It took me several tries to figure out how to bake bread, and find methods that work for me. You have to experiment and try out different techniques and recipes until you find something that works for you. They won’t all be successes, but don’t be so hard on yourself. Just because your recipe didn’t turn out how you wanted doesn’t mean it can’t be delicious or that you can’t learn from the experience.
Bread dough is essentially made of these ingredients with a few variations: wheat flour (or unbleached white flour; it is recommended to use bread flour if you can find it), salt, water, and active dry yeast. Sometimes sugar is added to feed the yeast and create a sweeter flavor to the bread. I use agave nectar and organic brown sugar usually, but I found most recipes work without adding sugar. If you are making pizza dough, you can add a bit of olive oil and herbs to the dough. Pizza dough only needs to rise once, so its easier than baking a loaf of bread.
Things to keep in mind:
- When proofing your yeast, make sure the water you add is neither too hot or too cold (should be warm/tepid water). If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. If it is too cold, it won’t activate the yeast. You should see the water start to bubble after 5-10 minutes; this means the yeast is working its magic.
- I wouldn’t get the fast acting yeast…a lot of the flavor and texture of bread comes from the slow rising process of active dry yeast.
- Add water gradually; this will help you make sure the dough is neither too dry or to wet to knead.
- Some recipes (like sandwich bread below) don’t call for kneading, but I personally like to hand knead my bread. It takes awhile for the dough to reach the proper elasticity, usually 5-8 minutes. Make sure to lightly flour your kneading surface; this will keep the dough from sticking to the surface.
- Don’t be afraid to add herbs to your dough.
- Experiment with different recipes and types of flour once you feel more comfortable.
There are two methods I use for rising my dough:
1.) Place dough in an oiled bowl. Wrap plastic wrap on top (this helps keep the gases from the yeast trapped). Store in a warm, dry, dark place for an hour or until the dough has risen to double the size.
2.) You can also make your dough the night before. Wrap in an oiled bowl and place in your fridge overnight. This method is good if you don’t have a lot of time to make dinner during the day.
Your dough needs to rise a second time after it has doubled. Place in a lightly oiled bread loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap in a warm, dark, dry place for 40-1 hour. The timing on this can vary, but you want to make sure its risen well above the loaf pan. It becomes very dense if it isn’t allowed to rise enough. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time, especially when baking bread. I like to rise my dough while I’m doing other housework, especially laundry.
These are great starter recipes if you are new to bread and dough making:
No Knead Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Whole Wheat Hamburger Buns
Easy, Yummy, Quick Pizza Dough (requires less rising time)
Pizza Crust (my favorite)