Baking 101, pandemic edition
April 2, 2020 1:55 PM   Subscribe

Help, I panic-bought some flour and yeast, I'd like to learn how to bake savory things, what now?

I like to cook but have always been a bit intimidated by baking, with its need for a lot of attention to detail and specific ingredients. I am pretty good with quickbreads and have a freezer half-full of bananas, so I'll definitely be making some banana bread. I am also decent with cookies. However, all my baking skills are sweet things like that and I definitely should not spend my entire pandemic making cookies, especially when it's hard to give them away!

I'd love to develop my skills with savory things: bread, scones, vegetable tarts, pizza dough, etc. I have about 7 lbs of flour, several packets of yeast, eggs, butter, and a well-stocked pantry. For equipment, I have mixing bowls and spoons, several whisks, a couple of loaf pans, and some flat baking sheets and roasting pans. Also two Dutch ovens. No electric mixers or specialty baking equipment. No yogurt so I probably won't be doing a sourdough starter (that also seems to take a lot of flour!).

I'd rather work with what I have then go out and buy a bunch of stuff, for obvious reasons. Though I am grocery shopping once a week, so if there's a must-have that's available at your standard grocery store, I could probably get it.

I would love both recipes and tips for starting out with things like bread.
posted by lunasol to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The NYT and other have very easy recipes for "No Knead Bread". We've been making a bunch of similar bread and it is an easy great start to breadmaking.
posted by jclarkin at 2:11 PM on April 2, 2020 [7 favorites]

I always kinda wing breads and yeast doughs: Two to four cups of water (depending on how much starch I want in my life), luke warm, toss in some sugar or a cup of flour, mix in, then mix in the yeast. Wait a little, make sure the yeast is growing vigorously, then mix and stir in more flour until it just starts to ball and pull away from the sides.

Generally I find I like the texture if it's as wet as possible.

Let it sit and rise, punch it down and stir it up again, repeat.

Form into little flatbreads (I like making little flatbreads with a well that contains cumin seeds, chopped onion, and olive oil), or throw the whole damned lump in, on a stone in the oven, see what ya get out.

I mean, sure, there are sciences to this, and you can start by measuring the protein content of your flour and bla bla bla, but that'll get you over being scared of baking.

I have had various breadmaking and baking cookbooks over the years, and I live in an area that has some amazing bakeries (Della Fattoria's rosemary Meyer lemon sourdough!!1!), so the sample of what I've kept is skewed, but I really enjoy all the options in Flatbreads & Flavors — A Baker's Atlas by Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid.
posted by straw at 2:12 PM on April 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

The bread-making pattern called "5 minutes a day" is really reliable for beginners, good for making a small loaf every day or two without extra washing-up, and you can use the dough for pizza or rolls.

Also, check out the quaranteeny starter - there’s no biological reason to use all that flour, if you have two clean lidded jars you can start a sourdough with a tablespoon or two of flour a day.

Lots of links, both simple and fancy, previously
posted by clew at 2:13 PM on April 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

Oh, and you don't need a dutch oven or anything other than a baking sheet for the no knead bread. Use parchment paper if you have it. Also, put a pan in to preheat below the rack for the bread and add 1 cup of water when putting the dough in (to make steam).
posted by jclarkin at 2:15 PM on April 2, 2020

No-Knead Bread is the same as 5' a day. Lots of fans, lots of adaptations to particular equipment or food goals.
posted by clew at 2:15 PM on April 2, 2020

Heck, I bake a lot and bread intimidates me. I probably don't knead it enough and use the wrong kind of flour for like bread-bread.

However, I've had luck with focaccia - that's seemed to be a little more forgiving and I can pull it off. This is a decent recipe for focaccia that does assume you have a dough hook you can knead with, but you can do the kneading part by hand. Instead of trying to form it into a loaf, you press it flat into a sheet pan. It's very similar to the process for making pizza dough, and in fact you could probably try using the focaccia dough as pizza dough for a Grandma-style pizza.

Also, there is Irish soda bread - you don't need yeast for that, just baking soda and either buttermilk or regular-milk-plus-a-little-vinegar. That's pretty forgiving and rises decently. And I even saw a tip once that suggested taking the dough for a batch of soda bread and pressing it into a sheet pan like you were making focaccia, and then topping it with shredded Irish cheddar cheese before baking it. It's delicious.

I'm not sure why you're mentioning that a lack of yogurt suggests you can't make a sourdough starter. That only involves flour and water and a jar. You do have to use what looks like a good bit of flour for the first week or so, but that's only to get the yeast culture started - once it's good and active, then you have entered the "maintenance" phase and can scale down to only feeding it once a week. You do have to take out some of the old starter every time you feed it, and add flour and water, but if you're in the phase when you're maintaining your starter you can use the starter you've taken out. It's actually kind of fascinating.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:16 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Savory scones: this King Arthur Flour bacon-cheddar-chive recipe is delicious. I've made it fine with milk instead of heavy cream. You can also sub in various cured meats and semi firm cheeses within reason. They come out so good.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:17 PM on April 2, 2020 [2 favorites]

Pick up some extra old cheddar cheese and spring onion (scallions) and make savoury cheese and onion baking powder biscuits. You will need some shortening such as Tenderflake. Easy and so good. Online recipes abound.
posted by antiquated at 2:17 PM on April 2, 2020

CheeseLouise beat me to it!
posted by antiquated at 2:18 PM on April 2, 2020

Alton brown’s pizza dough recipe is really good; it does not have to be grilled, it can be cooked on a sheet pan or cast iron or anything else you got. The barley syrup can be subbed for molasses (but the barley syrup is slightly better: I’ve done both plenty).
posted by furnace.heart at 2:24 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

For the no-knead bread the recipe calls for taking it out of your bowl to fold it and let it rise again. I find that to be very messy and ends up with me losing dough, so I just keep the dough in the bowl for all steps. I'd forgotten about that but I made the bread on Tuesday after a very long time and followed the recipe and afterwards my wife and I agreed that I used to just do everything in the bowl and it was better that way.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:27 PM on April 2, 2020

I was 100% going to suggest a sourdough starter -- you actually only need flour and water, and especially when you're getting it up and running it can be small quantities (I feed mine roughly 1/4 cup of flour daily).

The sourdough bread and discard can be used for anything from waffles to pizza dough to traditional sourdough bread, and it's a fun longterm project.

I'd also recommend focaccia (with your choice of toppings! I did salami, mozz, and roasted red peppers). This recipe worked really well for me!

I also love making baguettes (soooo good with fresh butter - if you have heavy cream you can make it in a mason jar) and other rustic-style bread. You can add fresh/dried herbs to the dough to make a delicious savory loaf, and it pairs well if you're doing any kind of roast or slow cooker meal.

Oh! Pretzel bites with beer-cheddar cheese.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:02 PM on April 2, 2020

Here's a recipe I use for rustic Italian bread -- my biggest tip is to make sure you put an extra sheet tray on the lower rack, and add 1/4 cup of water to that tray right after you put the bread in to bake, it will give it that nice chewy exterior.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:04 PM on April 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

For breakfast tomorrow morning (if you're reading this in the evening)

Mix one of those packets of yeast with a couple cups of luke-warm water. Then stir in a couple cups of flour, set the bowl somewhere warm where it won't be bothered, and go to bed.*

The next morning -

Mix it up with a couple eggs, a couple spoons of sugar, some salt, some oil, and finally a spoonful of a little baking soda mixed with a little water, and presto!

The best pancake / waffle batter ever.

* yes you just made a sourdough starter! Save off half and make just a half-batch of the above if you want to proceed.
posted by Rash at 4:11 PM on April 2, 2020

World's best banana bread ( though I add chocolate chips). Generally, my two favorite bread recipe sources are King Arthur Flour's site and Food52
posted by rtimmel at 6:37 PM on April 2, 2020

Don’t be afraid! Just jump in and try making anything - bread! Pie dough! If you mess it up, you’ll only be out a few ingredients (albeit semi-precious ingredients, in these times) and will have learned something. You can do it!
posted by sarajane at 4:32 AM on April 3, 2020

Serious Eats recipes are so well researched, if you follow them you will be OK. Here is a round-up of bread recipes, I'm sure there is more on the site. You didn't mention if you have a weight, but you probably do if you bake cakes. But you don't need to be as persnickety with yeast-based doughs as you do in other forms of baking, I never weigh anything when I bake bread. Proportions are more important.
Look at some videos, too. Here is a hilarious one with Julia Child baking baguettes.
posted by mumimor at 4:39 AM on April 3, 2020

A couple of packets of yeast will not last long. Start a sourdough!
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2020

I love Paul Hollywood's (British Baking Show) bloomer loaf. I make it at least once a week. It's an easy recipe; the dough is easy to work with and doesn't require a dutch oven for baking. It keeps well, unlike crusty sourdough, and makes terrific sandwiches. It stores well in a gallon ziplock bag (after you've eaten a bit).
posted by shoesietart at 3:27 PM on April 3, 2020

The King Arthur website is a treasure trove. The have hundreds of reliable recipes that range from easy-as-heck to very complex and time consuming. There are video tutorials and educational blog posts. Recipes are easy to find. Check it out!
posted by latkes at 10:01 PM on April 3, 2020

Do you have or are you willing to get a kitchen scale? If so, Michael Rhulman's Ratio is exactly what you need for easy entry into the world or homemade bread, pizza dough, biscuits, and other delicious savory baked goods.
posted by carrioncomfort at 10:17 AM on April 4, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you all so much!! I don’t know why I thought a sourdough starter required yogurt but I’m glad to be disabused of that notion.

I do have a scale. I should have said that I have done no-knead breads before but I’m not averse to kneading either. Hey, it’s some exercise at least!
posted by lunasol at 2:57 PM on April 4, 2020

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