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Bread Baking Tools

Loretta SorensenI'll never part with this lovely vintage crockery bowl my great Aunt Mary used every time she mixed and raised her bread dough. But when I'm making bread, this lovely bowl is usually safely tucked inside my cupboard. That's because I've learned that a bread machine is far more efficient than I when it comes to mixing and kneading dough.

Although it goes against the old-fashioned side of me to use a bread machine, every time I slide that beautiful, perfect, tasty loaf of bread out of my oven I know I've made the right choice. A mixer with dough hooks may do a great job with mixing and kneading bread dough, too. However, keeping that dough at a consistent temperature is more challenging outside a bread machine pan.

My tools include: bread machine, 2-cup glass measuring cup (to mix and start yeast), large mixing bowl to measure all dry ingredients, fork to blend dry ingredients, measuring cups (to match all the measurements called for in my recipe) and measuring spoons. I also use a couple small mixing spoons and at least one spatula to help thoroughly clear measuring cups of their contents.

bread baking tools
Photo property of Loretta Sorensen.

I generally measure flour and salt into the mixing bowl and set it aside. No need to warm the flour, however, if you store your flour in the freezer or refrigerator, it's advisable to allow it to sit out overnight at room temperature.

When outdoor temperatures are cold, I use hot tap water to warm the bread machine pan and glass measuring cup. I fill the bread machine pan at least half full and set it aside and let the measuring cup warm up about 5 minutes. I discard the water used to warm utensils and proceed with recipe directions, using hot tap water mixed with the remaining liquids.

Refrigerated liquids (milk, maple syrup, etc.) typically bring the water temperature to 110 or 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I then add 3 tablespoons of sugar and stir the ingredients well to help dissolve the sugar.

At this point I use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of the liquid. If you don't have a digital thermometer, I highly recommend that you invest in one. There are brands that cost under $5. Since the temperature range of your dough is so critical to the success of the bread itself, it's well worth the cost of buying the thermometer.

If the liquid is too hot, it will kill the yeast, so inexperienced elbows and fingertips just aren't accurate enough to ensure baking success! If your liquid is too warm, you can use a cold spoon to stir it again and help reduce the temperature. You can also simply allow it to sit at room temperature until it cools. Don't add any additional liquid as this will mess up your recipe.

Once the liquid reaches the proper temperature range, it's time to add the yeast, stir it to help dissolve it (not absolutely necessary but always my habit), then allow it to sit and start "working." It will feed on the sugar and produce a foam on the top. Allow it to sit for approximately 5 minutes.

A couple minutes before it's ready, pour the water out of your bread machine pan. Once the yeast mixture is ready, pour it into the bread machine pan.

Most bread recipes call for some kind of fat — butter or oil. This can be added to the yeast mixture once it's in the bread machine. Gently add the flour/salt mixture, set and start your machine.

I find the bread machine to be a great tool for both the mixing, kneading and first rise. Mixing and kneading is thorough and the temperature remains consistent so the dough temperature is constant.

First rise times will vary according to your bread machine operation. My machine mixes and kneads, rests 25 minutes, then kneads a second time for 15 minutes. Once your machine completes the second kneading, it will be time to place your dough into a bread pan and set it in a warm, humid area for the second rise.

Winter or summer, I heat my oven to 100 degrees, fill my bread pan with hot water to warm it up, and complete all this before the kneading process is finished. When my pan is warmed, I pour the water out, dry the pan, then spray it with non-stick aerosol. It's ready for the dough. You may want to butter or oil your hands to handle your dough if it's a bit sticky.

GENTLY shape it so it stretches across the pan lengthwise. Set it into the oven and place a towel over the top to help keep the dough moist during the rise. Make sure the towel is loose so the dough can rise up above the pan. Rising time should take between 30 and 45 minutes.

Once your rise is complete, carefully remove your pan from the oven, set it in a warm area with no drafts and leave the towel on it till your oven is heated to 350 degrees. This is your baking temperature.

Once the oven is ready, remove the towel, GENTLY place the pan in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes. After the crust is thoroughly browned, remove the bread from the oven, slip it out of the pan onto a cooling rack and be prepared to be delighted!

Loretta Sorensen makes her home in eastern South Dakota. Read more about her and her family's draft horses and hobby farm experiences at And if you're loving this home-made bread tutorial, watch for the release of "Bread Maker's Primer" in October 2018.

Bread Pan Basics

Loretta SorensenMany folks bake bread for both the nutrition and freshness and the money saved by not purchasing bread.

I was in that camp when I started, which explains why I used the loaf pans I had on hand. And that helps me understand some of my bread-baking flops.

What I have learned over time is that, ideally, bread pans measure 8-1/2 inches long and 4-1/2 inches wide.

The reason is that when your bread rises, you want it to go up, not out. Loaf pans longer and wider than this ideal will affect the rise of your home baked bread. That wide loaf may not fit into your toaster very well either!

An important step in preparing your pan before you put dough in it is warming the pan so it supports continued rising. This is especially important if you live in areas where winter temperatures are frigid. In summer I sometimes don't need to warm the pan because our outdoor temps are so high everything in the house is already 90+ degrees!

In an earlier post I recommended aluminized baking pans. One of the reasons for this is the corrugated feature of the pan, which makes it so much easier to slip your baked loaf out of the pan with zero sticking.

My earliest bread baking attempts involved baking in glass pans. It was so fun to see the bread raise, be able to view the browning crust from top to bottom, and keep an eye on the process from start to finish.

However, those wonderful rewards were often crushed when my well-greased glass pan refused to let go of that beautiful loaf! It never failed that the pan managed to cling to a big bite of either the bottom of the loaf, one side, or both.

So I really discourage you from using glass pans, unless you use parchment paper to keep the loaf from stubbornly sticking to the pan. If you do use parchment, be sure to securely press it into the corners of your pan so your loaf finishes with a nice square bottom. You can also cut a piece of parchment that simply fits into the bottom of the pan. A sharp knife can pry the baked loaf loose if it sticks to the sides of the pan.

Another reason I like the aluminized pans is even heating and a lifetime warranty. They do cost more but will give the best service.

I do use a spray non-stick product on my pan right before I place the dough into it. And if you're using a metal pan or other type of loaf pan for your bread, by all means use the non-stick coating or butter, lard, parchment — something that will make it easy to slip the baked loaf out onto a cooling rack once it's baked.

If you're making dinner rolls or buns with your dough, pan size isn't as critical. Although your buns will rise higher if they're in a pan that squeezes them together a bit.

bread pan
Photo property of Loretta Sorensen.

Up next: Preparing your bread baking tools.

Loretta Sorensen makes her home in eastern South Dakota. Read more about her and her family's draft horses and hobby farm experiences at And if you're loving this homemade bread tutorial, watch for the release of "Bread Maker's Primer" in October 2018.

Fresh Ingredients = Tasty Bread

Loretta Sorensen

If you're like me, I hate throwing out any kind of food.

However, when it comes to producing that beautiful, aromatic, melt-in-your-mouth loaf of bread, don't gamble on flour that's 12 months old or more. Even if it's been stored in the freezer.

My experience with flour I've had on the shelf that long has not been good. My bread didn't raise, the taste wasn't the best and my baking efforts were disappointing to say the least.

Keep in mind that, unless you're grinding your own flour, what you buy in the store has been in that bag for at least 8 weeks before it reached your store. Nothing wrong with it at that point, but its quality will continue to deteriorate for each week that you keep it on the shelf.

I like to keep my flour in a clear container — either glass or plastic — and I label it with the date that I purchased it to ensure that I don't accidentally use flour that I bought more than 12 months ago. Ideally you should use your flour and yeast within 6 to 10 months of the purchase date. You'll see the best results with those fresher ingredients.

Yeast is susceptible to deteriorating, too. You may get some action out of yeast that you've had for a year or more, but it won't be nearly as good as a fresher batch.

I don't always keep flour in my freezer, but my yeast is always stored there.

If you know you're going to bake bread, I recommend taking the flour and yeast out of the freezer and leaving it sit at room temperature overnight or at least for a couple of hours. That helps you maintain an ideal temperature for your bread dough.

Other recipe ingredients — eggs, milk, butter, etc. — should also be as fresh as possible to enhance the flavor of your bread.

Making labels for items like flour, yeast and sugar can be as simple as writing the purchase date on a plain piece of paper and taping it to your container or printing labels from a label-maker. I don't recommend writing directly on your container as you'll be continually changing your purchase date.

Store your ingredients in air-tight containers, which helps maintain freshness. It's advisable — but not required — to wash containers after using each batch of flour. Be careful not to keep adding fresh flour to what remains in your container, as you're bound to have some low quality flour mixed in with the fresh after a period of time.

Flour and yeast can also be stored in the refrigerator, but the quality will be more susceptible to declining. For any ingredients that are refrigerated, it's helpful to allow them to sit at room temperature for a few hours to help maintain the ideal dough temperature.

In researching this topic, I've found some reputable websites that state bread flour can be refrigerated or frozen for up to 15 months. However, my experience with flour refrigerated for 10 months was not satisfactory.

Next week: How to select and prepare your bread pans!

fresh bread
Photo by Getty Images/Sunlike.

Loretta Sorensen makes her home in eastern South Dakota. Read more about her and her family's draft horses and hobby farm experiences at And if you're loving this home made bread tutorial, watch for the release of "Bread Maker's Primer" in October 2018.

Homemade Bread 101

Loretta SorensenWith a few basic tools and some easy-to-learn know how, you can produce beautiful, tasty and nutritious home-made bread.

For the next few weeks I'll be posting information about the tools you need, how to use them and why they work, and some links to simple but awesome bread recipes.

There's no need to purchase expensive flours to make nutritious loaves of bread. I personally recommend organic unbleached flours, but it's not necessary to use them to produce a heavenly homemade loaf.

To make incredible 100 percent whole grain breads, choose whole wheat flour or grind your own grains (more on this in another blog) and take extra care to provide yeast with the proper environment and the dough with adequate kneading.

A thermometer to test the temperature of liquids can cost as little as $3.09. Loaf pans can be purchased for as little as $7.50 each. Aluminized steel pans are excellent and stand up to a lot of wear and tear, but they are more expensive.

Both flours and yeast can be purchased in large quantities if you often bake multiple loaves.

With the cost of high quality bread ranging from $3.99 per loaf and up, homemade bread can save money as well as provide great baking and eating satisfaction.

The important things to keep in mind to successfully bake bread include:

  • Start with flour and yeast that is no more than six months old. The fresher the better.
  • Use bread pans that measure no more than 9 x 5. Using larger pans means bread dough will spread out rather than rise.
  • If you're using glass or thin metal pans, consider placing parchment paper on the bottom of the pan to ensure you can remove the bread once it's baked. Non-stick spray to coat the pan before placing the dough in it brings the best non-stick results.
  • Yeast likes to be warm (me too!). Warm the liquid in the bread to between 105 and 112 degrees (cooler is too cool, hotter kills yeast) and warm the bread pan and mixing bowl, etc., prior to using them to help keep the dough at an appropriate and consistent temperature.
  • Proof (test) your yeast before adding it to your bread dough. To accomplish this, warm your recipe liquid to the proper temperature, add sugar/honey/maple syrup and give the yeast about 10 minutes to start working. You should see a foam forming on the top of the mixture.
  • Knead your dough thoroughly, or use a bread machine/mixer to knead it. Kneading gives your bread strength and structure that traps gasses and causes the bread to rise. Don't overdo it, but don't skimp on kneading either.
  • Create a warm environment for your bread dough to rise — ideally at least 100 degrees. More on this in an upcoming blog.
  • Cover your dough during the rise to keep it from drying out. Moisture enhances yeast action.
  • Consider using a bread machine to mix and knead the dough. An inexpensive machine ($50) can pay for itself quickly no matter what type of bread you're making. Since the kneading process is so important, relying on a machine to do it saves considerable time and effort. And over summer, when ovens heat up the house, a bread machine can be a real asset.

loaf of bread

Photo property of Loretta Sorensen.