I love to bake, and I have done it for many years. By now, I don't need a recipe anymore, as I can make any kind of bread I want just from my experience.
Here, I want to show you how YOU can make the bread of your dreams with a basic knowledge of ingredients, proportions, and technique.
I will begin by explaining the ingredients and then showing step by step how to make a basic bread with flour, water, yeast, salt, and optionally, sugar and oil.
Then, I will show several examples of how you can build on that basic recipe to make different types, flavours and shapes of bread. But remember, when you have got the hang of the basic technique, the sky is the limit to what you can make!
In the end, I will go through some troubleshooting in case your attempt did not come out perfect the first time in spite of everything I will explain in this instructable.
And you will be guided through it all by lots of pictures I have taken during my different baking sessions.
Sounds good? Then, let's get our aprons out!
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Step 1: About the Ingredients...
flour The main ingredient in bread. It is important that the flour is glutinous, as that is what makes the bread rise. Wheat is the most glutinous flour, which is why it is the best for bread. Both white and/or whole wheat can be used and even spelt, which is an ancient, healthy version of wheat. Sometimes, the flour is partially oat or rye, but these flours have a low gluten content and must be mixed with the glutinous wheat flour. (See more on flours in the next step.)
oats Adds moisture to the bread.
water The most common liquid for bread. Much of the water evaporates while baking. All liquids must be lukewarm (about 37°C/100°F) for the yeast to work properly. The temperature can be tested with the pinky finger -- it should neither be hot nor cold but about body temperature.
milk Sometimes used as a liquid in sweet wheat bread. Milk tends to inhibit the rising a bit more than water and I use it rarely. All liquids must be lukewarm (see above).
oil Changes the texture of the bread. Oil makes the bread softer, fluffier, and more cake-like, while it gives it a soft crust. It can also add some moisture.
yeast The rising agent. Yeast works best around body temperature (37/100°F). This circumstance can be acquired by using warm liquids and placing the dough in a warm place. Do not place it, however, in a hot place like the stovetop, as the yeast will die. If the bread is to be baked the next morning, place the dough in the refrigerator for a slow overnight rise. While the bread bakes, the yeast dies.
sugar Sweetener and yeast food. Yeast feeds on sugar to produce carbon dioxide (air bubbles) and alcohol (evaporates while baking). Usually, you do not have to add sugar unless you want a sweet bread, because there is also food for the yeast in the flour; if you have added a lot of yeast, however, (like 2 1/2 tsp. dry yeast/1 package fresh yeast or more per 500g./4 c. flour) you should also add at least 1 Tbsp. sugar (will not make bread sweet), because if the yeast dies from lack of food, it will start leaking, giving an unpleasant alcoholic taste to the bread. Also, if you want the bread to rise quickly, you can add a tablespoon or two of sugar even if you use less yeast.
salt Adds flavor to both savory and sweet breads.
seasonings Add flavor. They can be cinnamon, cardamom, and herbs.
Step 2: Different Flours...
white wheat flour Flour made from wheat. The germ and bran has been removed, and often the flour is bleached. There are several types of wheat flour, including cake, all-purpose, and bread flour, with cake flour having the least gluten and bread flour the most. Both bread flour and all-purpose flour work fine for bread. However, bread flour will need less kneading than all-purpose as it has more gluten in it.
whole-wheat flour Ground wheat berries where the bran and germ have not been removed and the flour has not been bleached. Whole-wheat flour adds extra fiber and nutrients to baked goods and lends a rustic, nutty flavour to anything. It is lower in gluten than white wheat flour, and whole-wheat bread dough needs extra kneading to be light, even though it will normally be denser than white bread. Whole-wheat bread is also more satisfying than white bread.
graham flour Coarse whole-wheat flour.
spelt flour An ancient, healthy version of wheat. It is usually whole grain and can be used instead of whole-wheat flour. It is often lighter in colour and milder in flavour than whole-wheat and graham flour.
rye flour A low-gluten flour made from rye. It is usually mixed with wheat flour in bread to produce a lighter product. Bread made with part rye flour is very satisfying and has a robust flavour and dense texture.
oat flour A gluten-free flour* (if marked as gluten-free, as it is otherwise often contaminated with gluten). To make your own oat flour, blend dry oats (oatmeal) in a food processor or blender.
corn flour A coarse, yellow, gluten-free* flour made from corn. It adds a sweet, nutty flavour, coarse texture, and golden colour to baked goods. A well-known use is in cornbread. Stone-ground corn flour is finer than grits, but both are good for baking.
soy flour A gluten-free* flour made from soybeans. It can be used to add protein to baked goods.
potato starch The starch from potatoes. It can be used as a binder in gluten-free* bread. Can be exchanged for tapioca flour.
tapioca flour The starch from cassava roots. It can be used as a binder in gluten-free* bread. Can be exchanged for potato starch.
psyllium Usually found in the dietary supplement section of food stores as a dietary fiber supplement. Psyllium produces a mucilage and can be used as a binder in gluten-free* bread.
* Check to make sure the flour you consider purchasing is gluten-free and has not been cross-contaminated with gluten products.
Step 3: Basic Proportions...
Here are some basic guidelines on how much to use of the basic ingredients to make 1 loaf of bread or 16 buns.
Water: 3 dl./1-1/4 c. (to 500 g./4 c. flour) is perfect for a dough that can be kneaded and shaped. From here, you can always play with using more water to flour for a thinner dough that must be baked in a bread pan. A looser dough often results in a moister bread. If you are making a bread with half whole-wheat flour or more, I suggest using 4 dl./1-3/4 c. water instead of just 3 dl./1-1/4 c. to avoid a dry bread, as whole-wheat flour absorbs more liquid than white flour. Use a bread pan in this case, as the dough might be a bit looser.
Yeast: 1/2 package (25 g.) fresh yeast or 1-1/4 tsp. instant dry yeast is fine for most bread and buns. However, if you want really light and fluffy buns or just are in a hurry, you can use more, but do not more than double the amount to avoid a yeasty flavour. If you want a long, slow rising (1-2 hours) to develop flavour, use half as much yeast. For overnight, cold rising, the amount given can be used with cold water.
Salt: For plain bread, use 1-1/2 to 2 tsp. salt. For sweet bread with sugar, use 1/2 to 1 tsp.
Sugar (optional): For sweet bread, add 4-6 Tbsp. To help the bread to rise without sweetening, use 1-2 Tbsp. depending on the amount of yeast used.
Oil (optional): use 2-4 Tbsp. to make the bread soft and moist.
Flour: about 500 g./4 c. The amount of flour needed varies with the humidity and thus the moisture already absorbed by the flour. A little less flour may be needed if using partly whole-grain flour, as whole-grain flour absorbs more liquid than white flour (remember to make the dough a bit loose, as the absorption takes some time). Here is a thumb of rule on how much whole-wheat flour to use out of the total amount of flour: 1/8 to 1/4 whole-wheat flour can hardly be tasted, while 1/2 yields a nutty, satisfying bread that is still fairly light and moist. A bread with only whole-wheat flour is hearty and quickly becomes dry.
Step 4: Make the Dough...
Pour the water into a bowl or pot and make sure it is body temperature (37°C/100°F) by testing to see if it feels neutral to the pinky finger. Do not use warm tap water, as it may contain heavy metals, but instead heat some water in a water kettle or pot and dilute it with cold water to the right temperature. NOTE: For an overnight rise in the fridge, use cold water.
Crumble the fresh yeast into the water and stir to dissolve. Dry yeast can be mixed either in the water or flour.
Add the salt, sugar, oil, any spices, herbs, fruit puré, grated vegetables, etc.
Lastly, stir in the flour little by little to adjust the consistency, as the amount of flour needed varies with the humidity. Hold back about 1/8 to 1/10 of the flour for kneading.
When the liquid and flour has been roughly mixed, knead the dough well by hand. To do this, take the lump of partly mixed dough and, in the bowl or on the table, press it with the palm of your hand. This will make an indentation. Fold the back half over the front half, give the dough a quarter turn, and press again. Think of flattening a ball and folding the sides in, adhering them with your palm. This creates a nice tense ball. With practice, you will be able to do this kneading quickly. A mistake most beginners make is to stick the fingers in the dough. This will just make the dough stick to the hands. Continue the process of kneading until the dough is even and spongy, flouring the bowl/table and dough with the reserved flour as needed. Generally, the dough should be kneaded well, as the gluten strings in the flour need to be developed for the bread to rise nicely. However, for caky sweet breads, you want to be careful not to knead too much, as you want a soft, tender result. For light and/or chewy breads you need to knead a lot to get the right texture. Whole-wheat breads also need a good kneading, as there is less gluten in whole-wheat flour than in white wheat. It is hard to say how long to knead for each type of bread, as people knead with different speed and effectivity, and flours differ in gluten content, but at least 5 to 10 min. is needed if you knead by hand. Of course, a kitchen aid (or other kneading machine) can help you with this work.
You will adjust the consistency of the dough while kneading. A good rule of thumb, if you are making buns, is that the dough should be dry enough to be easy to handle but not drier than that. For bread baked in bread pans, it is ok if it is a bit loose and sticky.
Step 5: (Let the Dough Rise...)
Let the dough rise in the bowl covered with a cloth or lid to prevent drafting. Place it in a warm place (not hot – like the stovetop!) so that the dough will rise well. NOTE: For overnight rising, place it in the refrigerator.
The size of the dough should preferably double before the next step, but it depends on how much time you have.
For most bread, this first rise is beneficent. Long rising time gives the bread a good flavour and dark crust. However, for sweet breads, it is better to skip this first rise and go directly to shaping the dough, because the longer the dough rises, the more sugar is used as food for the yeast, and you want to retain the sweetness. I have also found that the bread seems more tender when you skip the first rising, but it also becomes dry faster. If you are short on time, you can also skip this first rise.
Step 6: Shape the Dough...
This is where you can let your creativity loose (see a later step), but for now, let's either make buns or a loaf.
First, punch down the dough and knead it again until no air bubbles remain (you can test this by slicing through the dough with a sharp knife), adjusting the consistency with flour if needed.
To make buns, divide the dough into 16 equal pieces, roll them into balls, and place them with some space between on a baking sheet with parchment paper. To make a loaf, shape the dough into a stem and place it in a bread pan that has been oiled and dusted with flour to prevent the bread from sticking. You can also place the loaf on a baking sheet if the dough is firm enough.
Step 7: Let the Dough Rise (again)...
This second rising is the most important one. The dough should be about doubled in size when baking. If it is much smaller, the bread will be dense; if it rises more, it will collapse. If it has risen too much, it can be saved by kneading the dough and letting it rise again. The rising time will vary according to several factors, but it is usually 30 to 45 min. If the room is very cold, it may be over 1 hr.
The more yeast (to a certain amount), the faster the dough rises; sugar aids the yeast, so that will make the dough rise faster; likewise, the yeast is more active in warm temperatures, so the dough will rise faster in a warm (not hot!) place. Also, the smaller the lump of dough is, the faster it rises. You should consider all these factors when baking and adjust them according to how much time you have.
Step 8: Bake the Bread...
The oven should be preheated. Turn it on ahead of time (about 15 min. before the bread is ready) so it has time to become hot. Place the bread in the middle of the oven. If you have two baking sheets with buns, place one in the top and one in the middle of the oven. Baking is usually done at 200°C/400°F for about 20 min. for rolls and 45 min. to 1 hr. for loaves (this is for a convection oven, baking times can be a little longer in ordinary ovens).
You can test the bread by knocking on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it is ready. Remember that if you have more than one baking sheet in the oven at a time, the baking time will be longer. In this case, switch the sheets halfway through for even baking.
Do not open the oven at all during the first 10 min. baking to protect the bread from cold drafts. Do not move loaves around before they have baked at least 20 min., or they may collapse. Do not slam the oven door shut.
When the bread has finished baking, remove it from the pan and let it cool on a cooling rack. Rolls can be eaten warm, but loaves should be well cooled before slicing. Allow rolls to cool at least 15 min. (white wheat) to 30 min. (whole-wheat or mixed) and bread at least 1 hr.
Store the rolls and bread in an airtight bag or container when cooled. They keep for about three days in the cupboard or three months in the freezer.
Step 9: VARIATION: Flavors
Here are some examples of how you can make different flavours and types of bread with the basic recipe from step 3.
Overnight breakfast buns: Use cold water, 1/2 package fresh yeast or 1-1/4 tsp. dry yeast, and up to half whole-wheat flour. Hold a bit back on the flour, as the dough will have time to soak all night. Put the dough in the fridge overnight. In the morning, shape buns, brush them with water and sprinkle with poppy seeds or other seeds, and let the buns rest for 15 min. before baking.
Multigrain bread: Substitute up to 1/4 of the total amount of flour for any flour/grain of choice, f.ex. oatmeal, grits, rye flour, etc. Out of the remaining flour, use half whole-wheat.
Multi-seed bread: Add up to 1-1/4 dl./1/2 c. mixed seeds, like sunflower, sesame, flax, pumpkin, etc. and/or cooked grain like rice, bulgur, wheat berries, etc.
Burger buns: Use 1 package fresh yeast or 2 1/2 tsp. dry yeast, 3 Tbsp. sugar, and 4 Tbsp. oil to make really soft, fluffy buns. Make sure the dough rises to fully doubled size before baking. You can make 1/6-1/4 of the total flour amount whole-grain.
Sweet cardamom bread: Use 1 package fresh yeast or 2 1/2 tsp. dry yeast, 1/2 tsp. salt, 6 Tbsp. sugar, and 4 Tbsp. oil to make sweet, really soft, fluffy buns. Also, add 1 tsp. cinnamon and 2 tsp. cardamom. Make sure the dough rises to fully doubled size before baking. You can make 1/6-1/4 of the total flour amount whole-grain.
Caky bread: Substitute about 1/5 of the flour for finely ground corn flour. Of the remaining flour, half whole-wheat may be used. Use 1 package fresh yeast or 2 1/2 tsp. dry yeast, 3 Tbsp. sugar and 3 Tbsp. oil. The corn flour makes the bread tender, cakelike, and slightly crumbly but also dries it quickly, so the bread should be eaten fresh.
Lemon bread: Heat the zest of 1 organic lemon in 4 Tbsp. oil till sizzling. Remove from the heat and let steep 5 min. before adding the water and the juice from the lemon. Make sure the liquid has the right temperature, and then add the remaining ingredients, using 1 package fresh yeast or 2 1/2 tsp. dry yeast, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 4 Tbsp. sugar.
Fruit bread: Substitute the water with a fruit puree like watermelon (see my recipe for watermelon bread here).
Step 10: VARIATION: Shapes
Bread can be made into so many more shapes than just loaves and buns! Here are some examples.
Flatbread/pita bread: Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll them into flat cakes. For flatbread that does not puff, prick the bread with a fork before rising and baking. For pita bread (that puffs to make a pocket inside), do not prick the bread but bake it at 250°C/480°F for 8 min. The high heat gives the bread a shock that makes it puff to create a pocket inside.
Muffin-shaped: Bake the buns in a greased muffin tin to make them tall and fluffy and muffin-shaped.
Lemon-shaped: I did this shape with my lemon bread (see the previous slide). Make the buns a bit elongated and taper the ends.
Heart-shaped: Roll the dough out on a floured surface and cut it out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter.
Crown-shaped: Roll the dough into a log and adhere the ends with water to make a ring. Cut at an angle into the outer edge of the ring with a scissor and pull the tips outward to make spikes.
Braided: Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll the pieces into long ropes. Adhere the ropes together in one end and start braiding. Tuck under the ends and put the bread on a baking sheet or in a bread pan.
Knots: Roll the dough into ropes like for the braid, but tie knots with them instead of braiding them. Cut off the knots right where they end and make more knots.
Step 11: VARIATION: Fillings
Now, this is taking bread to the next level! Use the dough of your choice to make filled baked goods.
Cinnamon rolls: Make a filling by mixing 100 g. butter, 100 g. sugar, 2 Tbsp. cinnamon and 2 Tbsp. flour. Roll a sweet dough out into a rectangle and spread the filling on top, leaving the edges bare. Roll up the dough, slice it, and place the slices lying down on a baking sheet. Let rise and bake for 20 minutes. (See my recipe for guilt-free cinnamon rolls for a healthier filling.)
Filled buns: Roll the dough into a rectangle and cut it into smaller squares. Put a dollop of filling in the center of each square. The filling can be anything from chocolate pudding to almond paste to savoury fillings like mushroom stew. Lift the edges and squeeze them well together. Make sure not to use so much filling that it seeps out, as it will then be impossible to close the buns properly. Let rise and bake about 10 minutes (the filling should already be cooked).
Filled crescent rolls: Roll the dough into a circle and cut it into wedges like a pizza. Place the filling, f.eks. a piece of hotdog or dates with nut butter, on the wide end and roll the dough up, tucking in the sides as you go. Let rise and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Muesli wreath: Roll a sweet dough into a rectangle and sprinkle with dried fruit and nuts and if desired, some spices or citrus zest. Roll the dough together to make a log and adhere the ends with some water to make a ring. Cut slices with a scissor from the outer edge, leaving the slices adhered at the inner edge. Angle the slices (laying them down) all the way around. Let rise and bake for 30-40 minutes.
Garlic flutes: Make two flutes and after baking, slice them almost all the way through. Fill the cuts with a mixture of butter, crushed garlic, parsley and salt. This is easiest if the bread is lifted so it bends over, revealing the cuts.
Focaccia: Roll the dough into a thick square and brush it with a mixture of olive oil and herbs. Sprinkle with sea salt and sliced olives, pressing the olives into the dough. Let rise and bake for 20 min.
Zebra buns: Color half of the dough brown with some cocoa powder. Take small pieces of dough and throw them into a heap, alternating the colors. Roll the dough into a log and cut it into smaller pieces. Roll the pieces into buns.
Pizza roll: Roll the dough into a rectangle, brush it with oil and sprinkle it with chopped sundried tomatoes, sliced green olives, and optionally, some grated cheese. Roll the dough into a log. Let it rise and bake for 45 min.
Step 12: TROUBLESHOOTING
If things did not go your way, check this list to see what went wrong.
The bread collapses: The dough has risen too much before baking, the dough has been too loose, the dough has not been kneaded enough so the gluten has had a chance to develop, the bread has been bumped after rising and before baking, the oven temperature has been too low, there has been used gluten-free flour without an appropriate binder.
The bread cracks when baking: Too short rising time or too much yeast.
The bread is dry: There is too much flour in the dough (especially a risk with whole-grain flour, as it absorbs a lot of liquid over time), the bread has been baked too long, the dough has not been kneaded enough.
The bread is dense and hard: The dough has not been allowed to rise enough before baking, there is too much flour in the dough, there is too little yeast compared to the rising time, the dough has not been kneaded enough.
The bread is soggy in the middle: Too high baking temperature so the crust is brown before the center is baked through, the bread has baked too short time, the dough has been too loose, there has been used gluten-free flour without an appropriate binder.
Step 13: Final Tips
Washing: When washing hands, bowls, spoons, etc., use warm water. It seems like cold water makes the dough stick even worse. Also, do not use a sponge, cloth, or brush to clean bowls, spoons, or countertops, as the dough will stick to the sponge, cloth, or brush. Use the hands instead. When wiping the table, start by sweeping the flour into the sink or trash can with your hands. Then, scrape off the dough with a spatula or knife and sweep this away. Finally, wipe the table with a wet cloth. If the dough is hard to get off, pour some warm water over and let it soak for a minute before trying again.
If the bread is stuck: Flouring the bread pan should prevent the bread from being stuck, but sometimes it sticks anyway. Try first to loosen the edges with a knife. If the bread is still stuck, turn the bread pan upside down and place a cold, wet cloth over the bottom of the pan for a few minutes. Renew the cloth when warm. This should loosen the bread.
A beautiful crust: Brush the bread with water for a crusty top or to adhere seeds sprinkled on. Brush the bread with eggs, milk or coconut milk for a shiny crust. Brush with sugar or syrup dissolved in a little milk for a shiny, sticky, sweet crust.
That's it! What are your tips and tricks for making the perfect bread? Have you any fun variations on the basic recipe, either different flavours, shapes, or fillings? Please share your creations in the comments!