Introduction: How to Bake Bread

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For the last six months or so I've been learning how to bake bread. I have always had issues with bread - adding too much flour, not adding enough, kneading problems, not baking it long enough, etc.

The only way I've been able to do it perfectly every time before now has been to use Jim Lahey's No Knead Bread recipe, which is great - but it takes forever! Plus, it creates a chewier, more artisan style bread that has a very open crumb - not always the best for sandwiches or for storing for a few days - it can get really tough!

After I decided I wanted to make quicker bread, I started using Jamie Oliver's basic bread recipe from his book "The Naked Chef" - which got me pretty close, but I have started using that recipe only as a pizza dough. It makes really excellent pizza dough. :D

I also dabbled on the King Arthur Flour website and tried various recipes from around the internets, and finally thought "I should check Instructables!"

I came across craftknowitall's whole wheat bread recipe and decided to try it. I didn't have everything and decided to modify it slightly - but I've made it several times this month, and I now I'm cranking out perfect bread! The bread this recipe makes is perfect sandwich bread.

In this instructable I'll try to explain all the things I've figured out that no one told me. I hope it will be a help to any of you other bread noobs out there. :D

Step 1: Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon oil (whatever you'd like - I normally use canola)
  • 1 tablespoon honey or white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour + additional for kneading in/dusting
You'll also want to have some cooking spray, a large bowl for mixing, a 1.5 lb loaf pan, and measuring cups and spoons.

Step 2: Feeding the Yeast

First things first, you need to make the yeast happy!

You're going to let it eat for about a half hour before you do anything else. Keep in mind that you can let it eat for longer for a more yeasty tasting bread - but you'll also need to add more flour to the yeast mix later!

Pour one cup of warm water into a large bowl, and add two teaspoons of yeast. After that, add one tablespoon each oil and honey. (Or white sugar!) Mix this together until the honey/sugar and yeast dissolve. Then pour in one cup of whole wheat flour and the teaspoon of salt and mix well. Once everything is nice and wet, cover the bowl with a clean towel or some saran wrap and wander off for a half hour or so.

Step 3: Add the Regular Flour

Your yeast mix will be pretty large at this point - chances are you'll see some nice bubbles. This is good!

Add in one cup of all purpose flour and stir. If you've only let the yeast eat for 30 minutes, the mix should ball up and come away from the sides like the photo.

If you let the yeast eat for a little longer, you might need to add more flour. Keep adding and mixing until it pulls away from the sides and isn't overly wet. It will still be pretty wet and crumbly, and that is fine.

Step 4: Kneading

You'll notice we didn't add a lot of all purpose flour in the last step. That's because we're going to knead it in! I've found through my experiments in bread making that if you knead in the extra flour instead of trying to mix it in it works much better. Doing it this way means the bread dough takes on just as much flour as it can handle, instead of mixing in too much and making a really dense bread.

Flour a large work surface and your hands. Scoop out the dough onto the surface. Sprinkle a little flour on the top of the dough as well.

You're going to want to knead the dough for eight minutes or so (set a timer!) - craftknowitall recommends seven minutes, but I've rounded it up because we'll be stopping to add flour very often.

To knead the bread, first press away from you with the heels of your hands, and then turn the dough 90 degrees, fold it over, and press again with the heels of your hands. After your first few times doing this you'll be a pro! :D

Let the dough soak up all the flour on the work surface and your hands - when it feels wet and sticky, add more flour to your hands and work surface. Keep this up until the dough starts becoming really elastic and smooth. This will mean it's almost done! You'll know the dough is done when it doesn't become wet and sticky right after you run out of flour, and the outside will be nice and smooth. When you knead the dough won't crumble or have lots of lines.

Step 5: First Rise

Add a layer of flour to the bottom of the bowl you originally mixed the dough in. Place your dough ball into the bowl.

You'll want to sprinkle a little flour on the top of the dough, too!

Cover with a clean cloth or saran wrap again - place in a warm place. I normally put mine on top of the fridge or on top of the stove.

You want to let the dough rise until it's at least double the size. This will normally take 30-45 minutes. (It can take longer if it's cold) The one pictured here rose for 45 minutes - check out the huge bubble on the side. :D

Step 6: Punch It Down

Pop the dough out of the bowl and PUNCH THE HELL OUT OF IT

If you were feeling bad about anything you will definitely feel better afterwards. :D

Step 7: Second Rise + Preheating

Form the dough into a flat, loaf like shape. You just want it to fit nicely in your loaf pan. :D

Spray the inside of the loaf pan with cooking spray and pop the dough inside. Now you'll let this rise until it comes over the edge of the loaf pan.

While this is happening, I like to preheat the oven to 350 F. This will heat up your kitchen and help the dough rise quicker!

Step 8: Baking + Cooling

Once the loaf has risen and the oven is nice and hot it's time to pop it in the oven!

Place in on a rack in the middle of the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. This is where things go into the trial and error part!

At first I tried baking my loaves for 30 minutes, but it was not long enough. After they had cooled, they were still pretty wet in the middle. I've found that it's best to bake them for 40 minutes. It will really depend on your oven, though! You'll figure this out the more you bake bread. :)

Once you get the loaf out of the oven, you'll want to turn it out of the pan and leave it to cool on a baking rack. You can definitely eat it when it's still warm, but I've started to let mine cool completely. :) I feel like it tastes better over the next few days and keeps its shape.

Step 9: Storing + Eating

After the bread has cooled I like to wrap it in freezer paper and store it in a cool place.

I tried storing it in saran wrap, plastic bags, paper bags, etc - but none work as well as freezer paper! Loaves will last for nearly a week for me wrapped in freezer paper. :) Right now I've got half of one that's four days old and it's still nice and moist - hasn't dried out a bit!

This bread makes great sandwiches - we've done soy butter, all kinds of lunchmeats, pulled pork, beans, etc - they're all fantastic!

I also really love it toasted - put a little butter and honey on it and it's perfect. :D

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