Bread Basics - A Beginners Guide
Today, tip Thursday is about bread baking for beginners. We discuss the stages of bread, as well as the ingredients. I also answer all practical questions. Use this as a reference for any bread baking questions you may have.
Bread has been around since 8000 BC (yes, that long ago). And yet, baking bread is therapy to some while to others it's a nightmare. Our great grand-parents didn't have bread machines or bakeries and they had to bake their own bread.
Did you know that the concept of no-knead bread is not really new? Many years ago, farmers would prepare the dough and go work in the fields. When they came back, the dough was ready to be baked.
So, bread does not have to be complicated and today we are doing to learn how to bake your own bread.
There are two types of bread
- Traditional bread that requires kneading and proofing
- And, no-knead bread that uses a simple and slow process
There are many stages of bread making
If you read online, you will get anything from 4 to 12 stages for making bread. The truth is, they are all the same - just depends on how you want to break them down. For example - I include mise-en-place in my mixing so it's one stage instead of two.
I like to keep things simple, so, today, I will discuss these six stages of baking bread for beginners with you.
- Mixing - This is the part where all our ingredients come together. This includes yeast plus food and warmth for the yeast, as well as other ingredients to enrich our dough.
- Kneading - Once you feed the yeast, we also need to develop structure and gluten for our dough by kneading it.
- Rising - Also know as fermentation. Letting the dough rest, after feeding and kneading will help the gluten relax. Carbon-dioxide gas that's produced in this process, fills the gaps or structure we created during kneading. This makes the dough rise and double in volume.
- Shaping - This includes punching down the dough, dividing it into the final size. Shaping it to the specific bread that we are making.
- Proofing - During shaping, we punch down the dough and remove all the gases. Now, its time to continue with fermentation. This also helps develop more flavor.
- Baking - Gluten firms up when baking, gases expand to create steam and that structure we created earlier creates a web, which in turn gives us a light and airy bread.
The main ingredients for making bread
You can add many ingredients to your bread, but the truth is you need just three main ingredients that play a huge role in baking. Yeast, flour, and water. I chose to add salt, sugar, and oil.
After all, bread without salt is tasteless. Sugar and oil help feed the yeast adding more flavor. For me, these are just as important. Let's see what these do to our bread, shall we?
The star ingredient, but also the most temperamental ingredient of any bread. It aids fermentation by producing carbon-dioxide gas.
There are many types of yeast and we discussed yeast on its own here - Baking with yeast - a beginner's guide. This post covers the types of yeast, as well as answers all questions related to yeast.
Another main ingredient necessary to making bread is, of course, flour. Flour contains gluten (protein) as well as starch, which is what we strengthen during kneading, which in turn creates a structure for our bread.
While you do get bread flour which is high in protein, you can also use many other types of flour to make bread. For some bread, all-purpose is better than bread flour. For example, my no-knead bread. Of course, we have a whole world of whole wheat bread, rye bread, and so on. Experimenting with different types of flour to make bread can be a fun experience.
Simple water plays a huge role in baking bread. Especially, because it is directly related to yeast. If you use water that's too hot, above 120 F, you can kill the yeast, while the cold water will fail to revive the yeast. Water is what holds all of our ingredients together. It helps create our structure by activating the gluten and starch in the flour.
Salt, sugar, and oil
While yeast needs warm water to nurture it, it also needs sugar and oil to nourish it. It's what the yeast feeds on. It's what helps the yeast get stronger, so it can develop more flavor.
A basic dough with yeast, water, and flour will take much longer to ferment. But if you add sugar and oil, the same process can speed up quite a bit. Because yeast is a live microorganism, and now, you are feeding it.
Yeast does not like salt, and yet it is a necessary ingredient in all our food. It's what makes our food edible. But, as I said, yeast does not like salt, which is why all bread recipes will tell you never to bring the two together. Salt slows down the process of yeast formation. That is why we add the salt into the flour as if we are hiding it in there.
How do you knead bread?
The right method to knead dough would be to use the heels of your hands and stretch the dough forward. Fold it onto itself, and then press with your heels again. You can see me knead the dough by hand in many of my bread recipes.
- Always knead the dough on a counter-top or a strong table that will allow you to use pressure. Never knead dough in the bowl.
- Lightly dust the work surface with flour. Do not add to much flour unless the recipe says so, such as in no-knead bread recipes.
- Use the heel of your hand to press the dough forward then use your fingers to fold it back on to itself. Rotate the dough 45 degrees and follow the same motion again.
- Continue to do this motion over and over until it becomes a second nature every time you knead the dough.
- Knead until you have a soft, elastic dough that springs back.
Frequently asked questions
Kneading provides both structure and strength to our bread. Gluten and starch in the flour combine with water when kneading to create a web-like structure that helps trap gas produced during the process of fermentation.
Every bread is different and every bread recipe will tell you how long to knead. Having said that, the most common signs of a well-kneaded bread would be a soft, elastic dough that springs back. I show this in many of my bread recipes.
No such thing. The stand mixer is a great solution for kneading dough. You need to of course knead it for less time than you would by hand. Ideally, 5 to 7 minutes of hand-kneading would be about 3 to 5 minutes on the stand mixer.
The first stage of rising has lots of air pockets. We deflate the dough so we can shape it again and then proof it again. This helps develop more flavor and gives us a well-shaped bread.
I find the best test is to hold the bread in your hand and give it a few knocks on the bottom side. You should get a hollow sound. This means all the water and steam have evaporated and the bread is filled with air.
A thermometer. If you are new to bread and baking stresses you out, then a bread thermometer is what you need. It will take all the guess work out and you will have perfect bread every single time.
My bread became flat in the oven
The most common reason for that is usually over-proofing the dough. The ideal time needed for proofing is between 30 to 60 minutes at room temperature. This, of course, will change depending on climate as well as the type of dough. That is why it is very important to read the recipe and follow instructions.
My bread is underbaked. It's brown on the outside but still underdone inside.
There are a few reasons this can happen.
- The oven is too hot, so the outside got brown while the inside is still not cooked.
- The bread is too dense, so the inside is taking longer to cook.
- You are using the wrong pan size for your bread, so the time needed in the oven is more than your estimate for the pan size.
My bread is dense and doughy
- Often, not enough kneading can cause the dough to be dense and doughy.
- Not enough proofing time. You must let the dough ferment and almost double in size.
- Cold oven. Always preheat the oven for at least 10 minutes before putting the bread in. A cold oven will deflate the bread and make it dense and doughy.
How can I fix underbaked bread?
- First, is the bread underbaked or is it moist because it is still hot? If you cut the bread while it is hot, it will still be moist, not wet. The moisture evaporates from the bread as it cools. That is why it is important to let the bread cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
- If possible, the first thing you do is put it back in the oven and continue baking.
- If you have cut the bread and then realized the bread is underbaked, wrap it in foil, preheat the oven at 170 C/ 340 F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more - The foil will prevent the outside from burning.
- You can also cut the bread into slices and toast individual slices (I know not the best option but... if you don't want to throw away the bread).
Featured bread in this post
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