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Baking bread from scratch

Not hard once you know a few tricks

Yeast bread

The most typical bread in most places is made primarily from wheat flour, water, sugar, salt, and yeast to rise.

The very basics are: 'mix, wait a bit, and bake.

There are a lot of fine tuning tweaks to predictably get specific results. The below tries to cover the common ones.

Proportions matter in that too much sugar will make things to sweet, too much salt will inhibit rising, too much water makes a sticky mess, and too much flour makes a dry mess.

The sugar/salt/yeast balance is mostly just a given for types of bread.

  • mix - basically, add all the ingredients. Proportions and order matters
don't dump the salt on the yeast (see notes below)
depending on the yeast you may need to activate it first (see also Yeast)
  • knead
there are a few hints here - see below
  • let rise - one common difference between a solid brick and airy bread is primarily how well it has risen
    • Expect rising to take 45 minutes, sometimes more
    • slightly warm helps - you can do near a warm radiator, in a ~40C (~100F) oven, or such. Covering it with a damp cloth helps as that keeps in heat.
  • fold (optional) and let rise again (required if you fold)
    • mostly meaning "stretch out and fold a few times"
    • lets out some of the gas that built up during fermentation, and pulls the structure so that it's aligned the same way
    • let rise until it's about twice the size it was after you were finished folding - can easily be another 20 minutes
  • slash the top (optional)
    • allows for some final expansion during baking to be more predictable, also for looks
  • optionally wash the top/surface, meaning coat it in something like...
    • water - makes for a softer, crispier crust. Some method to keep it wet for a while can work better, see hints below.
    • milk - softish
    • egg - shinier and more dramatic contrast (yolk, white, or a mix make for different sorts of color and shine)
    • butter - also for flavour. Can also be done just after baking.
  • bake
    • 200C is a good average target to work around (e.g. higher for lean, lower for not-so-lean)
    • more than 220C (430F for Americans) makes for less final rising
    • baking should take roughly 40 minutes -- less at higher temperatures. You can check whether it's done by tapping to bottom - it will start sounding hollow (because the moisture is gone), though the sound it should make may take a while to learn :)
  • let it cool - preferably on a rack since that will let moisture out of the bottom as as much as other sides
  • put it in something before it has lost so much moisure that it's dry. You know, like you do with any bread...

More hints:

  • baking hints
    • having a bowl of water in there slows down the rate at which the outside coagulates and dries, meaning it will turn out lighter and crispier (rather than half-burnedly dark) by the time the inside is done. You can manually spray with water too, and timing seems to matter (most relevant in the first fifteen minutes or so?(verify))
    • if you do this in any sort of metal shape, coating the shape or dough with a little flour is an easy way to avoid sticking without resorting to fat.
    • because temperatures in ovens is approximate, temperature can vary (as can baking time). If you plan bake a lot you can try figuring out your oven via a little trial and error.
  • leave it out to get rid of its leftover moisture
    • ...cover it after a while so it won't get too dry before you can eat it
  • if it turns out too crumbly
    • the gluten (protein) might not have ** enough. Try **
    • not kneading enough
    • rising too fast (too short)
  • On proportions:
    • sugar is mostly there to be used by the yeast in the rising phase. Adding more than necessary gives you sweet bread, which may not fit the type of bread

On mixing, proportions, and kneading

Bread dough should be somewhere between runny, and strains-your-muscles.

Dough starts as a sticky mess. This will change its consistency into a more taffy-like ball purely because of kneading, so don't try fixing the thing with more flour or more water until you've got a feel for this change.

Aside from even mixing and starting the fermentation process, kneading is done to develop the gluten (rather faster than just leaving the dough for hours, though this way seems to allow for more flavour) - stretching it and aligning it into a coherent structure. Together with rising this will make for a string, flexible dough (verify).

Stretch-and-fold is probably less effort than kneading in the clenching-fist sense, and seems to help flavour, perhaps by trapping a little oxygen(verify)

Kneading by hand can easily take 25 minutes. Doing it by machine can take less, perhaps, 4-10 minutes, varying with the type of kneading.

If you do it in a bread machine or food processor, then initial kneading need not take more than a few minutes(verify), though in some generic designs can take up to ten or so.

Because you certainly can knead too long (breaking down the gluten (why?)), you'll have to figure out from practice what a good time is with your kneading method.

It's harder to over-knead by hand, because it gets harder on your muscles. This is probably also true for simple mixers.

The amount of time to knead also depends on the kind or mix of flour.

For example, spelt needs less time. Baking machine kneading programs is typically tuned for wheat. That particular difference may not be too bad, but others can be.

If you do it by hand, or pay attention, there are a few ways to judge when it's about done:

  • it'll start to get shinier
  • you can work a small ball into a thin sheet with semi-translucent bits
  • it'll get a lot tougher to hand-knead

then you'l notice the dough will start to get shinier (why?). That's about the time it's done.

On salt

Salt regulates the yeast - mostly meaning 'slows it down'.

Too much will just inhibit it - so on the initial mixing, avoid dumping the salt and yeast together directly. You could add the salt after you've combined the rest into a ball. If you use a machine to knead, putting them in different places tends to work well enough.

Salt makes the dough less sticky (verify) and gives a stronger texture. (verify)

Salto helps shelf life a little.

Salt-rising bread


temperatures in ovens: