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Bread-making Basics

Making bread can be intimidating, especially the first time around. But it’s a skill that – once mastered – will stay with you a lifetime and will bring joy to you and those who enjoy your creations. There’s nothing like homemade bread, served with butter and accompanying your favorite meals. And once you learn the basics of bread making, there are so many varieties you can create.

Most budding bread bakers begin with a basic loaf of plain white bread. This is the easiest to make and most of the ingredients you need are already in your cupboard. Once you’ve tackled that first loaf, many other kinds of basic breads are easily within your grasp and you may soon find that store-bought bread is a thing of the past in your home!

Basic Steps

o Measure carefully – In bread making, it is essential that you follow the recipe carefully and be sure that all measurements are precise. Those who are really gung-ho about bread baking often use a scale for this purpose, but if you’re a novice bread baker, measuring by cups, tablespoons, etc. is fine. Make sure you’re using a liquid measuring cup for liquids and dry cups for flour and other dry ingredients. The recipe may ask you to level the flour or it may not. Be sure to adhere to the recipe. And don’t use tableware as measuring spoons! Invest in a set of real ones! Remember, improper measurements could result in failed bread or a loaf with an undesirable texture.

o Mixing and Kneading – Once all the ingredients are assembled and measured, it’s time to mix. You may choose to mix by hand or can also use a stand mixer or food processor. Your recipe may suggest which is best. Add the ingredients in the order found in the recipe. Be sure not to use ice water or really hot water or you’ll kill the yeast. Also, don’t allow the salt to come in direct contact with the yeast mixture or the same thing will happen. After everything is mixed properly and it’s time to knead, place the dough on a lightly floured surface. (It’s good to save a little of the flour from the recipe for this purpose so as not to add too much flour.) Start with a ball and begin by pulling the upper part of the dough over the top and toward you, then press it down into the board. Continue this for about 5 minutes, longer it the recipe indicates. Then cover it with a bowl, let it rest for about 20 minutes and repeat the process.

o First rise (proofing) – Return the dough to a bowl and cover it with oiled plastic wrap and allow it to double in size. This happens best in a room at about 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. If your house is chilly, put it in the oven with the oven light on (don’t turn the oven on) or place it in a microwave along with a bowl of hot water. (Again, don’t turn it on.)

o Punching down – Once the dough has reached twice its size, it’s time to halt the proofing. To do this, put it on the floured board again and simply use your fingers to press and stretch it.

o Dividing and/or Shaping – If your recipe makes more than one loaf, divide it by cutting it with a knife. Then you can shape it according to the recipe or simply place it in the prepared loaf plans, also as per your recipe.

o Final rise – The bread will need to double once again in the pan in which it will be cooked. As with the first rise, you’ll cover the pan with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm place.

o Baking – Once the final rise is complete, it’s time to bake your bread according to instructions. If you’d like, you can brush it with an egg wash first (a beaten egg mixed with a tsp. of water) in order to produce a shiny crust. To test if your bread is done, tap it. If it sounds hollow, it’s finished. Or you can stick a skewer in the center and see if it comes out clean, much as you would measure the doneness of a cake.