Homemade Bread 101

Reader Contribution by Loretta Sorensen
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With 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.

Photo property of Loretta Sorensen.

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