The phrase "staff of life" makes me feel like a wizard
November 27, 2010 10:05 PM   Subscribe

I want to bake a loaf of bread. I would like advice on making it. I'd also like advice on what to use it for once it's baked.

I've got it in my mind to bake some bread. I know nothing about this. O suspect yeast is involve. I also have a flat pan that you can stick in an oven. But other than that I have nothing.

So what ought I know? What tips will give me heavenly bread? What sort of exciting bread ought I try and make?

Then, when I've got my bread, what thrilling things can I use it for? Recommend me sandwiches (preferably without meat) or toppings or ways I can use my bread to create some higher-level meal thing.
posted by Rory Marinich to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I've baked this recipe more or less every week for the past year and a half, and I love it. It's also my go-to thing for potlucks and it-would-be-nice-to-bring-food-to-this type events, and somehow really impresses people. Brush with beaten egg instead of milk, though, the color is better.
posted by nasreddin at 10:13 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

Beard on Bread is a good book for beginners.

This question is too open-ended, and O suspect yeast is involve indicates a minimal level of effort into doing your own research. The internet and bookstores are full of tips, tricks, and treatises on bread. What kind of bread do you like to eat? That's the kind of bread you should make. How do you eat that bread? As a sandwich? Great, make a sandwich.
posted by sanko at 10:21 PM on November 27, 2010

There are approximately a gazillion different ways and recipes to make bread, and as many different types, so instead here are some general things that help make good bread:

1. Small amounts of yeast rising over a long period of time give better flavor than large amounts rising quickly. If you time things well, the extra time is pretty unimportant and mostly involves doing other things and periodically checking in.

2. Mixing the flour and water without the salt and letting sit for about 20-30 minutes (autolyse, should you care to google) makes kneading easier and less important.

3. Very wet dough, handled carefully and gently (I usually oil my hands instead of flouring them, to avoid drying out the dough) gives open, flaky breads. Dry dough beat to heck gives dense supermarket-style breads.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 10:26 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Joy of Cooking's basic bread recipe got me started making bread. I'd recommend Joy of Cooking for generally learning about cooking, really; it covers a wiiide variety of kinds of things and doesn't assume you already know what you're doing. (Though I gather that recent editions have dropped the sections on how to prepare a rabbit you've just shot, etc.)

Most generic bread recipes call for a loaf pan rather than a flat sheet, but you might be able to make the dough into a ball and plop it in the middle of the sheet anyway.

I find that bread always takes longer than I expect to rise, even if I put it in a warm place, except at the very height of summer.
posted by hattifattener at 10:27 PM on November 27, 2010

The King Arthur Flour Cookbook has extremely comprehensive and in-depth information in it about all aspects of baking.
posted by XMLicious at 10:42 PM on November 27, 2010

If you find that you enjoy cooking bread, start learning about, and keeping your own cultures of, wild yeast (it's cheap, easy, and fascinating -- PM me for more info if you want resources). That's where the flavor comes from. The dry stuff on the supermarket shelves just gives your dough bubbles, quickly and predictably.
posted by SeƱor Pantalones at 10:51 PM on November 27, 2010

This may not be a popular answer, but one alternative is to buy frozen bread dough. All you do is thaw, let rise, bake. It's not quite as nice as completely homemade, but it's better than most non-bakery loaves.

my solution to wanting good fresh bread, but not having the skills to make my own was to get a bread machine. The bread that came out was great, and it was idiot-proof. Didn't even need an oven.
posted by jb at 10:54 PM on November 27, 2010

Definitely have to recommend Tartine Bread. It gets really in-depth, and I've had some amazing results following their technique. If you really want to know how to make a good loaf of bread, study their recipe.

It's an incredibly involved process (though worth it.) Basically it amounts to:

1. Make a starter with (more or less) equal amounts flour and water. Let it sit in a cool, dry place for a few days. Feed it every day by throwing out half of the starter and adding back equal amounts of flour and water.

2. Make a leaven using 1 tbsp. of your starter and equal amounts flour and water. Let it sit overnight.

3. Mix your dough using your leaven, flour, water and salt. Let it sit for 25 - 30 minutes.

4. Boil a pot of water and place it in your oven. With the oven off, put the dough in the oven and close the door. Every 30 minutes, take the dough out, stick your hand in and grab the bottom of it, stretch up and fold it over on itself. This is, in effect, your "kneading." Continue this for 4 hours.

5. Form your loaf on a floured surface, then let it rest for 25 minutes or so. Place in a colander lined with a flour-impregnated kitchen towel. Let this sit in the fridge overnight.

6. Get a Dutch oven, place it in your oven and turn the heat to 500. When the oven is heated, take out the Dutch oven and invert your dough into it. Score the top of the loaf with a razor blade. Put the cover on the Dutch oven and put it in the oven and let bake for 20 minutes. This lets a nice crust form in the steamy Dutch oven interior. After 20 minutes, take the cover off and continue baking for 20 - 25 min, until the crust is nice and brown. When the bottom sounds hollow when you knock on it the bread is done. Let it rest for 30 minutes or so at room temperature and then its ready to eat!

You can keep your starter going after you bake. At low temperatures and a higher flour:water ratio, you'll encourage acetic acid production, which will give more of a sourdough taste to your bread. At higher temperatures and lower flour:water ratios, you'll get more lactic acid production, which will be a more mellow flavor. I keep mine in the fridge and every day or two I feed it by throwing out half and adding back equal amounts flour and water.
posted by Yiggs at 11:00 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I forgot to add: you preheat your oven to 500, but as soon as you put your loaf in turn it down to 450!
posted by Yiggs at 11:02 PM on November 27, 2010

You need to start with an idea of the loaf that you want to make. What was the best bread you ever tasted? Was it whole wheat, white? Did it have a loose, open crumb or a uniform tight crumb? Did it have a chewy, stretchy crumb or something with more bite? How dense was it? Was it crusty? Was it sour? Sweet? Wheaty? Caramelized? There are many types of bread. If you know where want to go, you can find a path there, but I'm not sure you'll be happy if you just start baking any random bread.

Baking bread is a matter of iteration. You do it once, decide what you like or don't like and then do it again, changing one or two variables, to get a better loaf.

I could describe to you my bread baking technique (which is loosely based on the Tartine technique), but that won't help you if you don't want to bake the type of bread that I enjoy. If you can describe your goal here in some detail, maybe I and others can help you start on your way to making that bread.

If you want to start at the very basic level, take 50 parts flour, 30-40 parts water, and 1 part salt and add some sort of leavening agent (yeast, natural leaven). Mix, knead, rise, shape, rise again, and bake.
posted by ssg at 12:00 AM on November 28, 2010

Small amounts of yeast rising over a long period of time give better flavor ...

If you like that flavor. I prefer a technique that includes one or two risings in a warm oven before shaping and one fairly short rising before baking.

Mixing the flour and water without the salt and letting sit for about 20-30 minutes ...

In my experience, delaying adding the salt makes little difference in the flavor or texture, but runs a high risk of omitting it altogether.

Very wet dough, handled carefully and gently ... gives open, flaky breads.

But that may not be a plus if sandwich bread or toast is your goal.

Rather than putting a kettle of boiling water in the oven, it's a lot easier to turn the oven on for 60 seconds, turn it off, and then put the dough in to rise. Note the sequence; very important if you have any ADD tendencies.
posted by Bruce H. at 12:22 AM on November 28, 2010

Go to The Fresh Loaf, click on the links labeled "Lessons". Follow them. Welcome to the amazing world of breadmaking.
posted by smoke at 2:05 AM on November 28, 2010

Make the best French Toast ever, courtesy of King Arthur Flour.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:48 AM on November 28, 2010

I made bread last night. I'm pretty lazy when it comes to baking bread, but it still comes out delicious.

I usually mix 4 cups bread flour (King Arthur is my go-to), 2 cups warm water, one packet of yeast, teaspoon of salt, tablespoon sugar, sometimes some spices like Oregeno for a kick (just a little). Then mix it all together, start kneading, perhaps adding a half cup more flour along the way until it gets nice and doughy (not too sticky), maybe kneading for 10 minutes. I let it rise for an hour or two and then bake it at 450 for 40 minutes. It takes 10-15 minutes to prepare my dough.

Last night I put Nutella on it when it came hot out of the oven. It was better than eating a slice of cake, I kid you not! Usually I just have it with butter and sometimes honey when it's fresh, and it's eating sunshine.
posted by Rocket26 at 5:40 AM on November 28, 2010

No one's recommended No Knead bread yet? As long as you have a dutch oven, you can produce a great crusty loaf with almost no effort... but it does work better as toast than as sandwiches.

A good simple sandwich bread is this focaccia from The Kitchn.
posted by Gortuk at 6:31 AM on November 28, 2010

Go to a store, buy milk, yeast, flour, honey, salt and oil. Use a beginner bread recipe. Bread isn't terribly difficult. It improves with practice.
posted by theora55 at 7:01 AM on November 28, 2010

If you're working with a flat pan for baking, your mileage may vary when it comes to no-knead recipes, which often require a lidded baking vessel.

If the romance of bread-baking is what turns you on (that's why I started baking bread, three years ago), you'll positively relish the process of kneading by hand, which is probably the most critical technique beginning bakers need to master. I'd pay more attention to that than to yeast--although yeast seems mysterious initially because it's so unlike any other ingredient you might use in day-to-day cooking, it's really quite benign and low-key.

I second Joy of Cooking as a good starting point for bread recipes, but given your question about what to do with your bread once it's baked, I'm tempted to steer you in a slightly different direction and recommend you start by trying pizza dough recipes, which give you more scope for post-kneading adventure. See this list of unusual toppings.

I can't leave without heartily recommending The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Try a few loaves before you think about buying it, though. It goes into a lot of depth about the chemistry and timing of bread, and you may find that it's more information than you want or need at this point.

Post back and let us know what you've done.
posted by YamwotIam at 8:36 AM on November 28, 2010

Go to the store, find a bag of white flour that has a bread recipe on it. Start from there. (If they have bread flour, even better.)

(Use distilled or filtered or spring water. I was having a heck of a time with yeast and thought I was haunted. Until I realized that my water was over-treated and instantly killing the yeast.)
posted by gjc at 8:47 AM on November 28, 2010

Here's a pretty simple recipe that uses stuff you may already have on hand - beer bread. It's mostly good warm - to be honest, I don't know how it keeps because I've only made it to bring to parties/potlucks and it never lasts the night. Be generous with the butter. My recipe notes also say "Follow ingredients & cooking temp as in post. Before adding beer to dry ingredients, stick 2 T butter in bread pan and into warming oven. Melt butter this way while you stir beer in. At ~20 min into cooking, stick more bits of butter on top of bread. Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale worked well for this."
posted by maryr at 11:52 AM on November 28, 2010

This is a great honey wheat recipe. Rises up well with minimal kneading even in a New England winter. If it's cold where you are, put the dough somewhere warm while it's rising (near the heater, or inside an oven that was briefly turned on and is now off). Make sure the water is warm but not too hot, or you'll kill the yeast. And don't get discouraged; it takes a few tries to get good results!

Finally, this no-knead recipe is my favorite. Takes two seconds (and an overnight of rising) to prepare, and amazes people every time.
posted by tetralix at 12:09 PM on November 28, 2010

I use Mark Bittman's quick french bread recipe from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I like to knead in about a 1/2 cup of grated cheese (I just use whatever's in the fridge) and a bunch of freshly ground black pepper as I shape the dough after its rise.

Then, after a few days, when it's going stale, make this 'stale bread pizza.'
posted by (Over) Thinking at 5:30 PM on November 30, 2010

I'd also recommend Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice. But if you want a bit less information overload (plus some updated techniques), try Reinhart's newer book, Artisan Breads Every Day.
posted by klausness at 5:26 AM on December 1, 2010

Sorry, borked the link there.
Artisan Breads Every Day
posted by klausness at 5:29 AM on December 1, 2010

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