For the past year, I’ve been happy to act as my local bread baking phone-a-friend. I was the Butterball hotline of beginner bread baking tips and questions. It was great to see so many people take the quarantine time to dive into bread baking and discover it’s not all that difficult, in fact, it’s quite easy and quite rewarding, to baking a beautiful loaf of homemade bread that easily beats any soft, rubbery disc you might find at the food store.
These are the beginner bread baking tips, advice, and questions I answered the most in the past year. Do these simple, basic things right and you’re well on your way to being a successful home bread baker.
You can always hit the pause button
Between home schooling, working from home, just daily life, some of the popular bread recipes could feel overwhelming with their timelines. No need to worry, you can always throw the dough in the refrigerator after it’s mixed. At any time! And come back to it when time permits. Just make sure it’s in an airtight container it will last even up to a few days.
You need a scale
Weighing the ingredients in bread baking is almost essential. It eliminates a lot of potential mistakes and vastly increases your chances of success. Bread baking is not complicated but it does rely on ratios and the proper mix of ingredients. A scale will both help make sure you’re adhering to those ratios and if something does go wrong, it allows you to troubleshoot more effectively if you know the ingredients were spot on. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, just accurate.
Don’t kill your yeast
First, check your expiration date. If you don’t keep your yeast in the fridge or don’t bake often, it may have expired.
Watch out for the temperature of your water. You want to aim for lukewarm to slightly warmer, about 95 to 115 degrees F. Yeast likes a nice warm bath. Too cold and it stays mostly inert. Too hot and you have a potential mass homicide on your hands.
Anything over 120 degrees F and you start to get too hot for those little microbes. If in doubt, a thermometer is another nice kitchen tool to have around for baking.
Break off a piece
It is sometimes difficult to really gauge when your dough has doubled or tripled in size. One quick kitchen hack (the things you learn from YouTube) is to break off a small piece of dough and put it in small, marked container (like a measure cup). When your dough’s little buddy has risen the appropriate amount, so has your larger dough.
Start simple and stick to the recipe
There are a lot of great breads and a lot of great bread recipes out there. Some are much easier than others. If you’re a new baker, it’s best to start with something simple and build up your skills and confidence. I’d suggest starting with focaccia.
The first time you make a recipe is not the time to start experimenting. Master the basic recipe first then you can start playing around with different flours, or add-ins, or hydration levels.
Start with these five simple suggestions and you will be well on your way to baking better bread and getting more consistent results. I have other posts with even more tips, tricks, or books to get you started on bread baking?