Baking your own bread is healthier, more affordable, and rather therapeutic. Best of all it's super easy to do, no bread maker needed!
Bread making is one of the easiest baking pastimes out there. Sure there is a lot of science behind what makes bread rise, how the gluten and yeast work, and what happens in the oven, but the good news is you really don't need to know the why behind the magic of bread making, just the how!
In this blog post we'll take you through everything you need to know to start baking your own bread from scratch, including the equipment and ingredients you need, and a few popular methods for baking bread.
You may have thought you need a bread maker to bake the perfect loaf of bread but you probably already have almost everything you need. Here is a list of a few basic tools we recommend having on hand.
Dough Scraper: Whether plastic or steel, a dough scraper is super-useful tool. Use the curved side to a half moon scraper to gently ease your dough out of the bowl. A dough scraper is also perfect as a counter scraper for cleaning up.
Digital Scales: Weighing out your ingredients will yield more consistent results than measuring with a cup, especially with flour as a packed cup will contain a lot more flour than a loosely packed cup.
Measuring Cups & Spoons: For recipes that simply won't give you weight measurements.
Mixing bowls: Make sure you have a nice large bowl for proofing!
Proofing Baskets: Rattan bread proofing baskets, also known as bannetons, are perfect for sourdough and artisan baking, giving your loaves a rustic and traditional appearance.
Bakeware: There are a few ways to bake your bread, you can bake it in a loaf pan for a traditional sandwich slice, a Dutch Oven for a rustic round bread (also essential for most no knead bread recipes), or simply bake on a baking stone or pizza stone.
Bakers Blade: A bakers blade is optional but really handy for scoring your loaves, which allows steam and gas to escape, preventing the gluten from rupturing and allowing the bread to rise better.
Yeast, flour, water, salt. Yep you only need four ingredients to make delicious bread!
Yeast: The easiest yeast to work with is Instant Dry Yeast, which unlike Active Yeast doesn't need to be hydrated in warm water before using. It has a really long shelf life and can be stored in an airtight container in your fridge or freezer. If you come across fresh yeast you can use it but it only has a shelf life of two weeks.
Flour: Flour that is labelled Bakers Flour, High Protein, or Strong, is ideal for baking bread. The higher protein levels give a better gluten development which means a nice chewy and elastic bread.
Water: If the water where you live is particularly 'hard' (full of minerals) you may want to filter your tap water before using it, and allowing it to sit out for a few hours to allow the chlorine to evaporate out.
Salt: If a recipe asks for Kosher salt and you can't find any, regular cooking sea salt will work fine, just use a little less.
Bread Improver: You don't need bread improver to make bread, but once you've seen the change it can make in your bread you'll be adding it every time! In a nut shell it helps the gluten develop and gives an epic rise.
Bread Mixes: Replace your flour with a bread mix to easily achieve breads of different flavours and textures, from country grain loaves to sourdough rolls!
Extras: Once you master the basics of bread making you'll discover a whole world of delicious flavour variations. Try incorporating fresh herbs, olives, cheese, or sun-dried tomatoes. The internet is full of great suggestions and recipes!
There are three main kneading techniques for making bread.
Traditional Kneading: Can be done by hand or using your stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Make sure you don't pull so hard that the dough tears, or for too long that the dough gets too firm.
Stretch & Fold Method: Sooner or later you will probably come across a bread recipe that calls for the stretch and fold method of kneading. It's pretty simple, after first lightly mixing your dough you rest it then gently pull one side of the dough up out of the bowl, then fold it back over the rest of the dough and repeat.
No Knead: Honestly, the no knead bread method is our personal favourite. It requires a long, slow rise, often overnight, but very very little hands on time. You can mix your dough together by hand then leave it alone in your fridge until the morning. You will need a Dutch Oven for this method but other than that, and a bowl, you don't need a thing!
The proofing is where is magic happens, when the yeast and bacteria convert starch into sugar, creating incredible flavour and producing carbon dioxide for a light and airy crumb. After your first proof your dough should have doubled in size and be all puffy.
Warm Proofing: Proofing on your kitchen counter is fine unless your kitchen is particular draughty or it's sitting right under the aircon, in which case let the dough proof inside a turned off oven. Generally your first proof will take between an hour, and an hour and a half.
Cold Proofing: Proofing your dough in the fridge can slow the rise and help develop flavour, it's also an important step in all no knead bread recipes. Popping your dough in the fridge is also a great way to buy some time if you get called away from your dough when warm proofing.
Second Proof: After your first proof you will 'knock' back the air in your dough and be able to shape it however you wish, either into bread rolls, baguettes, or using a banneton. You will then need to leave it for at least another half an hour so it can rise again.
Once you've formed your dough, and given it a second proof, it's time to add the finishing touches, primarily scoring the dough to allow the gas to escape, and give a little spray with water if you can which gives a beautiful crust and even rise.
Bread normally bakes in quite a high temperature oven. You'll know it's ready when it's a nice dark brown colour and sounds hollow when you knock on the base, or tap it against the counter.
We know it's hard but you should definitely let your bread cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Slather it in butter and devour! Any leftovers should be tightly wrapped in a tea towel and stored at room temperature (a bread bin is perfect for storage!), where it should keep well for around three days. Alternatively you can slice and freeze your bread. Any stale bread can easily become the best bread crumbs, croutons, or bread and butter pudding you've ever had!