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Want to learn how to make your own bread? Then you’ve come to the right place because we’re going to show you how!
We know that making your own bread at home can be intimidating for first-time bakers. We want to help.
Even if you don’t have any prior experience with baking, no worries, this guide is easy to follow (we certainly hope so!) and will tell you everything you need to know to make a loaf of bread.
We’re going to go over 1) the ingredients you need, 2) the equipment you need, and 3) how to actually make the bread. Even if this isn’t your first time making bread, we hope you’ll learn something new to take with you.
The 7 basic ingredients for baking (click the link if you want to read more about them and their function) are flour, yeast, water, salt, eggs, fats, and sugar.
To make bread, you really only need these four ingredients:
The other ingredients – eggs, fats (butter, oil, etc.), and sugar – add richness, flavor, and moisture to bread, but they’re not necessary.
In other words, keep flour and yeast stocked in your pantry at all times (you probably have water and salt at home already) and you can make a delicious loaf of bread at anytime!
There are essentially three kinds of wheat flours to choose from: bread flour, all-purpose flour, and whole-wheat flour.
To make bread, you can use any kind. But bread flour produces the best texture and result. That’s because its high protein content helps create bread’s signature “chew”. All-purpose flour generally makes a denser loaf, as does whole-wheat flour.
At the grocery store, you’ll see multiple kinds of yeast on the shelf. You’ll see names like active dry yeast, instant yeast, rapid-rise yeast, and bread machine yeast. Some labels will have more than one of these names on it. Talk about confusing!
The main thing to understand about yeast, and why there are so many different names for them, is that their granules differ in size.
Active dry yeast granules are the largest. This kind of yeast requires “proofing” which basically means you need to activate it by adding warm water. Active dry yeast will remain dormant if the water is too cold, and “die” if the water is too hot. The water generally has to be between 105°F and 115°F. Dip your hand into the water and if it feels lukewarm you should be good to go. To be sure, you can check the temperature with a basic cooking thermometer.
Instant yeast granules are smaller, and they often include an extra ingredient that active dry yeast does not have which is ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is a dough conditioner that aims to accelerate rising and improve the elasticity of the dough, and increase the volume of the loaf. As you can probably deduce, the finer texture and additives make instant yeast quick to use. You don’t have to worry about proofing. It’s much easier to dissolve into dough. You can simply add it to your other dry ingredients.
These days, rapid-rise yeast and bread machine yeast are pretty much synonymous with instant yeast. The size of their granules may differ, but you can use them just like instant yeast, without proofing.
We use both active dry yeast and instant yeast. Active dry yeast produces bread with a more “neutral” less “yeasty” flavor, while instant yeast is easier to work with and saves time.
You need very few equipment to make bread (by hand). Just these four things:
- Spoon or whisk
As far as bakeware goes, you can use pretty much anything that’s metal, glass, or ceramic. But we think you’ll get the best results using a Dutch oven or cast iron skillet. Our second choice would be to simply use a baking sheet or pan.
Although we love our bread machines, we enjoy making bread by hand just as much. On quiet weekends, when we want to slow down, making bread by hand is relaxing and absolute bliss. On a day-to-day basis, the bread machine is a handy companion.
Should you get a bread machine? We generally see these two sides of the argument: bakers who swear by the handmade process will think that bread machines are inadequate and so unnecessary, and people who appreciate the saved time, effort, and consistency will swear by their machines.
With a name like “Bread Machine Pros”, we must belong to the latter group right? But our thoughts on bread machine vs. handmade actually falls somewhere in the middle because we see the benefits of both.
Here’s some food for thought: a woman told us she’d been making bread by hand for over 20 years (and swears by handmade), but her arthritis has made it difficult for her to knead dough. So she made the plunge and now uses a bread machine exclusively to knead the dough which she then bakes in the oven. There are actually many uses for bread machines (they help you make jam, dough for pizza, etc.) and she found a way to make the many tools at our disposal work for her!
So we would simply caution against being too “stuck” on a method. You can always change your mind. You can always use more than one method. Don’t be afraid to try things to see what works best for you, even if that means discovering things that disappointingly did not work out. Just start!
You have the ingredients and the equipment prepared. Now we’re going to tell you how to actually make bread, using the four basic ingredients. Here’s the recipe for a simple, rustic loaf:
- 4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
Step 1: Make the Dough
In a large bowl, combine half the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until smooth. Add the remaining flour and stir until the dough becomes too stiff to mix with the spoon.
Begin kneading the dough inside the bowl. Sprinkle some flour onto the dough to prevent it from clinging onto your hands. Do this until the dough comes together in a ball.
If the dough is too sticky, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time. Work the dough at 15 second intervals before adding the next tablespoon.
Transfer the dough onto the countertop and knead with the heel of your hand (pressing down on the dough and folding it back over itself) for 10 minutes.
Step 2: Let the Dough Rise
When you’re done kneading, shape the dough into a ball and place it into a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 3 hours.
After 3 hours, “gather” the dough by shaping it once again into a ball with your hands. You can sprinkle a little flour onto the dough and your hands to make it easier to work with.
Let the dough sit for another hour on a piece of parchment paper, covering it with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel.
Step 3: Bake
Place your bakeware inside your oven. If you’re using a Dutch oven, preheat your oven to 450°F. If you’re using a cast iron skillet or baking sheet/pan, preheat your oven to 350°F. Wait at least 30 minutes for everything to get fully hot.
Once preheated, take your bakeware out of the oven. Transfer the dough (along with the parchment paper, but without the plastic wrap/kitchen towel of course!) to your bakeware. If you’re using a Dutch oven, remember to put the lid on before placing it back into the oven.
Parchment paper makes it easy to move the dough. It also prevents your bread from sticking to the pan or over-browning, and makes cleanup a breeze.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the internal temperature of the bread reaches 200°F. You can tell it’s ready without a thermometer if you knock on the bread and get a hollow sound.
While baking, keep an eye on the bread to make sure it doesn’t brown too fast. If it does, simply lower the temperature by 25°F. Around the 20 minute mark, you can rotate the bakeware to ensure it bakes evenly.
Once baked, remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a rack for a minimum of 1 hour before slicing.
If you’re going to finish the bread within a few days, keep it on the kitchen counter wrapped in wax paper or stored in a bread box. Avoid using plastic wrap because it makes the bread soggy.
Bread freezes exceptionally well. Wrap with plastic wrap, then place in a plastic bag (we re-use produce bags) to store in the freezer. This will keep bread for months, but we suggest consuming within 3 months.
You can take the bread out of the freezer to defrost on the countertop, and then pop it in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. But you can skip defrosting and just pop it in the oven for a few extra minutes before serving too.
That’s all there is to bread making. We hope you found it much easier than you imagined. All it takes is four ingredients and four pieces of equipment.
Just a final word of encouragement: your handmade loaves may not always turn out the same – sometimes their crusts are harder/softer, sometimes their texture is more fluffy/dense – that’s completely normal! We don’t think we’ve ever made a loaf that wasn’t unique! What matters is that they will be way more satisfying than anything store-bought.
Have fun and happy baking!