Tips and tricks for bread baking

I am certainly very far from being an expert in baking, but since I’ve been baking bread for a while now I thought I’d share little tips that I’ve found helpful.

bookworm_tips1

  1. Give it time. It’s often the case that you’ll add all the ingredients in the right amount but the dough will feel extremely sticky. My impulse at this point used to be to add more flour until I get something more workable. However this can result in a denser, rubbery loaf. So instead, it’s best to keep working the dough to activate the gluten. Maybe 5 or 10 minutes of kneading later, almost by magic, the dough will be transformed and will be wonderfully elastic and silky smooth.
  2. Knead it yourself. Of course, using a stand mixer and a dough hook attachment or even a bread-maker means less physical effort is required and if you are baking on a large scale you’ll want to be as time-efficient as possible. But for recreational bakers like me, I think it’s so much more enjoyable to be able to touch the dough and feel it changing. I find that kneading is a great stress-reliever and I love that I’m doing something that I watched my grandmother do almost every day when I was growing up. A less sentimental reason for using your hands instead of a machine is that it’s easier to overwork the dough with a stand mixer which would lead to a stiff bread.
  3. Cut and scrape. At first I thought it was another unnecessary kitchen gadget. A little plastic paddle (like this one) is so low-tech it’s surprising how much easier it makes working with dough. It’s not fun having to wash sticky dough off your hands. It’s also not good if in the process of transferring sticky dough you tear the gluten strands. Using this, you can scrape the dough out of a bowl or off the kneading surface with relative ease. If you do end up with the annoying dough hands anyway, it helps if you pour some flour on your hands and rub them together to at least get rid of most of the dough.
  4. Tap your bread. In most of the recipes I’ve tried, the actual baking time for my loaf has been different to the one in the recipe. This depends on the strength of your oven and your flour/yeast/starter. My advice is, when your bread looks nice and golden brown and you suspect that it might be baked, lift it up slightly and give it a few taps on the bottom. If you hear a hollow sound, it means your bread is done.
  5. Make it pretty. I love looking at pretty loaves in bakery windows and I’m always trying to make my bread look nice as well as taste good. It’s quite fun to play around with different slashes before baking. These are not just ornamental, they help the loaf rise in the oven. Another little trick is to sprinkle some flour on the loaf right before you put it in the oven, I think this gives it a lovely, rustic look.
    Do you have any bread-baking tips that you would like to share?
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20 thoughts on “Tips and tricks for bread baking

  1. Charlie says:

    The few times we made bread at home it was always with a bread maker. They taste too processed and very sugary. When I was younger my mum successfully convinced me that that way was easier, but from what you’ve said here it’s really better to bake it yourself. Considering the bread-maker, I’m not sure my tip is relevant, but you’ve got to be careful with the sugar or it can end up tasting like cake.

    • bookworm says:

      I have heard about bread-maker bread being very sweet. I think baking a loaf is so very simple, so if you’ve got the time, it’s worth it to try it the old-fashioned way.

  2. Beth F says:

    Another tip for getting sticky dough off your hands: do *not* use hot water when rinsing your hands, it will just make a mess. Cold water helps get the dough off.

    I sometimes tap the loaves, but I like to take the bread’s temperature. I take the bread out when the internal temperature is between 190F and 200F. Some people say 180F, but I like to let the bread go just a bit longer.

  3. Rikki says:

    No tips from me as I normally make bead with the machine, but yours are great. My mom used to have one of these dough scrapers and they work like a charm. Much better than those silicone things in my opinion. I haven’t seen one in the shops for ages though.

    • bookworm says:

      Yes, the dough scraper is surprisingly useful! I’ve seen them in shops although sometimes they are hard to spot among all the new, colourful, silicone kitchen gadgets.

  4. lakesidemusing says:

    I don’t have any tips to add, but I am going to buy a dough scraper this week. I also love the idea of taking the bread’s temperature… that never occurred to me!

  5. Janel says:

    Well, I have the dough scraper but I really can’t remember the last time I made yeast bread. I see people blogging about it and always think that I should try making a loaf or two. I think you’ve inspired me to try my hand at it soon. I’m pretty sure I have bread flour in my cupboard.

  6. Cecelia says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips! It’s been a few years since I made bread by hand (instead of in a breadmaker). I should really do it as a challenge to myself.

  7. Laurie C says:

    Giving it time is a good tip! I never kneaded the dough long enough until I started timing myself by the clock. (Five minutes felt just like fifteen.)

    • bookworm says:

      It was only recently that I realised I wasn’t kneading the bread for long enough. Not adding any extra flour and just kneading it for longer makes my loaves so much nicer.

  8. Heather says:

    first ensure that your yeast is live and then use a thermometre to measure the temperature of the liquid to ensure it isn’t too hot. In the beginning I used to overheat my yeast and my bread would be like rocks.

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