Start Baking !
When this project started, one of the things I really wanted to learn was how to bake bread. I was really good at cinnamon and saffron buns but whenever I tried to make loaves they fell flat. Literally!
Now I know that the problem was a lack of gluten. I used to make very wet doughs and kneaded them after (?) fermentation instead of before. Once I learned how to do it properly, it worked like a charm. Well, sometimes things do not go as planned but those times get fewer and further in between as I continue to practice.
There are a few things I would like to mention that can help you be more successful with your baking:
First of all, flours behave differently so the perfect amount is impossible to estimate, whether you use weight or volume. The amounts listed in my recipes are guidelines and you may have to use more or less than suggested. When it comes to flavor, I find that most flours sold here in the US have a fairly strong, unpleasant taste. The only flour I really like is King Arthur Flour, but if that was unavailable I would go with Pillsbury Best (I was not payed to write this).
As you are starting out, take your time to study and feel the dough when you make it. Do not add all the flour until after some kneading, since the consistency changes when gluten develops, and stop just past the sticky stage. Pick the dough up and work it with your hands to see if it has the right consistency. A perfect dough should feel moist but not stick to your hands.
A stand mixer is extremely useful when baking but you can make great bread without it. I do it by mixing and initially kneading the dough in a bowl using a wooden spoon and when it has become nice and elastic I move it over to a work surface dusted with flour. I knead for the same amount of time that I would with the machine and the results are very similar.
One thing that often strikes me when looking at baking recipes is the large amount of yeast used, presumably to reduce rising time. I do not like the taste of yeast and since the flavor of bread is only improved by a longer fermentation, I prefer to use less yeast and let the dough take its time to rise.
My biggest issue when baking here in California is the lack of humidity, which makes the dough dry out really quickly on the surface. The skin that forms interferes with proving and baking so that the bread stops rising. In Sweden I just throw a kitchen towel over my dough, but here I have to keep it absolutely airtight with plastic bags/wraps and lids.
That leads me to my last point, which is baking with steam. This was new to me despite having baked quite a lot in my past and it is a game changer! Steam keeps the surface soft so that the dough can expand more. Just throw some water into the hot oven when you put the bread in, or place a pan with boiling hot water on the bottom.
I hope that this week’s recipes will inspire you to start baking your own bread.
- I always suggest the No-knead Artisan Bread to those who claim they cannot bake, because there is absolutely no skill involved and it is a great way to start.
- Focaccia is another great beginner recipe and my son’s favorite.
- The Light & Soft Sandwich Bread recipe can be used for anything requiring a soft, tender crust like regular sliced bread, hamburger and hot dog buns, and pull-apart dinner rolls.
- I also included the recipe for Crusty French Bread, which is something I struggled with for some time. In Sweden you can buy freshly baked “frallor” in every grocery store and I really missed them. These rolls are super light and airy on the inside and crusty and a little chewy on the outside. Thanks to my aunt who gave me Jan Hedh‘s book Bröd, I finally succeeded to recreate these rolls!
- Finally, take a look at the tutorial Baking 101 where I list the hows and whys of baking with some tips on how to get the crust and crumb you are looking for.
Have fun with your baking and please add a comment if you found any of the recipes useful!