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Tips for baking bread?

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Old 03-24-2009, 07:52 AM   #1
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Default Tips for baking bread?

I'm new to the idea and am not really sure where to start... do I need a bread maker? What should I look for when buying one? Any other good tips? My daugther is 2 and I want to start feeding her more wholesome bread (without HFCS!)... Thanks!!
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Old 03-24-2009, 08:38 AM   #2
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I started baking my own bread 17 years ago because I was frustrated with the quality of bread then available to me & also, after being horrified by the ingredients in store-bought bread, because I wanted to control the ingredients & quality.

(Back then, if I wanted a decent 100% whole wheat loaf, I had to drive downtown, where a women's co-op called On the Rise was making fabulous loaves. These bandana-wearing, nose-pierced ladies were called "hippies" by some of the older people I knew -- in the 80s, that was a rather archaic term. But I couldn't get healthy whole grain artisan bread anywhere else, really. That was the Dark Ages & the bread-baking renaissance hadn't yet spread to where I lived then. I liked supporting the ladies' efforts but wanted to be able to do this bread-making thing myself.)

Anyway, here's how I did it:

Go to your local library, get out some books on bread-baking & read up on it. Since the aforementioned bread-baking renaissance in the late 80s, there have been a lot great books on the subject & a lot of general cookbooks that include bread recipes.

Try to source & price some decent whole-wheat flour. In my area, prices vary widely. I like King Arthur's flour & Trader Joe's has the best price around here. (King Arthur does mail order, too.) Also, price yeast. Around certain holidays, Fleischmann's puts coupons in our Sunday coupon sections, and I tend to stock up then, though I've also bought Red Star. Around here, stores seem to sell one or the other but not both.

Get your hands on a big bowl. I use a big yellow 1950s Pyrex bowl, though some people swear by wood or clay.

Try making a starter loaf with just a few cups of flour. Try a simple recipe from one of your books or online. If it requires more than three or four cups of flour, try to cut the recipe in half. In general, in addition to your flour & yeast, you'll need something sweet like honey or sugar, a bit of salt, a bit of water (or maybe milk) & possibly some fat, like oil or butter.

Do this on a day when you're not horribly busy & having to leave the house a lot, so you can figure out the timing. Take your time. Enjoy yourself, if you can. For me, anyway, this is like play & craftmaking, rather than work. I like getting my hands in gooey dough -- it reminds me of working with wet clay. I like kneading & pounding the dough. I am very satisfied by the finished loaves cooling on racks & the wonderful aroma in the house.

If you hate the handwork involved, then consider a machine. But IMHO, it's a lot cheaper to try to make a loaf or two by hand first, to see if you like the results, than to immediately plunk down $$ for a bread machine that may go unused later. Nothing I hate worse than storing expensive, rarely used kitchen gadgets that remind me of outgrown fads & interests of mine.
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Old 03-24-2009, 08:58 AM   #3
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I agree with Saef. First, you do NOT need a breadmaker; people made bread for thousands of years without them. I'd also like to second her feelings about working with the dough. Nothing works out aggressions like a good kneading session!

A couple simple tips to keep in mind: what makes the dough rise is the yeast, which I call yeastie beasties. (they're actually living organisms.) HOT water will kill the yeastie beasties (as does the heat of your oven) so your liquid should be about the temperature of a baby's bottle. Cool water will also work but they don't like it as well and won't multiply as rapidly.

Especially if you're working with whole wheat dough, it's hard to knead it too much. I've been known to knead until my wrists started tiring, walk away for 10 minutes, then return to finish the job.

Finally, have fun and experiment! Every ingredient you add will contribute its own flavor, and no batch will be exactly like another. Just like people.
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Old 03-24-2009, 11:11 AM   #4
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If you do decide you might like to use a breadmaker (absolutely nothing against doing the work by hand ) check out yard sales. I got mine, all parts in good condition and working order, for $5, I just had to print the manual off of the manufacturer's website.
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Old 03-24-2009, 06:13 PM   #5
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I have to admit I love my breadmaker and wouldn't be as consistent about making bread without it. I use it just for the dough cycle and then bake it in the oven. I use a simple 3 c dry ingredient, 1.25 c warm liquid, 1.5 t yeast, squirt of sweetener, dash of salt, drizzle of oil recipe. Beyond that it depends on what I have around - ww, white whole wheat, spelt, buckwheat, soy or other bean flour, really fine multi-grain cereals, etc. I almost always use a combination and add as much as .5 c gluten (of the 3c dry ingredients) if I'm playing with a lot of gluten free grains. I also toss in seeds, nuts, herbs, sauteed onion or garlic as the mood strikes. I vary the liquids sometimes too - broth, whey from straining yogurt, thin applesauce for cinnamon bread, etc. I used to be very careful and precise about baking bread but I've discovered it's actually very forgiving and even those that don't rise as well make great toast Most of all have fun with it!
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Old 03-24-2009, 06:52 PM   #6
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I have a breadmaker, use it a couple times a week, and absolutely love it. My life is extremely busy and it's unlikely I'd be able to make bread for my kids without using it. I also use it for prepping doughs for me--I make the hamburger buns we eat and other stuff. So if you decide to get a breadmaker, don't feel like you're selling out or anything.

However, I also do some doughs by hand (pizza dough) and I just bought myself an awesome book on hand breadmaking. So I'm not a purist either way, I just love bread and breadmaking altogether.

Bottom line, do what works for you, and remember that bread is not difficult. AND even when bread "fails," the results are usually deliciously edible!
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Old 03-24-2009, 08:11 PM   #7
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I bake bread all the time, and recently got a book called 'Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes'. I think it's great - you make the dough one day, leave it in the fridge (!) and then the next day you take out 1/4, roll it around a bit, bake it, and you've got bread. And then, when you run out, you can still use the dough in the fridge. I really recommend the book - made what is normally a weekend activity for me into a daily after work one.
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Old 03-24-2009, 08:36 PM   #8
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When I was younger and living at home, my mom had a bread maker, and the bread was delicious. It was also very easy to make (my little brother and I could do it easily).
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Old 03-24-2009, 09:52 PM   #9
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I love the breadmaker for the labor it does, but I like to take it out and bake it myself. I usually make Italian bread or baguettes, but recently bought whole-wheat flour. Cooking it in the breadmaker gives it an awkward shape.

Priscatip, I'm going to check out that book!
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Old 03-24-2009, 10:00 PM   #10
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Agreed. I actually don't use a breadmaker, but a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook. Eliminates the kneading (and makes it take way less time), but I still get to rise the dough myself and shape, etc.

If you want a REALLY easy bread that I've made with whole wheat flour, super-simple, no kneading required, see this recipe:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html

Even with the whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur White Whole Wheat) it's a crusty, incredibly lovely tasting french bread.
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Old 03-25-2009, 08:01 AM   #11
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Thanks, everyone. I can't wait to get started! Wish me luck.
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Old 03-25-2009, 01:45 PM   #12
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I second the artisan bread in 5 mins...so good and extremely easy. Absolutely no kneading and the bread truly is artisan quality. I've tried a number of recipes in the book and all (so far) are wonderful. I use King Arther flour as well...
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Old 03-25-2009, 10:13 PM   #13
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If you have a gas oven, one tip is to put the dough in the oven (with the oven turned off) to let it rise. The pilot light provides just enough heat to create the perfect environment for the dough to rise. If you don't have a gas oven, then putting it in a sunny window is probably the next best option.

Also, no matter what the recipe says, I always start my yeast before adding it to the dough. I take whatever liquid the recipe calls for, stir in the yeast, stir in some of the sugar called for in the recipe and then let it sit for 5 min. If it gets foamy, then I know the yeast is working.

And I always try to have a spare packet of yeast on hand. If I have the spare packet, I never need it. But if I only have one packet of yeast, I always end up running to the grocery store in a mad rush because the one packet has gone stale. But that's just they way my life is, so you might not need to do this.
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Old 03-25-2009, 10:34 PM   #14
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I love making breads. I don't have good upper body strength, so mostly I use the bread machine or no-knead (or low-knead) recipes. I'm trying to drastically limit grains (trying a gluten-free experiment), and I'm really missing my breads. I may have to experiment with some of the gluten-free flours.

I usually use my bread machine (a gift from my MIL) just for making the dough, then bake it free-form into loves or rolls (I like to maximize the crispy crust to bread ratio).

I make thin skillet flat breads alot also (tortillas, naan...). Those really come in handy when you've only got a few minutes and want bread. Tons of recipes online and many are just flour, water, and salt and maybe a smidgen of fat. I've made them with chickpea flour (gluten-free and low carb) and they're very yummy.
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Old 03-29-2009, 07:50 AM   #15
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Default love my bread maker

I love my bread maker. While it's certainly not necessary, it does make the process more simpler. I bake bread every week, sometimes more often. I also sometimes use my bread maker as just a mixer and then bake the dough in the oven. I currently have a high end Zojirushi brand bread maker which I love because it has 2 mixing paddles and makes oblong loaves. Before that I had a non famous brand bread maker that costs less than $50 which still made better bread than anything I could buy in the store.

Whole wheat flour requires more water than white all purpose flour. Keep that in mind if you are "adjusting" a recipes that originally called for white flour. Adding a tablespoon of wheat gluten also helps when using heavy flours such as rye.


Here is a suggestion on yeast: If you live in the US, warehouse clubs like Sam's and Costco sell yeast in bulk. A 1-2 pound package usually costs less than $5. I keep a small amount of yeast in a glass jar in the refrigerator and store the remainder in the freezer. I've kept yeast viable for over a year with that storage method. BJs lets non members shop at their store with a 15% surcharge and that's usually where I purchase it.
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