Beginner Bread Baking Bonanza
July 16, 2017 3:57 PM   Subscribe

I want to try my hand at baking bread. I'm a pretty good cook, and a decent cake/brownie/cookie baker if given a good recipe, but I've never made bread before. What are your go to recipes, books or websites?

Bonus points if you have a really awesome focaccia recipe.
posted by noneuclidean to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Peter Reinhardt books and The Fresh Loaf
posted by JPD at 3:59 PM on July 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Peter Reinhart is an excellent suggestion. My copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice is falling apart from use, and I especially love its recipes for pizza dough and pain a l'ancienne. But I feel like Reinhart is best read after some bread experimentation.

My recommendation is to spend time on the King Arthur Flour site. I've never gone wrong with their recipes; here's the section on bread. They also offer a baker's hotline so you can call with questions.Here's their yeast bread primer.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:14 PM on July 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

This recipe hasn't failed me yet. I halve it and make one large loaf.
posted by coppermoss at 4:18 PM on July 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish
posted by lockestockbarrel at 4:37 PM on July 16, 2017

Best answer: I've tried a lot of bread recipes, but so far No-Knead Bread is my favorite.
posted by bunderful at 4:37 PM on July 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing Peter Reinhart. His voice is gentle and kind and the instructions are very clear. This is his Focaccia recipe. Make it and use too much olive oil. It is sticky and a bit hard to handle at first but it is forgiving. It will bring you glory and your name shall be celebrated in the halls of Valhalla by your comrades. It will, however, ruin you for any store bought focaccia forever.

You can try your hand at a No Knead recipe. There's lots of variations out there if you do some searches. But that linked recipe is pretty straightforward.

A book that I like as well is Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters. He's strongly opinionated, as fine bakers should be.

Lasty get yourself a scale. You need one. Everything else will come together later but you need that scale.
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:40 PM on July 16, 2017 [5 favorites]

I second the recipe that coppermoss linked to. This isn't the best bread I've made, but it is by far the easiest, and got me baking bread more frequently.

The authors have posted videos of the method so you can see what the dough should look like at each stage. Some links on that page are dead, but here's one that works: How to Make Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.
posted by loop at 4:40 PM on July 16, 2017

No-knead recipes are great and are open to a lot of experimentation. Today I baked a no-knead loaf using sweet orange tea instead of regular water. I've baked whole wheat ginger molasses loaves, cinnamon-vanilla, various herbs, with nuts, et cetera, all no-knead. I get it set up Saturday afternoons in about ten minutes and bake it on Sunday mornings. Easiest thing in the world, pair a slice with fruit or breakfast in the mornings and I have breakfast for a week.

All the book recipe answers are good too!
posted by curious nu at 4:46 PM on July 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another vote for no-knead. I'm a fairly experienced home bread baker and that's still my go-to when I just want A Loaf Of Bread.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:15 PM on July 16, 2017

I've baked this "vanderslice family [french] bread" recipe for years after finding it in askmetafilter in 2010.
posted by yaymukund at 5:43 PM on July 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Julia Child's white sandwich bread. Super easy and delicious.
posted by toby_ann at 6:23 PM on July 16, 2017

Seconding Julia Child's white sandwich bread. It is life-changing and very easy.

I would also champion Beard on Bread. James Beard doesn't write a bad recipe, and he carefully explains everything from first principles. (He is, however, completely and utterly wrong about sourdough, which is doing actual magic in your kitchen.)
posted by kalimac at 7:16 PM on July 16, 2017

Sarah Black's One Dough, Ten Breads is my favorite, because it talks about the many instantiations of (artisanal) bread as iterations on basic themes. I've been using it like a workbook, and taking notes on what works and what doesn't. I'm not a huge cookbook guy, but this is really excellent.

Also, I ran across this recipe for kubaneh a few weeks ago, and it rocked.

Bread making is the closest thing to alchemy I know of in the modern world.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 8:10 PM on July 16, 2017

I generally end up on King Arthur Flour site or Kitchn. As an easy first bread, I highly recommend Pita bread. The are ridiculously entertaining to make, as they puff up almost spherically as you fry them. Also, if it's summer where you are, you don't have to turn on the oven.
posted by kjs4 at 8:13 PM on July 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

These are fucking awesome. One thing with bread is that it's quite oven sensitive. A gas oven is best for French bread and such as it's a bit damper. Some breads require hot, hot heat.. etc etc. Get to know our oven and play to its strengths.
posted by fshgrl at 9:18 PM on July 16, 2017

Frankly, I think baking bread is a damn weird thing to do. I've done it lots and lots and lots and lots and if you approach it from a zen/ journey not the destination point of view you're going to be a hell of a lot better off. See, you can bake bread once and get a good loaf or an ok loaf or a bad loaf. If you decide to do it again the next time you get either the same or better or worse. You can call it a day right then and there ("yeah, I baked bread...") or you can dive in, and do it weekly for a year, each time refining the process as you go. Which is, in my experience, the key. Experimentation, assessment, refinement. This process has nothing to do with the modern world.

As above, the no-knead loaf is pretty fantastic and easy. Living in the US you have the advantage of terrific 'white' flour (living in Germany, not so much) which will forgive lots and lots. Exploit this.

Number one, though, is keep doing it. Good bread comes from being conscientious, really good bread comes from being consistently conscientious over a long period of time. Eventually you'll be able to throw together a loaf that is fantastic because you've learned you oven's quirks and the general humidity of your area's air and maybe you make your own starter which is a very very nice thing...
posted by From Bklyn at 2:52 AM on July 17, 2017 [4 favorites]

Well, I don't agree with the suggestions for no-knead bread. Kneading is what sets bread-making apart. That and letting the dough rise.

About kneading: 1) Start with clean hands because you will definitely end with clean hands. 2) Most bread dough has just enough flour in it to keep it from being too sticky handle. Add flour as necessary. 3) It helps to be tall/high enough that you can press down with your weight. 4) How hard/tiring it is depends on how big and strong your hands are. If the whole ball is too big, you can divide it and knead two small balls separately. 5) You can get the kneading done mechanically with a bread machine (dough cycle), or stand mixer with dough hook. You can even use a food processor (dough blade, not too much at one time, very short processing time - 1 minute or less, find the instructions and read them).

About rising: 1) modern yeast is very sturdy and very reliable. Most techniques that you find in recipes about proofing yeast are unnecessary (but I'm not saying not to follow directions). 2) Don't worry too much about the kitchen being cold or not seeing the dough "double." Give it a little more time, it will be fine. 3) Instant rise yeast works fine.

In general: 1) Do use bread flour. Our local grocery store now has bread flour in the store brand. OTOH, although the premium for a prestige product like King Arthur is pretty high percentage-wise, it's pretty small in dollars, so treat yourself if you want. 2) The yeast manufacturers have web sites with plenty of good recipes.

Finally: bread making is not hard, it just requires a new skill or two. The result is always edible. IMHO, the trickiest part is knowing when to take it out of the oven. It's easy to take it out too soon and find it's gummy in the middle. I recently read that this problem can be solved with an instant read thermometer, but I don't have the details at hand.

Good luck.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:56 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use Michael Ruhlman's bread recipe from Ratio. He has an adaptation for pizza and focaccia. You do need a scale, but it is so, so worth it.

(His cake, cookie & pie dough recipes are also great.)
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:23 AM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do you just want to make really awesome crusty artsy-looking bread with zero effort? Get Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day (ABI5) and use their no-knead approach.

Want to know all about hydration percentages, poolish, retarded fermentations and bannetons? Get Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

I have both. Maybe one in 20 loaves is something from Reinhart. The rest are ABI5.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:26 PM on July 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Excellent answers all around. I'm marking a few as best, as those are where I think I'll start, and it seems both Reinhart and no-knead may be a good place to start. Ashwagandha gets bonus points for the focaccia recipe, which I'll probably be trying out, perhaps foolishly, sooner rather than later.

...if you approach it from a zen/ journey not the destination point of view you're going to be a hell of a lot better off.

That's what I'm hoping to do. I really like to cook, but haven't really been doing it as much as I would like to recently. I'm going to have some more free time in the coming months and figure this could be a good way to get back in the kitchen and learn a new skill at the same time. Frankly, we don't even eat much bread in our house (despite my deep and abiding love for it), so I imagine most of what I create will be sampled and then brought into work for other sto enjoy.
posted by noneuclidean at 4:43 PM on July 17, 2017

Ashwagandha gets bonus points for the focaccia recipe

Hooray Me!

In all seriousness, this is bread after all, one of the nice things with the no knead recipe is that in the end you get a nice looking and tasting loaf with little effort and it feels really... great. You can also play with the recipe a bit - for instance the Cooks Illustrated version has you adding beer and kneading it a little. When you are first starting out with a new skill it is nice to have a success under your belt to boost your confidence before tackling more challenging recipes.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:25 PM on July 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

The no-knead recipe is great, but you have to plan out your schedule way in advance to make it come out right.
This one can be made in a morning, and makes the most glorious sandwiches.
Old-Fashioned Brown Bread
(It's brown because of molasses, not whole wheat flour)
posted by exceptinsects at 5:50 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

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