under thebaking containerand above the heating element on different rack levels.
The normal bakingtemperature is approximately 200
°C (or 400°F). A typical baking time is 40 minutes.The ratio of the area of the dough surface to the internal volume is the primary variable determining how long to bake the bread. Experimenting with your oven is the best method of baking a loaf of bread to your particular taste in crust darkness. To prevent overbaking, ensure your timer is loud and that you remain within hearing distance. Become consistent in either removing the loaf immediately, or reduce the baking time with the intention of leaving the underbaked loaf in the oven with the door open, orplan to leave it ina bread machine for long period of time. I select a light crust with my bread machine and leave it inside the machine indefinately.
Handling A Fresh Loaf Of Bread
Removing A Fresh Loaf Of Bread
After a cooling period, I recommendwearing a pair of insulated oven mitts to remove the baking container from the heat source (either oven or bread machine), and to shake thebread out of this container. A removedloaf of bread should be cooled on mesh or wire surface, such as the spiral heating element on the top of an electric stove, until youcan hold it with bare hands. A loaf of bread can be left in a bread machine for up to a couple of days. If a loaf of freshly baked bread is left in the baking container for more than an hour, condensed water will begin to make the side and bottom crusts chewy.
Storing A Fresh Loaf Of Bread
Freshly baked breaddeterioratesvery rapidly compared to name brand sliced bread. It starts to become crumbly after about 2 days and will start to go moldy after about 4 days. Immediately after cooling, your breadshould be placed inside a clean plastic bag or aplasticstorage container that is washed after every loaf. When a loaf of bread is no longer very fresh, I recommendtoasting the remainder and eating it with something like jam as soon as possible.
Cutting A Fresh Loaf Of Bread
Cutting a fresh loaf of bread is difficult. The loaf mustbe cooled enough to keep a firm grip on it. A warm loaf recently removed fromthe oven or bread machine will be very soft and willchange shape as you attempt to cut it. If you press too hard, the rise of parts of the bread near your cut will be compacted andremain deformed. If the bread is too warm and soft, the thickness of your cut will be inconsistent. It takes practice topreventcutting out of a section too early andproducing a thin wedge.
A sharp serrated blade is required. I recommend using an electric knife and cutting the whole loaf at once. If you have children, they are more likely to eat the bread if it is already cut up ready for use. There are several different cutting options:
Vertical slicesacross the length
Vertical slices across the width (as shown in the photo below)
One factor to consider is the maximum slice size your toaster will accept. Another factor is the use of the upper crust:
You may wish to start with a horizontal slice taking off all of the upper crust to butter and eat immediately while the bread is still warm. This can be followed up by vertical slices across the width for later use in sandwiches.
Another common option is toensure each slice has a portion of the upper crust.
Eat Or Discard The Crusts?
Sliced name brand breadhas a very thin crust. Bread you bake at home in the oven normally has a slightly thicker crust. Bread baked in a bread machine has a very thick chewy crust on the bottom and sides because the heating elements are very close to the baking container. There is no point in forcing yourself to eat an unappetizing thick bread machine crust if it causes you to abandon the whole process of baking your own bread and to revert back to store bought bread. I discard and compost the bottom crust from a bread machine, eat the side crusts on fresh bread and cut them off when the bread is more than a day old. The upper crust, which is only in contact with hot air, from both oven and bread machine baked bread is very good.Eventhough it is wasteful to discard the crusts, it is better to compost them, rather than to purchase bread and not to bake your own.
Another option is to use a baguette making bread machine . After the dough has been mixed and half of the rise has completed, it is removed from the metal container and manually formed into cylindrical loaves. These 4 small cylindrical loaves are then placed into nonstick trays and inserted in the machine to complete the rise. After baking, most of the baguette surface is thin crispy top crust and the bottom is not as thick as the large container produces. The main disadvantage is a much greater labour requirement.
In case there is a natural disaster or serious economic disruption, a stockpile of bread making supplies will keep your family well fed for a long time with minimal cost. The most important consideration is a method of baking the bread if all utilities are cut off. A propane barbeque with a closing lid and a spare tank full of propane can bake bread for months. If your yeast supply is running low, consider making a sourdough starter mix. A sourdough mix can last for generationswhen properly cared for. Bulk purchases of whole grains is the least expensive, and they have an exceptionally long storage life measured in decades. They are a key component of the one year`s worth of food that every family should keep at hand.An electric grinder could be run from solar panels charging a deep cycle battery and inverted to Alternating Current, or you could also purchase a hand crank grinder as a backup. The wheat berries can also be directly planted and hand harvested for at least a20 fold increasewith about 4 months of favourable weather.
A bread machine costs about a day’s worth of labour at the minimum wage. It can be expected to last at least 5 years when used twice per week. If you use it often, it will pay for itself in the first year. For families on a very tight budget, a bread machine is a key investment towards overcoming the “poverty tax” by making low cost healthy meals. Inexpensive used bread machines may be found at garage sales, thrift storesoron local internetfor sale or trade postings. The main feature to consider is the size of the loaf the machine makes. If you have a large family with more than 3 people, then the larger 1 kilogram (2 pound) sized machines are recommended. For fewer people in a household, it is better to select the smaller half kilogram (1 pound) models. It is possible to refrigerate or freeze half of a large loaf, but I recommend making the smaller sized bread loaves more frequently.