Bread Baking Basics
Bread Making Equipment
How to Make A Crusty Loaf of Bread
BREAD MAKING – RECIPE FUNDAMENTALS
What I make most often is a simple crusty loaf of bread, one that is perfect when toasted with a little butter and jam in the morning, or sandwiched with some meat and cheese for lunch or sliced up and dunked into a big bowl of soup for dinner.
But it is not always the exact same loaf. This is where the beauty of bread comes in. I don’t want to get caught in the technical weeds but bread recipes are all about what are called “baker’s percentages”. So in any given recipe the flour amount is always equal to 100% and everything else is proportional to that – the most important being the water or hydration percentage. In my basic recipe I like about 50% hydration so if I use 800grams of flour, I know i need 400grams of water.
Where this comes in handy is if i want to make a whole wheat loaf, I can vary how much whole wheat flour vs all purpose flour i want to use – I just need it to add up to the 800g of total flour.
From there you can then start to think about flavorings like toasted fennel seeds and/or add ins like cheese or nuts. These things get added in after you have mixed the dough to a shaggy stage and determined that there is enough hydration in the dough – some flours, like whole wheat, will require a little extra water added in as you mix (see below for how to determine this).
Basic Bread Dough
400g warm water
1 packet yeast
15g kosher salt
Semolina Parmesan and Black Pepper
1 packet yeast
550g all purpose flour
350g semolina flour
15g kosher salt
150g Parmesan, freshly grated
5g black pepper (or a few grindings from your pepper mill)
Whole Wheat Walnut Raisin
1 packet yeast
400g all purpose flour
400g whole wheat flour
15g kosher salt
250g walnut pieces, toasted (about 2 cups)
300g raisins (also about 2 cups)
BREAD MAKING – THE MIXING PROCESS
Once you have decided on the kind of bread you will make and have your ingredients ready, you will again follow a basic process that you will learn to adjust as needed (remember that once mixed bread becomes a living thing that reacts to its environment and treatment).
- Whisk the yeast and warm water together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the remaining ingredients on top (not the add ins like nuts or cheese).
- Using the dough hook, mix on low speed a few minutes until the dough starts to come together and looks shaggy.
- Stop the mixer and feel the dough, pinching it in a few different places. If it feels firm and dry or if you see any dry flour at the bottom of the bowl you will need to add water – start with a few tablespoons and mix a minute or two and check again. When it feels soft and moist you are good to go.
- Add your add ins and flavorings here.
- Mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes until the dough smooths out and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl or forms a kind of lump around the dough hook.
- Cover with plastic or a damp towel and let sit at room temperature for about 3 hours or until doubled in size. If your kitchen is on the chilly side add some time to this and if it is nice and toasty, check on the dough sooner.
BREAD MAKING – SHAPING & BAKING
Shaping is really recipe dependent – are you making a baguette? A boule? Or perhaps something fancy like a fougasse? The baking will obviously be different as well as some breads like naan are cooked in a pan or on a grill as opposed to in the oven. So, here we will go over my basic shaping and baking process for my large crusty boule (aka big round loaf).
- Have a wide rimmed bowl ready with a piece of parchment laid over it, dusted with some flour.
- Scrape dough out onto a generously floured work surface.
- Fold the edges of the dough into the center, making a kind of package. Flip the dough over so these folded seams are on the bottom and start to roll or push the dough in a circle to further tuck these seams in and tighten the smooth top of the boule.
- When it feel nice and tight and there are no air bubbles under the surface, place the boule onto the floured parchment, nestling it into the bowl for its last rise before cooking. Cover it again with plastic wrap or a damp towel.
- Place your large cast iron pot or cloche into the oven and heat the oven to 475 F. Give the oven at least 30 minutes to heat as you want it and the pot really nice a hot.
- Your bread is ready to bake when you give it a gentle poke and the indent slowly comes back out. If it stays indented, it needs more time.
- Score your bread just before putting it into the oven. Slashing it with a very sharp razor blade or small serrated knife in quick motions – making any pattern you like. I usually do one deep cut down the center and two smaller slits on either side of that.
- Take the pot out of the oven and lower your bread into it using the parchment so as not to burn yourself.
- Cover and bake for 25 minutes.
- Remove the lid and bake another 25 minutes or until a nice dark golden brown with a few almost burnt edges at the slash marks.
- Immediately remove from the pot (using the parchment again) and cool on a rack for at least an hour before slicing it.
How to Start (and Maintain) a Sourdough Starter
- Combine 1 cup of warm water with 1 cup of flour (i like to do a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat) in a small jar or container. Mix until thoroughly combined and the mixture is the consistency of thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let sit at room temperature until mixture begins to bubble and puff, 2 to 3 days.
- Once the starter begins to show signs of activity, begin regular feedings. Keep the starter at room temperature, and each day discard 80 percent of the starter and feed remaining starter with equal parts warm water and white-wheat flour mix, a half cup of each roughly. When starter begins to rise and fall predictably and takes on a slightly sour/tangy smell, it’s ready; this should take about 1 week.
- You can continue to keep the starter at room temp if you will be using it somewhat regularly If you will be using it more sparingly put it into the fridge and feed it once a week. When you want to use it, take it out of the fridge and feed it a day or two before you need it.
- The night before you will make your bread, discard all but a few tablespoons of your starter and mix it with a cup of warm water, stirring to disperse it before mixing in a cup of flour. Let sit, covered with a towel at room temp for 12 hours. To test for readiness, drop a tablespoon into a bowl of room-temperature water; if it floats it’s ready to use. If it doesn’t, allow more time to ferment.
- You wont use all of the prepared starter in your dough so whatever is left over is your starter so continue to feed as above.