Hey guys, today I want to talk (well, write) about my current favourite topic, bread baking. I have ‘discovered’ it for me only a few weeks ago and I am already excited by all the possibilities. There is just something about making things that you normally buy at the supermarket or in this case, at the bakery. This is why I wanted to learn more about this craft, although I’m still learning at pasta making as well. Plus, I wanted to learn how to experiment with different flours and other ingredients. What I can say after a couple of weeks is this: There is no magic to it, you just have to have a bit of courage. And be open to failure, because this is how you learn in bread making. Actually, this is how you learn in life! So here’s what I’ve learned so far.Equipment
For everything you do in your kitchen, the right equipment is key. Especially when you’re baking! This is why you should for starters invest in a good kitchen scale. Because if it’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few months about baking, it’s that you need to be precise. It’s not like cooking, where you can just throw in everything that might fit taste-wise!
What else do you need? Well, an essential for bread baking is of course an oven, but I guess that you have that at home. Then of course a large bowl to mix everything. Except for the ingredients that would be it for the basics, because you just need your two hands for the rest. Amazing, isn’t it?
Of course, as there are different levels of difficulty and expertise in bread baking, there are as many tools to help you. As a stand mixer (like my KitchenAid) helps you mix and knead the dough, a spatula or bench scraper can make transferring the dough from one place to another so much easier. Furthermore, proofing the loaf in a basket helps it keeping its structure and shape during the final proof (Don’t know what that is? Read on). If you don’t have one, take a simple bowl, cover it with a cloth and sprinkle it with some flour.
You can certainly use a Dutch oven to make your bread, this way it’s keep its shape and the heat will affect it evenly. If you don’t have one, you can use a round roasting dish, or you just skip it and don’t use one at all at the beginning. Worked for me! Plus, a baking stone can be an additional help to make your loaf look perfect: Home ovens lose a lot of heat when they’re opened, which is bad for the loaf. A baking stone can retain that heat.
Without the right ingredients, no bread! That part is actually self-explanatory. You should indeed always use fresh and good ingredients for your breads (and for all of your meals for that matter). In bread making you don’t need much for a start, but of course it can get as intricate as possible. The bread I started with (the one which you’ll going to get to know next week) just contained 5 ingredients! But brought together they can make a beautiful and delicious simple farmhouse bread.
However, if a simple white flour bread is just not your style, the possibilities are endless. To your basic ingredients of flour, water, yeast or sourdough starter, salt and sugar you can add myriads of things. Want it sweet? Add dried fruit. Nutty? Add as many sorts of nuts and kernels as you like. Or you vary on the sorts of flours you use, maybe add some rye or spelt flour. You can even add beer!
Mixing, and Fermenting and Pre-Shaping
So, once you have all your ingredients at hand and measured them all, it’s time to mix. There are two phases to the process of mixing: the first is to incorporate the ingredients and the second is to develop the structure of the dough. That’s the gluten network. You can mix the ingredients by hand or use a stand mixer.
First of all, there are different techniques to this step. Some recipes want you to simply throw everything into a bowl and start kneading. However, some want you to follow a process. You may want to mix water with yeast and/or sourdough starter first, then pour it over the flour and start mixing. Or you mix water and flour and leave it be for a while. Here you’re using the ‘autolyse method’ and then add salt and yeast later on. There are various ways, and it’s always safe to keep to the recipe at first, until you have found the best method for you.
The time after the ingredients are mixed, when you let the dough keep to itself, is called proofing. That’s when the yeast starts to do its work, converting sugars into carbon dioxide, alcohol and organic acids. That’s the easiest part for you – just let the dough do its magic. It’s always exciting to see it rise and grow!
After the dough is rested and has developed in volume, you can carefully give it its rough shape. This is more like a loose suggestion how the bread will look like in the end. After that, let it rest again for about 15-20 minutes so that the gluten network can rest after the shaping.
Shaping and Baking
After letting the dough rest (again), it’s time to give it its final shape. There are four basic shapes in bread making: The baguette, the boule, the football-like bâtard and the pan loaf (there are even more). At this point, the proofing baskets may come in handy for the boules, because the dough has to rest again. As it turns out, bread baking is a time-consuming hobby, but very rewarding!
After the final proof for your dough is over, you can additionally score it. That is, you can decorate the loaf by artistic cuts and designs. This is to make sure it goes in the right direction when baking.
I have read that one of the most common mistakes is just throwing the dough in the oven and abandoning it. I have made this mistake just this evening – I was actually checking my loaf every 10 minutes or so. However, in the final minutes I got distracted and my loaf came out a little bit darker than I wanted. Never making this mistake again! The key should be a high temperature and trying to conduct it into the bread in the right way. To determine of your bread is ready you can check of course the colour. Or you listen for the hollow sound you hear when you knock on the bottom of the loaf. Or you simply check the internal temperature, which should be about 85°C for lean breads and 75°C for enriched breads.
What is more is that after baking your bread, you should never just cut it. While sourdough bread needs to rest for another day because it’s still fermenting, all breads just need to rest for at least half an hour. After all this waiting taking place in bread making, another half an hour isn’t that hard, is it?
I have to underline that what I have written here is a basic understanding of bread making. I am just learning it myself. This is why I want to give you and myself a general idea of what’s important and exciting in bread baking. However, I sure as hell don’t make claims of being complete! This text is a wild mixture of some wonderful sources you find down below. If you’re just as interested as me, read on! And if you want an easy recipe, try this for a start:
And here are my sources: