The Yeast Beast
May 19, 2010 6:38 AM   Subscribe

Tell me everything you know about baking your own bread.

I want to start cooking more and relying less on convenience foods, and one thing I'd love to do is make my own bread - partly because it would be handy to have the ingredients sat and waiting for when I need them rather than needing to plan a trip to the supermarket, partly because I love the stuff, partly because it seems a very basic food to start making and will help me reconnect with making food at home, partly because I've just moved away from a local farmer's market that did the best focaccia. I'd like to start making bread by hand, in my oven. I've made bread from bread mixes before - but is it better to mix my own from scratch? Can I make 'speciality' bread as easily as a cottage loaf, or is there a learning curve? (I know tiger bread is very, very hard to make at home.) Do I need a silicone or a metal tin? Does anyone really need a dough whisk? Any recommended recipies or books?
posted by mippy to Food & Drink (49 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
I can never get whole wheat bread to rise properly. In my experience, the healthy stuff totally pwns the yeast. Hopefully someone downthread will be able to give advice on how to fix that, but don't get discouraged if you have some dud loaves.
posted by phunniemee at 6:41 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can make a loaf of sandwich bread in a couple of hours. For any fancy bread, time is your friend. The famous no-knead bread is as good and as easy as everyone says. I like to make this version of it.

Buy a jar of yeast, not the packets, especially if you plan on baking bread regularly. Otherwise you will run out all the time.

If you have a kitchen aid mixer, go out and get yourself a dough hook. The dough hook will do most of the kneading for you.
posted by mmmbacon at 6:45 AM on May 19, 2010

Everything I know about making bread comes from this. I never made bread before I discovered no-knead, now I do a couple times a week. Sometimes I add some wheat flour or nuts.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 6:46 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Do I need a silicone or a metal tin?

I have always had the best results with my glass baking pans.
posted by mmmbacon at 6:47 AM on May 19, 2010

Here you go:
And never overknead
posted by emhutchinson at 6:48 AM on May 19, 2010

We bake bread at home (my girlfriend's really the baker, but I do some occasionally) and it can be as easy or as hard as you want. We both like Alton Brown's baking book, I'm Just Here For More Food. It breaks everything down by type of dough and includes "breads" like muffins as well as more traditional loaves.

I've never used a mix or a bread maker - always from scratch, by hand. It's remarkably easy to do, and even very basic recipes come out very nice. I started with basic white loaf-pan recipes - they require very basic ingredients and there's no real shaping necessary, just drop dough in the pan and throw it in the oven. Girlfriend makes "specialty" breads like focaccia, pizza dough, peasant loaves, etc. at home without any huge fuss.

A few things I've noticed - it seems that most bread recipes online are designed for bread makers. You may be better of buying a book than hunting down "by hand" recipes online. Kneading was something that I didn't really do properly until my girlfriend showed me how, and it's one of those really basic skills that everyone seems to just assume you know (like "pinching off" when I was trying to figure out how to grow herbs - I still don't know what that means!).

If you have a stand mixer, get a dough hook for it if you don't already have one. It makes kneading bread so. much. easier. And it's far easier to clean up the mixer bowl than it is to scrape all the dough bits off your kitchen counter.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:49 AM on May 19, 2010

I suggest starting simply. A simple round loaf baked on a stone. Hand-kneaded, so you can get a good feel for what the dough is supposed to feel like. Then you can move on to using a stand mixer and dough hook.

I substitute honey in any recipe that calls for the addition of sugar.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:50 AM on May 19, 2010

First piece of advice: get a cooking scale. You really can't nail down the process without knowing exactly how much flour you're dealing with. It really can range in density about 30% in either direction.

Favorite baking references: King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion cookbook, Michael Ruhlman's "Ratio" and the Jim Lahey "No Knead" method you'll find in the NYTimes archives.

Bread is pretty easy once you get past the idea that it needs to look like what you buy at the store. Real whole grain breads simply don't look like wonder bread. It takes a while to get to the point where the results are predictable, so just enjoy the mystery for a while.

Mixes are useless. Bread has *three* main ingredients, and one of them is water. Get them in about the right proportions, let them sit around, and bake. It will taste awesome even if it's not perfect.
posted by pjaust at 6:51 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you want a nice easy introduction, start with no-knead bread. This recipe in the New York Times started the trend, and this book is my favorite. The authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day also recently released a "Healthy Breads..." title, which deals with more whole grains. If you stick with making high-moisture, no-knead bread, a dough whisk is useful, as is a baking stone, but neither are necessary (you can use a wooden spoon and an overturned cookie sheet instead). (On preview I see that others have recommended no-knead, it really is easy and tasty!)

If you would prefer to knead, Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice is very, very good. It is thorough and easy to read, and I use it all the time.

For round "artisan" loaves such as cottage loaf, you bake them free-form on a baking sheet, or for the No-Knead loaf in the NYT, in a cast iron dutch oven. For square loaves more commonly used for things like sandwiches and toast, you will want a glass or metal loaf pan, though this is a personal preference - I don't like silicone. Glass allows you to see when the sides of the loaf are browned Most of the loaves in BBA call for a 8 1/2 x 4 inch pan, but I have used a 9x5" pan as well.

I recommend an oven thermometer, as temperature is very important when baking bread, and they are quite inexpensive. Once you know if your oven runs hot or cold it's easy to adjust the dial as necessary.

If you just want to get started, check out cookbooks you already have - classics such as the Joy of Cooking have bread recipes that are often under estimated. I bake most of the bread we eat and it really does get easier the more you do; you start to learn what various doughs are supposed to feel like at each stage of the game. Feel free to memail me if you have any trouble!
posted by hungrybruno at 6:55 AM on May 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

I've done old-fashioned, knead-it-by-hand bread; I've even made brioche by hand. I've also done let-the-KitchenAid-knead-it-for-me bread, and I've done the New York Times no-knead bread. I didn't become a regular bread-maker until I found Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

The key is that the recipe makes a lot of dough, and you only pull off what you want/need; otherwise, it stores just fine in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. They have healthy varieties, too (Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day or something like that) and once you start to get to know the master recipes, you can start playing.

For instance, I make whole wheat bread weekly now, and I sub in white whole wheat instead of regular whole wheat and I use milk for half the liquid to tenderize the dough so it's good for sandwiches (without having to make honey whole wheat, because I don't care for the honey flavor in my bread).

The convenience factor of always having the dough there really cannot be beat, and there are so many varieties in the book (and online -- you can find so many of the recipes online, as well as tips, tricks, conversations, etc.) that you can just play around until you find the ones you like best -- and the master recipes can be tweaked in just hundreds of ways.

If you do this, you don't need any special tools other than the most important one -- a pizza stone. You can get them cheap and it's worth it. A pizza peel is also helpful, but not necessary. Use a large tupperware tub for your dough storage. I find it's easier to let my KitchenAid do the initial incorporating for me, rather than using a spoon, but that's a matter of preference.

On preview, hungrybruno is right that an oven thermometer is helpful as well.
posted by devinemissk at 6:58 AM on May 19, 2010

Remember too that bread recipes are simply regularized versions of "a pinch of yeast, a bit of sugar, some liquid, some fat, some flour." Breadmaking is not science - more like alchemy. Be willing to fudge. Substitute some flax meal for some whole wheat flour, or some spelt for some bread flour. Eventually you'll see things like "add about 6 cups of flour, half a cup at a time." That's because it'll vary from instance to instance. Eventually, if you play with it, I expect you'll get to the point where it's mostly done by touch and sight, even smell. G'luck!
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:58 AM on May 19, 2010

This is a great book on bread and how to make it, we have gone through a couple copies in my family--The Tassajara Bread Book.
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:05 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I learned to bake bread a few years ago with the Tassajara Bread Book. The tone of the book is great, much emphasis on technique, and I've always had great results with just a mixing bowl and two metal bread pans. The first half of the book explains the basic bread recipe. A bunch of variations follow (eg french bread), and a section on pastries and other things...

The book has been through multiple editions over a few decades I think, you might have luck picking up an inexpensive used copy.
posted by JumpW at 7:06 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

All you "need" to make bread is flour, yeast, salt and water. Some might even say you don’t need yeast. Start here. Get a very basic white bread recipe and make a few loaves. Learn to knead the dough, learn how it feels in your hands. Learn how it’ll feel different on a humid day vs. a dry day. Get to know it. Know when to toss a bit of extra flour or a few drops of water onto it. Learn to work with it without having it stick to your hands. (hint: extra flour is your friend). Play with the dough. Throw it out if it’s pissing you off. Sometimes it will. Make another batch.

Then learn about starters. Not necessarily sourdough starters, but old dough and poolish. (I think that’s what it’s called)

From there you can decide what other tools or ingredients you want.

One of the first things you might want is a kitchen scale. Measuring flour by weight rather than volume will lead to consistency in your dough, which will help you improve your technique.

Other nice stuff, none of which is absolutely necessary:

Stand mixer. Saves a lot of time and lets you do other stuff while your dough is kneadin’ away.

I got a dough whisk as a gift and I was initially skeptical but I really love it. It’ll help you mix up the dough without having it all stick to it.

A pizza stone or other type of unglazed tiles. Pretty much essential for making rustic bread.

A spray bottle/mister. You want steam. Steam is good. Learn all about what steam will do for you. Any good bread book will tell you.

A rising bucket. Just a food-grade plastic bucket. I have a big one and a smaller one that I use for starters. A bowl will work fine but I love my buckets.

A large, heavy bowl for mixing stuff. Plastic or ceramic, not metal.

A large wooded board for kneading.

Ingredients to have on hand:

Spray oil, such as Pam. Great for lubin’ up the bread pan.

Instant yeast. Good stuff, this. Active Dry works fine but you have the added step of proofing it.

High Gluten Flour. If you want to make pizza dough or (I think) bagels.

Make sure you buy something from King Arthur Flour so they’ll start sending you the catalog. Great for drooling over.


Amy’s Bread. Someone gave us this as a gift, because my wife’s name is Amy and she ate bread that one time. One day I picked it up and started making bread. Good focus on simplicity. I’m not sure it’s still in print though. Best focaccia recipe I’ve ever made.

The King Arthur Flour Baking Companion. This is a general baking book, one of the best, and it has a very good white bread recipe that uses a lot of ingredients but they’re all added at once so it’s the type of thing you can just toss together without really thinking much about.

Anything by Peter Reinhart, especially The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 7:07 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I made bread just last weekend. Making bread from scratch is far superior, in my mind, to making bread from a mix, not only for taste, but also for the tactile/stress release benefits of kneading bread dough by hand. If you're going to make bread, start with something fairly easy and straightforward like white bread. Give yourself a chance to learn the basic techniques, which is the bulk of the learning curve, in my mind. Joy of Cooking has some good recipes, but watch out for typos.

Here are the basics. The recipe you're using will give you the proportions.

1) Dissolve your yeast in warm water. I mean, 100 degrees farenheit warm. If you don't have a thermometer to test the temperature, go with "baby-bottle" warm.

2) Meanwhile, combine remaining wet ingredients in a large (and I mean, large) mixing bowl. In another bowl, sift the flour you're going to use. Now's the time to get the proportions right if you're making brown bread; 1 part of whole wheat flour to 2 or 3 parts of white flour.

3) After 10 minutes, your yeast should be soft and dissolved. Stir it down and add to the wet ingredients. Mix well. You do not need a bread whisk or anything else. Use a soup spoon, like I do - it can go in the dishwasher after you're done!

4) Start adding the flour, stirring as you go. Don't worry if it's lumpy to start, this will all work itself out. Continue adding flour and stirring till it's too thick to stir. At this point, take off all rings, watches, etc. and start mixing it in with your hands. yes, this part is messy. Continue working in flour until you have a lump of dough and still a bit of flour in your bowl. Turn this all out onto a clean counter.

5) Now, you knead. Grab a handfull of dough, pull up a bit and fold over, pushing it into the dough with the heel of your hand. turn the dough 90 degrees, pull fold and push again. Repeat for 10 minutes. Here is where you work out your frustrations! For extra stress release, grab the dough in both hands, bring it up over your head, and drive it as hard as you can into the counter. Walk away from the kneading for about 5 minutes, if you choose to do this.

6) When the dough is smooth and elastic (not sticky, and not gritty with flour), wash out and oil your big mixing bowl, and put the dough in there. Oil or grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Turn the light on in your oven (but don't turn the oven on!), and stick your dough in there to rise. It should double in bulk, about 1 to 1.5 hours.

7) Take it out, punch it down to let some of the air escape. If you want, and if you have time, rise it again. This makes for better flavour, IMHO.

8) Punch it own again, and put it out onto the counter. Divide into three or four balls, cover, and let rest for 15 minutes or so. Then, push the dough into a rectangle with your hands, trying to pop as many air bubbles as possible (more stress release!). Fold the ends in to meet in the middle, turn 90 degrees, and repeat the folding. Now, roll it up in a log, pinch the ends and seams to seal, and put in a greased bread pan. Metal is best for this, in my opinion. Glass always sticks, and silicone isn't strong enough to hold up to the last rising that's going to happen.

*(if you want a rustic loaf instead of sandwich bread, shape the loaf in a dome shape, and place on a greased cookie sheet.)

8) Oil the tops and let rise one more time, about 45 minutes.

9) Meanwhile, preheat your oven as the recipe calls for, slash the tops of your bread, and stick in oven to cook - loaves usually take about 45-50 minutes to cook.

For extra awesome, see if someone at the Farmer's market sells grains whole and will grind them for you. We have a guy at the local FM here that will sell whole wheat grains and grind them for you, and the bread it makes is light years better than anything I've tried before.

Once you get the basic techniques, all sorts of other breads are fairly easy to make - you'll notice they're simply variations on a theme, or a simple variant of technique.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 7:08 AM on May 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

If you make sourdough bread, you want to let the bacteria catch up with the yeast. (The bacteria are what make the bread taste yummily sour.) Letting the bread rise overnight in the fridge will help there.

If you want a hard crust, put a pan of water in the over. The water will evaporate into steam and the steam will harden your crust.
posted by musofire at 7:10 AM on May 19, 2010

No-Knead Bread. Literally takes five minutes, makes the best home-baked artisanal-style loaf I have ever had.
posted by ottereroticist at 7:10 AM on May 19, 2010

My cousin has become something of a bread baking connoisseur, even going so far as to consider starting his own small bakery. His blog might be interesting to you. (Plus he's awesome anyway.)
posted by Madamina at 7:22 AM on May 19, 2010

I agree that you should try the no-knead bread. It's just so easy and the results-to-effort ratio is extremely high. It was popularized by the Bittman article in the Times, but the original was by Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan St. Bakery in NYC. The great thing about that technique is that it can get you excited about making bread when you're just beginning, it's easy to try and be successful with different variations, and it's always a simple way to have a great loaf if you're in a hurry (er, if you remember to start it the day before of course) even if you've gotten more "advanced" in your bread-making (and while we're on the subject, I almost always make it in a 1-2 ratio of whole wheat flour to white flour, to give it a bit more flavor and nutrition).

So anyways, a few other things I've learned:

-This site is extremely helpful for getting advice on baking and baking problems.
-Get a baking stone (unless you stick to the no-knead thing, in which case you'll be using a dutch oven). I think there are cheap alternatives, like terra cotta tiles from building supply stores...but you have to be careful and get the right kind that you can actually cook on. I'm too lazy to do the search for you...
-This is totally subjective, but I say use organic flour. I really strongly feel like it makes a difference in flavor and quality--such that you can taste it. I've baked a lot of bread and I feel like this is true...but again, this is anecdotal and subjective and I have no science to back this assertion up. Give it a shot yourself and see.
-I'm very fond of this book. He starts with very simple recipes and works your way up to complex multigrain breads. He gives a lot of explanation of technique without being overly pedantic--it's all within the context of his travels around Europe--and I think the layout is quite nice. It's not for everyone, some people don't care for all the travel writing that's stuffed in, but I like it.
-Dittoing folks who say get a scale. It actually makes things a lot easier. I have one that is like this (not sure if it's the same brand but looks the same) and it works great.
-Once you get more comfortable, try making your own sourdough. The book I linked to above has a good process for it. It's not really that hard, just takes patience, and it produces great, really flavorful bread.

Breadmaking is not science - more like alchemy.

I disagree. The process of learning how to bake bread is very much scientific. It's certainly empirical: you change variables and test the results, over and over, until you get a good understanding of how adding more or less flour/water/salt/yeast/heat/etc. works. Once you get to a point of being able to comfortably put a delicious loaf together without thinking too hard about it, it may seem like alchemy. But it's really the opposite: if you've gotten to the point where you really understand your ingredients well, the process--which is biological and chemical--and your tools (oven), you can predict pretty well how your bread will turn out by tweaking this or that variable. You really can engineer a good loaf of bread, but this is borne out of experience, not magic.

If you want a hard crust, put a pan of water in the over. The water will evaporate into steam and the steam will harden your crust.

Actually, the function of water in the oven is to allow the crust to remain as flexible and moist for as long as possible in the very initial stages of the oven-rise so that you get the greatest "oomph." This is also why industrial baking ovens have water sprayers integrated in. Again, Leader has a good explanation of this in Local Breads, and I found this article that also has some great tips for home-baking, including explaining this function.
posted by dubitable at 7:22 AM on May 19, 2010

I'm seconding what bruno said about the NYT no knead bread, artisan bread in five minutes a day and Peter Reinhardts book, but I think you can skip the thermometer. I have a few pyrex square pans that I make my loaves in with covers, but sometimes I use regular bread pans. I hate the non stick ones because sometimes that nonstick stuff doesn't stick to the pan and comes off on my bread. I rise the bread in bowls that I cover with plates, one of which becomes my flour surface so the whole process takes about a square foot of counter area.

I make most of the bread we eat during the winter and phase out during the summer. I get very experimental but rarely do I have a terrible loaf.

I find that as long as my proportions are mostly correct - especially the balance of water with dry ingredients - everything is good. Whole wheat and rye flours soak up more water so I compensate. They don't have the gluten to bind, so I'll either give them more time rising or add some gluten. If I add molasses, I take out some water.

I've tried more time in the oven, less time, hotter ovens, colder ovens and maybe I'm just not a perfectionist, but I have a hard time screwing up bread.

I'm going to start a few loaves now. Good luck.
posted by mearls at 7:23 AM on May 19, 2010

Making bread is a wonderful gift to yourself and others. It needn't be complicated, although you can spend years becoming very, very good at it.

My basic tools:

A stand mixer
Dough scraper
Large wooden board (for kneading)
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Oil dispenser
Silpat sheets
Baking sheets
Loaf pans (glass and metal)
Rubber spatula
Cheap stock pot (for boiling bagels)
Slotted spoon (ditto)
Cooling racks
Plastic wrap
Large stoneware bowl (for rising)
Digital scale
Half-gallon mason jar (for my starter)
Five-gallon bucket (for holding flour), with bucket opener
Refrigerator (for overnight rising)
Pastry brush
Rolling pin
Baguette pan

Basics to have on hand:
Bread flour (as well as standard all-purpose)
Yeast (Costco has a great big bag of it for about $3)

My first bread was a honey whole wheat (memail me for the recipe), which made two loaves. One was a standard sandwich/toast, and the other was a cinnamon swirl. It was great to produce two very different loaves in one baking session.

A few rules of thumb:
Time is your friend (especially when you let dough rise overnight in the 'frig)
Yeast does well in tepid (not hot!) water
If at first you don't succeed, pound the dough down and let it rise again
Yes, there is a difference between bread flour and all-purpose

I love Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice," but it's for somewhat experienced bread makers. You might check out The Fresh Loaf for ideas and assistance.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:23 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not a bread recipe/instruction book per se, but you'll learn a lot: Wiliam Alexander's "52 Loaves" is a great read, full of detailed information about flour milling, yeast, and little bread baking tips & tricks and a fun story to boot. He basically goes from knowing nothing about bread baking to being a baker-in-residence at a French monastery, with stops along the way at a yeast "factory," grain mill, and so on.

Also, n-ing everyone who recommended the Reinhart "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes" book. I've given up the Bittman/NYT "no-knead" approach in favor of Reinhart's method because I usually don't think far enough ahead to do the Bittman/NYT method.
posted by webhund at 7:25 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Never add salt directly to yeast. If the recipe calls for it, mix it in with the dry ingredients.

A dough hook is a great convenience if you have a stand mixer, but there is a special satisfaction to doing it by hand. I like to watch TV while I'm hand-kneading.

Unbleached flour is best for bread. All-purpose flour vs. bread flour is a personal preference; I like a chewier texture, so I usually use bread flour, which has a higher protein content.

Nthing the recommendations to get a scale. Measuring by weight instead of volume when baking can be the difference between "pretty good" and perfection. That said, the amount of flour you need to add isn't set in stone. I usually start with slightly less than the recipe calls for and then add more in small amounts as I start kneading. The same dough can need more or less flour depending on environmental factors, like the humidity in the room. To me this was one of the biggest revelations about bread-baking.

And don't worry if you bake a lot of imperfect loaves. Imperfection is part of the beauty of baking bread from scratch. I also think it takes time to develop your instincts. For a long time I had trouble knowing when to stop kneading, and now I can just sort of...feel it.
posted by spinto at 7:41 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing the Tassajara bread book. My dad gave me his old copy about 5 years ago and I still refer to it regularly. The first half is great-- it realy emphasizes the zen aspects of the process and provides some great insight on how to make a moist and fluffy yet very rich and hearty whole grain bread.

Once you get familiar with the basic sponge method as taught in the book, I suggest contacting one of the friends of Carl Griffith for a free packet of 1847 sourdough starter. Sourdough is a bit tougher to do, but the taste is unbeatable.
posted by The White Hat at 7:45 AM on May 19, 2010

Be aware that most recipes are US-centric. This matters. As a Canadian who gets Canadian wheat flour the recipes are usually off and need to be tweaked based on the flour we have available. Adding gluten, or using some less gluten flour, or changing yeast amounts, water to flour proportions might be the difference between ok bread and fantastic bread.

Learn to bake by weight measures not volume measures (particularly while you're working out your recipes). There are lots of variables which can throw the volume measures off.

100% whole wheat bread (in a bread machine or in the oven) can indeed be fantastic, light, fluffy. Anyone who tells you different doesn't know how to make it, in my opinion. A little added gluten and a little more yeast go a long way.
posted by kch at 8:01 AM on May 19, 2010

N'thing the Tassajara Bread Book. Mr. SLC's copy is from the 70's and he still uses it.

I don't bake bread, I just eat it.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:03 AM on May 19, 2010

Everything I learned about baking bread (very little, but enough to make amazing white bread) I learned from here.
posted by where u at dawg at 8:31 AM on May 19, 2010

The King Arthur Store and website is very helpful, I think. Also, baked goods come out better on dry, sunny days rather than wet ones.
posted by pentagoet at 9:26 AM on May 19, 2010

If you want to make 100% whole wheat bread, I would suggest using whole wheat flour from hard white wheat. King Arthur and Hodgson's Mill are both good brands.
posted by rikschell at 9:58 AM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: Hello - sorry, should have said I'm based in the UK, so ordering from the States is tricky.

I currently have a regular gas oven, a loaf tin, and that's about it. Not keen on buying much equipment until I have my own place - I want to fit baking bread easily into my life rather than make it a new hobby. Though I do need to buy kitchen scales, a good mixing bowl and an electric whisk (can't afford or have space for a Kitchen-Aid), and maybe some US measuring cups or something measurey at the moment. Sourdough isn't very common here so I#m not sure what it tastes like (is it the same as soda bread?)
posted by mippy at 10:08 AM on May 19, 2010

I really like the Tassajara book, too. Especially for the layered cornbread.

The weekly recipe I had before that was

4 to 5 cups of whole wheat flour
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon yeast
I think a teaspoon of salt. In my health nut days I'd use powdered seaweed as well
1/3 cup powdered non instant milk or 1/4 cup of some protein powder
1/3 cup oil
I forget how much water. I'll check my card when I get home. Memory says 1 1/2 cups.

As someone said above, don't mix yeast with anything but the flour and water. Maybe a little bit of honey. Salt and milk will tend to retard the yeast proofing.

LN's process is good, except I don't put my hands on the dough until it't time to turn it out of the bowl for kneading. Just a personal preference. If I had a mixer I'd use that.

Man, I need to get back to baking.
posted by lysdexic at 10:10 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't need any US-centric measuring cups. Just get an electric scale, one that you can zero-out after each addition, and add ingredients by weight. (That's what I do anyway.)

Since you don't have a lot of equipment and aren't getting any soon and you want bread-making to fit into your life, I even more strongly recommend the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes stuff. Seriously. This is how bread fits into my life:

On Sunday afternoon, I get out my flour (yes, buy unbleached, otherwise, whatever brand you get is fine -- you're learning and this recipe is forgiving). I put a big plastic tub on my electric scale, zero it out, and add 25 ounces of whole wheat flour to the tub. I zero out my scale again and add 10 ounces of regular all-purpose flour. Then I add 4 tbsp of vital wheat gluten (which I get at Whole Foods in the bulk section, but I imagine it can be purchased in the UK as well -- and it's not strictly necessary, but helps with the rise). Then I add 1 tbsp of kosher salt. Then I add 1-1/2 tbsp of granulated yeast from a jar. I use a regular wisk to get everything incorporated.

Then I measure out 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of water, warm to 100 degrees in the microwave (could be done on the stovetop), and dump into the tub with the dry ingredients. I mix with a spoon (or sometimes use my KitchenAid, but the spoon works just fine) until everything is incorporated. It gets stiff and hard to stir at the end, but it can be done. I put the lid on the tub, but not totally sealed down so gases can escape, then I let it sit on the counter for 2 to 3 hours until it's doubled in size.

Then I put it in the fridge. Later that evening or the next day, I pull a hunk of dough out of the tub, quickly shape it into a log, drop it into a metal loaf pan and cover with cling film, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees (Fahrenheit). After an hour or so, I put the loaf in the oven, pour a cup of water into a metal pan, also in the oven, and bake for an hour or so (less for smaller loaves). Repeat as often as needed; the dough will live happily in your fridge for 2 weeks.

You don't need a pan, either, but if you don't have a pizza stone, a loaf pan is the easiest way to work with the dough (free form loaves don't do as well on metal pans). And you can easily convert any of these measurements to metric; not sure about the translation for oven temperature, but I recall seeing something online with translating American oven temperatures to the equivalent for a gas oven in the UK when I was sending my brother in the UK a recipe or two.

In other words, the first bit takes about 20 minutes; thereafter, it's just a matter of pulling dough out, preheating the oven, and baking the thing for as long as it takes. Making bread in the more traditional way is quite fun and satisfying, but takes longer chunks of dedicated time.
posted by devinemissk at 10:24 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, my first "kit" was a great big bowl, a loaf tin, and some spatulas.

I forgot to mention that my recipe would be pretty moist, so I usually ended up cutting the loaf in half after about 50 minutes and cooking it the rest of the way. Another 30 minutes, IIRC.

This was in the big loaf tin. If you've got a small one, my recipe might make two loaves.
posted by lysdexic at 10:30 AM on May 19, 2010

wheat gluten! I knew I'd forgotten something. 1 tablespoon.
posted by lysdexic at 10:31 AM on May 19, 2010

I make bread here in my tiny London flat sometimes. If you can afford it, a Kenwood Prospero is small, comes with a dough hook and can handle a smallish loaf of bread.

Sourdough is delicious. If you are in London try some from a branch of Ottolenghi, Le Pain Quotidien or Gail's to get the idea. But for sourdough you need a starter which is like a jar of pet germs, so don't worry about it unless you get really into breadmaking.

As for flour: if you get strong bread flour from Waitrose or other big supermarket, that is a good way to start. Bread flour has extra gluten to help it rise more. I never bothered to add extra wheat gluten to it, but then I make mostly white breads. To make focaccia, the same recipes can be tweaked to add olive oil and flavourings. One good resource I've found is Baking 911 which has a terrible layout, but is very good at explaining to complete novices.

(If you follow these excellent instructions remember that the temperatures given are in Fahrenheit, not Celsius. Milk at 100C would probably kill the yeast. You want something just higher than body temperature.) Also, I nth recommendations of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes. I'm a lazy, lazy baker, but even I produce tasty bread from my crap ikea oven sometimes.
posted by tavegyl at 11:03 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Argh, tavegyl, I thought I clarified unit on all my measurements, but I missed that very important one! Yeah, "lukewarm" is what you're going for, and err on the side of less warm. Too warm, you kill the yeast; not warm enough, your rise takes longer and your loaf is maybe a little flatter, but you still get bread.
posted by devinemissk at 11:13 AM on May 19, 2010

Michael Ruhlman's book Ratio provides the ratio of 5 flour to 3 water for making bread dough. Add to that roughly a heavy pinch of salt (to taste) and about a pinch of yeast per proportion of the ratio. 20oz bread, 12 oz water, heavy pinch salt, four pinches yeast plus herbs on the top, maybe an egg wash, maybe some olive oil = great bread.

Bread recipes are a lot less exact than people think. Obviously, it's a good idea to measure flour when goes in the dough, but when you start kneeding on a floured counter, it will take on some more flour. This is a good thing - the amount of flour you actually need on any one day varies so much with humidity and the grind of the flour and air temperature that there's never a way to know how much flour you really need. So, flour up your counter, and kneed the ball until it stops taking on flour. Practice, practice, practice.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:31 AM on May 19, 2010

Good for you! I started down this road about 2 years ago. My recommendation is to start with a breadmaker. You can pick them up for a song at thrift stores. Before you buy, be sure that it works when you plug it in, and that it has a removable bread pan and the little plastic paddle. (These are things that are often lost, and not easy to replace.)

When you get home, Google "bread machine [make] [model] manual." This will get you a PDF file with instructions on how to use the bread machine, and usually a lot of recipes, too.

Forget the "all in one" bread machine mixes. These are a scam. You can find a ton of bread machine recipes online.
posted by ErikaB at 11:45 AM on May 19, 2010

I just wanted to pop back in here and point out that the authors of ABin5 have an excellent website, too.

Oh, and someone earlier mentioned Ratio - it's a fantastic book if you're into the science of baking, and here's an example by the author of bread based on ratio instead of on recipe. Get yourself a digital scale before you get yourself US measuring cups - more and more recipes are being written by weight like this, as the amount of flour scooped into a cup can vary from scooper to scooper.
posted by hungrybruno at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2010

Nthing the Tassajara Bread Book. You really don't need anything more than a bowl, a spoon, and something to bake the bread in/on. If you get heavily into breadmaking, or if you need to make a lot, more equipment can come in handy, but it's not necessary.

My best advice would be to see if you can find someone who makes bread and see if they'll let you hang out and watch them do it--and feel the dough in all the different stages. You can read all the instructions and descriptions you want, but there's nothing like getting a tactile sense of just what kneaded dough is supposed to feel like.
posted by newrambler at 1:54 PM on May 19, 2010

Baking bread is fun. Just remember even a bad home made loaf is 1000x better than anything bought at a supermarket! Just experiment and let that amazing smell waft through the house.
posted by mikw at 2:33 PM on May 19, 2010

backseatpilot: And it's far easier to clean up the mixer bowl than it is to scrape all the dough bits off your kitchen counter.
Get yourself a pastry scraper and this will be no issue at all. Plus, they are very handy for scooping other ingredients into pans and whatnot while cooking.
posted by ydant at 4:07 PM on May 19, 2010

Fyi I have found the Artisan Bread in 5 recipe I tried to be really, really salty - too much so for my own sakes.

Mippy, I implore you, go to The Fresh Loaf. Everything you would ever need to know, want to know, or be curious to know about bread is contained therein. In addition to a thriving - and lovely - community of dedicated and incredibly knowledgeable bakers, there is a metric shit tonne of recipes and tutorials, etc. etc.

To make bread, all you need is a bowl, a spoon, an oven, flour, water, salt and yeast. Anything else is just gravy. Contra everyone else, if you're gonna buy a book, I recommend Bread, by Jeffrey Hamelman.
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've made bread a few times following the simplest recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. Hand kneaded (and not kneaded very much), then shaped and put it on a pizza stone. No bread machine, no scale, no electric mixer, etc. The recipe I used called for very short rising times, so the bread is not terribly flavorful -- but it's still hot bread from the oven and pretty good, even with sloppy technique.

I would just get bread flour, salt, yeast and find a recipe that lets you work with what you have. (Do you have a <>dutch oven, a heavy pot you might use for stew or pot roast? Wikipedia says they're called casserole dishes in the UK? The famous "no knead" bread recipe calls for one of those.)

Cook up a loaf a couple of times using the simplest recipe you can find and you'll start to get a sense of what's involved. Making very basic bread that's workable for sandwiches or cheese toast is VERY easy. Making improvements toward bread you would proudly serve to guests is a little harder but not prohibitive.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:13 PM on May 19, 2010

dutch oven
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:15 PM on May 19, 2010

N'thing Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, though I use the Bittman / Lahey slow rise method. I've got my 'equipment' down to:

- a plastic tub
- a cup
- the plastic spoon thingy that came with the rice maker
- baking paper
- a $5 pizza stone

Scoop flour into tub - don't bother leveling, near enough is good enough. Add salt - just eyeball the amount in your hand. Add a pinch of yeast. Mix together with hand. Add water - a bit too much is fine. Stir with plastic spoon thingy. Put lid on tub and come back tomorrow. Pull out lump with hand. Dust with flour. Shape into a ball, dump on a sheet of paper. Wait. Preheat oven with pizza stone and the tray from the broiler. Throw dough, still on paper, in oven, pour hot tap water into tray, close door. Done.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:37 AM on May 20, 2010

Response by poster: A casserole dish! Of course. I don't have one right now, but I thought 'dutch oven' was something Aga-like. I wondered just how big American kitchens were...
posted by mippy at 5:16 AM on May 20, 2010

mippy, this was me at the start of the year. I've not bought bread since. Here's what I did:

1) Read The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard. I never followed the recipes, just imbued some of the understanding of the process, and the passion, that the book offers.

2) Bought a pack of flour and either just follow the instructions or follow the 5:3 ratio (this ratio is particularly useful for making flat breads as you don't have to worry about yeast).

3) Found some YouTube vids showing people kneading and shaping dough to ensure my technique was correct.

4) Practise. It doesn't take long to master a hand made loaf.

I guess the key thing is - don't over think it. Bread is so simple and the only thing that will improve your load is an understanding of the basic technique, and then practise (which will help you identify when your dough is under or over hydrated). I also use the 5 minute bread book mentioned here, but it doesn't match the quality of a basic hand made loaf (IMO) and I think it's really valuable to understand the basic technique.
posted by chill at 5:33 AM on May 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

when I'm feeling domestic I make mine the way my mom does, in a cuisinart food processor. It's not complicated, just mix the dry ingredients, put in the frothy yeast/water/sugar and knead in there and knead for a minute. My model came with a plastic blade and recipes for sandwich loaves, coffee cake and pizza dough.

I'll admit that this method is hardly "by hand" - and to branch out I'll definitely check out some of these more traditional recipes in these answers. But I'd recommend trying this route if you've already got a food processor as is it's super-easy.
posted by Joad at 8:02 PM on May 20, 2010

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