Lifestyle|Recipes

Homemade Bread: How and Why

I started making my own breads at home to support my constant craving for carbs, specifically flaky, rustic loafs of bread. I was surprised by how flavorful my first few loaves were, and how much easier the process was then I initially expected. 

For quite some time, I have been inspired by world-renowned chef and activist, Dan Barber, and his book The Third Plate , which explains how we’ve veered so far from how food was originally processed and consumed. Barber’s mission aims to strengthen the relationship between the environment, farmers, producers, and consumers. Realistically, I’m not getting locally-grown-ancient-grain-unprocessed flour for every loaf. I try to follow Barber’s suggestion and occasionally incorporate rye in the breads I make. At the very least, I try to get unbleached bread or all-purpose flour. My favorite is King Arthur Flour and I love their partnership with 1% For The Planet.

Theoretically, baking is just a science: if you follow the steps properly, you will get the same result. But, everyone has different variations and techniques. I’ve tried several different recipes for a basic loaf, and have found the following recipe to be the best for a simple hand-knead loaf. I find it helpful to understand the science behind the reactions in my breads, less out of curiosity and more to avoid needless errors. I found Breadmaking 101 from Serious Eats to be extremely informative and easy to follow. Max Bernstein’s article is the basic framework for my adapted recipe (see below).

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Basic Bread Recipe – My Amalgam of Several Recipes to Accommodate My Limited Skill & Kitchen

(Yield: 2 loaves)

Ingredients

  • 1000 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 700 grams room-temperature water, divided if using active dry yeast
  • 22 grams salt
  • 5 grams active dry yeast
  • Vegetable, canola, or other neutral oil, for greasing

Directions

1.  Combine flour with 650 grams water and combine yeast with 50 grams warm water; let yeast stand until foamy (see Max’s recipe for yeast type variations). Combine flour and water, adding the water a little at a time, and mix using a dough spatula or wooden spoon until dough forms. It will become sticky and difficult to work with, but not impossible. If you find it is too wet, sprinkle a bit of flour in. If too dry, add some water about 1 Tbs at a time.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap (I prefer Bee’s Wrap) and let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

2.  Add salt, along with yeast and mix until salt and yeast are fully incorporated and dough is somewhat smooth. I like to knead by pushing, not rolling, the dough out and folding it back into itself until everything looks and feels consistent. Fold and press, fold and press. You want the dough to be elastic and bounce back when poked. Again, the dough should be sticky, not slimy, and not impossible to work with.

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3.  Working with oiled hands, gently transfer dough, being careful not to tear its surface, to a lightly oiled mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Uncover dough and fold it in half, being careful not to compress it too much. Re-cover with plastic wrap (again, I can’t sing my praises for Bee’s Wrap loud enough, they even have one just for breads!) and let stand until dough has increased in volume by half, about 1 hour 30 minutes longer.

4.  Transfer dough in one piece to a lightly floured work surface. Using knife, divide dough in half and shape each portion into a ball. Dust the tops of the dough balls with flour, cover with a towel, and let rest for 15 minutes.

5.  Shape the dough into rounds once again, folding the dough under itself to create a smooth surface with a seam on the bottom. Let dough rest, seam-side down, for 5 minutes. Transfer each dough ball, seam-side up, to a bowl or basket lined with a lightly floured linen cloth or plain, not-fuzzy kitchen towel. Refrigerate dough balls or store in a cool place until dough has nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour to 1 hour 30 minutes.

6.  Meanwhile, set a Dutch oven on the oven’s bottom rack and preheat oven to 500°F (if your oven has a convection setting, do not use it).

7.  Remove 1 loaf from the refrigerator and gently turn it out, seam-side down, into the preheated Dutch oven. With a razor or paring knife, score the full surface of the dough with 2 parallel lines roughly 3 inches apart. With a spray bottle filled with water, lightly spritz the surface of the dough for a shiny crusty finish. Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 450°F and bake for 15 minutes longer. Uncover and bake until crust is dark brown, about 15 to 20 minutes.

8.  Transfer loaf to a wire rack. Allow to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing. Return Dutch oven to oven, and reheat at 500°F for 10 minutes. Then repeat with the remaining ball of dough. If not expecting to use both loaves within a week, cover and freeze one loaf once it has cooled and reheat in the oven at 350°F whenever ready to eat. 

  • When baking, it’s always better to go by weight rather than volume because a variety of factors. I use this simple kitchen scale, but there are simpler and fancier options on the market.
  • These instructions are for low-tech bakers like me who don’t own a standing mixer and prefer kneading their bread by hand. For mixer instructions, I refer again to Max’s recipe.

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Voila! You’ve (hopefully) made a loaf of bread to your liking! We’re always on the lookout for tips of the trade, so let us know if you have any particular advice on crafting the perfect loaf!

– Hunter

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