Should I bake my own bread?
January 23, 2013 5:31 PM   Subscribe

I absolutely hate baking. I really love good bread. No vendor in my area has good bread. Should I try making bread?

My absolute ideal bread is "When Pigs Fly" bakery's Six-Grain and Pumpkin Seed bread. My runner-up would be a good, chewy sourdough. Are these reasonable goals for a non-baker? Any recipes or suggestions?
posted by jaguar to Food & Drink (51 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
What about getting a bread machine? You can get them for a totally reasonable price secondhand and come home to the smell of warm bread baking every day.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:32 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

What is it that you hate about baking?
posted by rtha at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding a bread machine. Get one with a timer, so you can set it and wake up to the gorgeous secnt of fresh bread for breakfast.
posted by easily confused at 5:35 PM on January 23, 2013

There's also a class of bread recipes where you make the dough once a week, put it in the fridge, and remove and bake a day's worth of dough at a time— a pretty low-effort way of always having fresh bread.
posted by hattifattener at 5:38 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: No-knead bread is mainly just mixing, molding, letting sit, and the actual in-an-oven baking.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:42 PM on January 23, 2013 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: What I hate about baking is having to measure everything exactly, and flour. I can't really explain my aversion to flour, it just seems like a pain in the ass to clean up.
posted by jaguar at 5:49 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

maybe find a place outside of your area that has good bread, buy a few loaves, then freeze them and thaw as needed.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 5:49 PM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: I should add that I'm a very good non-baking chef. I'm totally comfortable making food items. So if I can find a way to get engaged into the bread-making process, that would probably be good.
posted by jaguar at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2013

Bread machines are great as is the no-knead method. You are going to have to measure pretty accurately no matter what method you use, though have you tried using scales instead of cups etc, I find it easier, specially if you have a scale that tares back to zero so you can just keep adding ingredients into the one bowl. Flour unfortunately is pretty much a given and I think you'd find a bread machine easier in that respect as it's more enclosed and a lot less hands on.

You may also want to look into par baked breads where all you have to do is stick them in the oven to finish baking. Oh and I got into baking for much the same reasons as you and love my bread machine. I get all the fun of trying new bread recipes and flavors with pretty much no work or clean up.
posted by wwax at 5:52 PM on January 23, 2013

I just made bread for the first time today. I was expecting to be chained to the kitchen all day but it didn't really take that long, and the mixing and kneading was not a big deal. Just be gentle when scooping the flour and you shouldn't have much to clean up. (My loaf turned out pretty good, too.)
posted by scratch at 5:52 PM on January 23, 2013

Flour isn't really hard to clean up. Try the no-knead bread -- you can't get much easier than that. It's a low cost thing, you're just out a bit of yeast and time if you decide you don't like making bread. The book Artisan Breads in 5 minutes a day has lots of suggestions for easy recipes if you decide it's not that much trouble.
posted by jeather at 5:54 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: (I realize that flour is a given; I just tend to view baking as "creating a mess," which I'm hoping folks can debunk.)
posted by jaguar at 5:54 PM on January 23, 2013

you are the only person who needs to bake. Love bread, none good around- otherwise its a waste of time.

yes measuring flour sucks. You know what doesn't? weighing it. Buy a scale, but a bowl on it, and just spoon it in.

Bread isn't persnicketty the way cakes and pastry can be. Indeed, a little benign neglect in the bottom of the fridge is just what some bread dough needs.
posted by JPD at 5:54 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to make all of our bread using my stand mixer. You still have the measuring, but I just threw it all in there and let the dough hook do the work, gave it maybe one minute of kneading by hand at the end. It was pretty easy, especially once you're in the habit. The no-knead method is simple, but I didn't really find it all that much easier than just making the bread the regular way. (I don't make our bread anymore because we don't eat bread, not because it wasn't worth the effort.)
posted by upatree at 5:58 PM on January 23, 2013

Buy some flour, and also buy a biggish, airtight glass or plastic container with a wide lid. When you buy flour, immediately open up its crappy paper package and pour the whole thing into the big, wide-mouth container. Then, when you're making bread, you can dip you entire measuring cup directly into the container and skim off the excess without making a mess. Problem solved!
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:00 PM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

You know what doesn't? weighing it.

Bingo. And it gives better results too. Weighing is more precise than measuring.
posted by shivohum at 6:05 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hate messy flour too. To combat the problem: do all your measuring in the sink, so that any spillage will just wash away. Also, what BlahLaLa said.
posted by Melismata at 6:10 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Most breads are much less finicky about measuring than cakes and cookies. Breads do tend to be more sensitive to humidity and temperature - so the loaf you made last week with X amount of flour and Y amount of water (and salt and yeast, of course), will need a little more or less flour or liquid this week because it's more or less humid, or it's hotter or colder in your house.

Weighing flour is definitely more accurate. A bread machine will cut down on the mess. But there might still be some mess. Maybe it's just me, but I create mess in the kitchen even without baking - there are escaped flakes of onion skin, the pieces of kale that drifted off the counter, the minced garlic bits that fell off the cutting board. Is this mess less messy than baking mess? To me, it all ends up needing a bench scraper/wipe down with a rag/sweeping.
posted by rtha at 6:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the mess: I make bread in a big stainless steel mixing bowl. (Measure everything in, mix with a spatula for a little, knead until all the bits of flour come off the sides.) Wipe out the bowl, pour a bit of olive oil in the bottom, use the dough to grease the bowl, let it rise.

No flour on the counter (which is the thing I hate) and it's much easier to avoid mess from flour while measuring. (Especially if I pour the flour into a good container for it - wide top, as above.)

At the end, I have one bowl to clean, which is already most clean anyway, and maybe a spatula.

Other benefit of this method is that if you are short like me, you can knead on something other than a countertop that's too high. (I'd sit on the floor, or find a table that's a better height, and I knead in the bowl.)
posted by modernhypatia at 6:25 PM on January 23, 2013

What I hate about baking is having to measure everything exactly, and flour. I can't really explain my aversion to flour, it just seems like a pain in the ass to clean up.

In that case, I would recommend a bread machine. It's the kind of thing a lot of families might have in the cupboard and never use, so ask around; you might score a free one. If not, they're pretty cheap these days. Will save you time, and mess. I dunno, I love baking bread, and bake a lot. Seems like a pretty messy business to me, though. Maybe I'm just a messy dude.
posted by smoke at 6:25 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just tend to view baking as "creating a mess,"
Do you have a bench scraper? Because I like cleaning up when I use my bench scraper. You, uh, scrape up the flour and sticky dough and it all comes right up.
posted by shothotbot at 6:36 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: I think the way to get engaged with the bread making process is to make the no knead bread recipe, and then eat the results still slightly warm with some butter. Crispy crust! Moist but fully baked interior! There are a lot of tweaks to make the basic recipe more interesting, but the minimal effort required for the basic recipe produces something surprisingly above average.

I don't have any help on the messy part, I personally most dislike cleaning dough bits out of the sink strainer thing but I imagine most people have garbage disposals.
posted by tangaroo at 6:52 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I do have a garbage disposal.
posted by jaguar at 6:59 PM on January 23, 2013

Be sure you do all of your flour clean-up with COLD water. Hot water activates the gluten and it turns sticky and gross. This has significantly improved my feelings about flour.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:00 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Somehow, even if I just boil water the kitchen looks like the Tasmanian Devil just spun through the room, but baking bread is one of the unmessiest things I do. My routine, which includes some of suggestions above is:

1) Transfer newly-purchased flour to a container (do this over the sink).

2) Place my very large wooden cutting board (used only for baking) over the sink. Remember to turn the faucet to the side so water doesn't accidentally get on the board.

3a) Use a scale with a tare function. (I tend not to add all the ingredients into one bowl so I don't accidentally add too much of something, I just measure it into a small bowl first. Kind of like you would do when you separate eggs.)

3b) If I'm measuring wet ingredients (like portioning out dough) I cover the scale with plastic wrap. For more complicated mixing projects I will cover the board with foil or plastic wrap for even easier clean up.

4) As I go I just pull the board back a little and scrape everything into the sink, and when I'm finished I just have to run the bench scraper over the board.

I have a very tiny kitchen and cooking can be stressful because of the mess, but baking bread is not.

On preview, definitely clean up with cold water, and get these kind of sponges. Dough won't stick to it!
posted by Room 641-A at 7:08 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've a spare dustpan and mini-broom thing that I use to sweep up most of the flour after baking. There's not usually much to wipe up after that. With the aforementioned scraper I rarely have a problem cleaning up wet blobs of flour. No-knead bread has been universally successful every time I've made it too.
posted by glip at 7:11 PM on January 23, 2013

I measure flour over a large flexible cutting board -- you can funnel/bend the board and pour any spillage back into the bag.
posted by Majorita at 7:18 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: the bread you linked to has an option under "sliced" that says "par-baked". The website states...

Note: For PAR-BAKED, place loaves in freezer on delivery; when ready to bake, simply wrap the frozen loaf in tinfoil and place bread in your oven at 400 degrees. In approximately 20 minutes, you will have the freshest loaf of When Pigs Fly bread ever and the most wonderful aroma of warm, baked bread.

Sound like the perfect compromise.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:32 PM on January 23, 2013

Oh yeah, I also use silicone bowls like these, which is the same concept as Majorita's flexible cutting board.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:34 PM on January 23, 2013

Definitely try the no-knead method before springing for a bread machine. Our very nice bread machine has been gathering dust for years, ever since we discovered the no-knead recipe. Absolute no-brainer of a method, but you do need a Dutch oven. I have a cheap cast iron one I picked up at Macy's for about $30. The main downside of this is that you'll be hooked and eating way more bread than is good for you.
posted by Dragonness at 7:34 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: 8 Tips for Less Intimidating Bread from Smitten Kitchen. See also, Bread Without A Timetable.

I like to make her challah and divide it into 8 portions in the freezer, as the last step is the easiest and that portion gives just enough for me and my partner to eat with dinner.
posted by heatherann at 7:35 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I bake my own sandwich bread that I make by hand, and I don't get into any precise measurements of pretty much anything, and it comes out fine every time. Bread is forgiving enough that it'll take a decent amount of flexibility in ingredient composition and how much flour you'll need exactly won't really be constant anyway. I've been making bread every two weeks or so for a couple years now, so I pretty much just add flour until the dough gets to the consistency I want, which I just know from experience. So, I wouldn't worry too much about the precise anal measuring thing, whether you weigh stuff or just use cups.

Flour aversion is another story. If you do it by hand, you'll get flour all over a decently broad area and you'll have dough bits sticking to your hands and possibly flinging around depending on how aggressively you knead.
posted by LionIndex at 7:37 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, for cleaning up flour, use a brush and a dustpan. That gets 90+% of it and then a quick wipe-up. Very easy.
posted by GuyZero at 7:41 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: I knead dough on some wax paper spread over the counter. Cheap and fast cleanup.

Bread baking can be messy. But when you've done it right, when your kitchen just smells heavenly as the bread bakes, and that picture perfect loaf is ready to come out of the oven, it is so worth it.
posted by azpenguin at 7:54 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: I just want to say BAKE YOU SOME BREAD. I recently started baking my own bread and I'm only doing very basic no-knead white bread stuff so far but hot damn if it isn't the best goddamn bread I have had in my life. There is no substitute. If you've been buying your bread at the store you do not know what you've been missing.

Totally, utterly worth it.
posted by Scientist at 9:04 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Measure over sink, don't sift, use a breadmaker.

Eeeeeasy peasy, and I used to hate to bake bread.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:08 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: You can make a good sourdough at home. I recommend the Tartine Bread book. There is maintenance of the starter to take into account though.

If you want the easy method, just start with yeast. Try 500g flour, 350g water, 10g, 5g yeast. Adjust water as needed for subsequent loaves. You can follow all kind of different methods for kneading, rising, shaping, baking, etc. Do some reading and experiment to see what you like.

Measuring volume sucks. Weighing is awesome. Get a digital scale, use grams. Get a nice big plastic or glass container or bowl with a lid (4L or so). Put it on the scale, add your ingredients, zeroing between them (buy yourself a nice metal scoop that holds 500g or so and keep it in your flour bag to make this easy and low-mess).

Mix them right in the container and knead and ferment the dough in there. Your hands might get a little sticky at first, but a proper dough doesn't need additional flour (which gets all over the place). Actually, if your dough is really sticky, you are better off kneading with wet hands than floured hands. Ignore anyone who tells you to drape your dough in plastic wrap or mist it with oil or what have you. Just leave it in your container. That should take care of most of the mess.
posted by ssg at 9:35 PM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: I suggest that you NOT get a bread machine because you have muchbetter control over the baking process by using a standard oven.

I will echo what modernhypatia mentioned before re: mixing bowl. Go to a restaurant supply store or an asian supermarket and get a large (i.e. 8 qt stainless) mixing bowl. I use it for almost all of the initial stages of the process (weighing, mixing, kneading, rising). I especially like it for the kneading part because it contains all of the mess and you waste none of your flour. By the end of kneading, the scraps on the sides of the bowl all get incorporated during the kneading process.

Instead of a pricey pizza stone, which is almost essential for good oven spring, you can go to your favorite home improvement outlet and buy some unglazed quarry tiles to line your bottom rack.

Also, my goto book, which I highly recommend for both the recipes and the technical advice is Peter Reinhart's book: The Bread Baker's Apprentence.
posted by scalespace at 9:36 PM on January 23, 2013

I used to think that baking bread was too much of a hassle. But with a stand mixer, you can basically dump all the ingredients in, and let the robot knead for you! Then, you can pour a bit of oil in, turn the dough a couple of times, and let the dough rise in the same bowl. Once you have the dough in loaf pans, the stand mixer bowl can go in the bottom rack of the dishwasher. Easiest thing ever.
posted by Wavelet at 9:41 PM on January 23, 2013

I've been making ciabatta from a mix recently. You open the bag and dump it into a bowl, add 350ml of water, mix, and shape. It's the easiest thing in the world =)
posted by katrielalex at 12:18 AM on January 24, 2013

Another vote for no-knead here. It's so easy, there are lots of suggestions above for dealing with the mess, and to my mind no-knead is almost like a sourdough.
posted by bunderful at 5:14 AM on January 24, 2013

One other piece of advice - I don't love no-knead - its super easy, but its also pretty limiting. But I hate kneading. French Folding and fermentation time (which is also important for flavor anyway) can develop gluten in a pretty broad array of doughs.
posted by JPD at 5:39 AM on January 24, 2013

Some things I do to reduce mess:

1) Bread flour lives in a lined 5-gallon bucket, which makes it easy to scoop and level, with excess flour falling directly back in the bag. (Yes, measuring is superior, I agree.)
2) Yeast in a wide-mouth Tupperware = easy scooping, no ridiculous packets to tear open.
3) Kitchen-Aid mixer, to do the mixing.
4) A bench-scraper, as mentioned above, to assist with dividing dough and scraping down the bread board.
5) Dusting the bread board with flour lightly, but repeatedly, rather than laying down too much flour.
6) A big plastic rising tub for dough.
7) Use only tools that can be put in the dishwasher (with the exception of the bread board).

I also keep a wild yeast starter in the refrigerator and add a little to each loaf.

Peter Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne is my go-to recipe, and I heartily recommend (and second) his "Bread Baker's Apprentice" as an educational and helpful guide to bread-making.

I can't get decent bagels where I am, and so have learned from Reinhart how to make them. So worth it!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:47 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gah, I meant weighing is superior, sorry.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:10 AM on January 24, 2013

Best answer: Yes!

Don't you dare buy a bread machine. Buy a baking stone instead. Once you watch someone make bread, you will have an idea of how easy it is, and when you make your own bread from scratch, you will gain an appreciation and understanding for the beauty of bread that is unattainable by pouring some ingredients into a machine and hitting a button. Also, bread machines take up space, and rarely get used. Also, how the hell are you going make baguettes or pizza with a bread machine? A baking stone is ten dollars, and the possibilities are much more endless. Don't be convinced that the only way to easily make delicious bread is to buy a bread machine. A bread machine is a trap. A bread machine is a lie. A bread machine is fear. A bread machine is a waste.

Ok, now that I've ranted about bread machines a little bit, let me recommend the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionized Home Baking by Zoe Francis and Jeff Hertzberg. Start with the boule recipe.

With this information, you can go on out and make delicious bread! Make pizza! Make the most yummy sandwiches that you could possibly imagine! Fear nothing. Just measure over the sink as previously suggested.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:39 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just tend to view baking as "creating a mess," which I'm hoping folks can debunk.

I haven't baked bread but I love to bake and would like to try to debunk this.

I've never understood people who cook and turn the kitchen into a disaster zone. I have done it myself on occasion but that's usually because I'm multitasking and trying to make four things at once and I know it doesn't have to be a big mess if I don't want it to be, so it doesn't stress me out. The secret is clean as you go.

Nthing everyone above who has said to dump the flour (and any other ingredients like sugar, powdered sugar etc) into a big container so it's easy to scoop out with minimal mess. I use these containers from Ikea which are cheap and look nice in my cupboards.

As soon as I empty the measuring cup into the mixing bowl, I put it straight into the sink (unless I need it again - reading the recipe ahead helps me plan for this). Egg shells straight into the trash. If I'm making a recipe that creates a lot of trash in the form of empty packaging, discarded food bits, etc, I set a large bowl on the counter which I use as a "trash bowl" where I put everything that needs to go into the garbage eventually. This way I don't end up with trash and food all over my kitchen, it's all contained within the bowl.

If possible (according to the recipe) I put the wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients in the bowl so the mixer doesn't create a cloud of flour that goes everywhere (I just made buttercream frosting this last weekend, which uses a ton of powdered sugar and minimal wet ingredients and creates a huge mess, so I certainly understand the frustration).

As soon as I'm done measuring out an ingredient, the container that it came out of goes straight back into the cupboard or fridge.

As soon as I am done with any dish it goes straight into the sink in a neat pile.

By the time I'm done, the kitchen is still pretty neat, with maybe a few drips to be wiped up here or there. A lot of this is down to advance planning which means reading the recipe through ahead of time, taking all the ingredients I need out of the cupboard/fridge before I start and putting them together in a little cluster on the counter so I can measure and put them away as I use them, taking out whatever appliances I might need and setting them up and prepping any pans I need to use ahead of time by greasing them or whatever. Doing the advance prep work takes minimal time and makes the whole rest of the process run so smoothly. I always thought everyone cooked this way until I got a roommate who make the kitchen look like a bomb site every time he made a meal and then would leave it like that for hours (!!!) because who wants to clean all that crap up after you've eaten a big meal? Drove me nuts. Plan ahead and clean as you go!
posted by young sister beacon at 7:03 AM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

I feel the need to emphasize this because several people said it before and it's getting lost in the fray.


Get this kitchen scale (or any that tares to zero).
Pop your mixing bowl onto it.
Press button to reset weight to zero
Dump in flour willy nilly from the container/ bag right into the bowl until you get the weight you need.
Press button to reset weight to zero
Add any other ingredient that you need to weigh to the same single mixing bowl.

You can convert cup measurements to weights using this (more calculators on the right side bar)

Getting a kitchen scale has singlehandly converted me from a baking hater - because my god the MESS of flour poofing everywhere whenever I try to use measuring cups - to one that makes bread weekly and cookies biweekly.

Bonus your recipe outcomes are more predictable because weighing is more precise than using cups (eliminating the whole scoop/level issue).
posted by kitkatcathy at 7:16 AM on January 24, 2013

I was just going to reiterate that measuring flour by weight takes so much of the annoyance out of it.

Also, my SO came up with a good method for our bread machine: he would prep 5-10 bags of dry ingredients all at once and put them in the cupboard, so that when he needed to make bread all he had to do was measure out the water, butter and yeast, and dump in a bag of flour, sugar, salt, etc, all pre-measured.
posted by jb at 7:17 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all, you've convinced me to give it a go.

I very much heard the message about weighing being superior, but the idea of going out and buying a bunch of new gadgets or equipment will prevent me from moving forward on it at this point, so those of you who suggested methods involving kitchen equipment I already own get extra bonus points.
posted by jaguar at 8:25 AM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regarding weighing, I would say that using the density of flour (e.g. from here) to roughly calculate the weight of a cup of flour to use is probably sufficient at this stage. I did this for a few years until I got a proper scale. Once you bake enough, you kinda get a feel for how wet/tight your dough is and you can adjust the water or flour accordingly. The key reason that you want to weigh out your ingredients is that the flour to water ratio (which is also known as the hydration percentage/ratio) really determines the texture of your crumb.

I also HIGHLY recommend this video series on youtube from the master bakers at King Arthur Flour--really great pointers & musings on the process of making good bread.
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6
posted by scalespace at 3:28 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

scalespace, the videos you linked to are excellent. Thank you so much!
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:50 PM on January 24, 2013

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