Baking a loaf of bread can seem both intimidating and like an awful lot of work. Don't worry - it's really quite simple once you get the hang of it! In this tutorial, we've broken it down into teeny-tiny steps to walk you through the whole process of making a traditional artisan-style loaf of bread.
What You Need
Water - 3 cups total
Yeast - 1 teaspoon total
Flour - 6-7 cups total
Salt - 1 Tablespoon
Large Mixing Bowl
Baking Pans (optional)
Baking Stone (optional)
1. Make a Poolish (Optional) - In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon of yeast, and 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour. Mix it for a few minutes, until it forms an elastic and smooth batter. Cover and let this sit for 2-10 hours. It will look like the picture above when it's ready.
Skip this step if you don't have time, but it's an easy way to add flavor and good texture to your bread. It's also a little insurance to make sure the dough rises! If you skip it, just add the ingredients into the main dough.
2. Measure the Water - Measure 2 1/2 cups (or 20 ounces) of water into a large bowl.
3. Measure the Yeast - Add a half teaspoon of yeast to the water.
4. Let the yeast sit in the water until it has dissolved. Don't be concerned if you don't see any bubbles at this point.
5. Add the Poolish - If you made a poolish, add it into the bowl now.
6. Stir the water, yeast, and poolish together until the poolish is dissolved into the water. You might see some bubbles and foam, but don't be concerned if you don't.
7. Add the Flour Add 1 cup of flour.
8. Stir until a thick batter is formed.
9. Stir in 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Salt can inhibit the growth of the yeast, so it's good to add a cup of flour first to give the yeast a little protection and then add the salt.
10. Add 4 more cups of flour and stir until the dough is too stiff to stir anymore. It's ok if there's still some loose flour left in the bowl that hasn't been incorporated into the batter.
11. At this point the dough will look shaggy and be very sticky.
12. Knead the Dough Sprinkle a little flour on your work surface and scrape your dough on top. Begin kneading, adding up to another cup of flour if the dough is very sticky. (We'll have a video of how to knead bread dough for you later today!)
13. The dough is finished kneading and ready to rise when it springs back when you poke it, if it holds its shape in your hands, or if you can form a "window pane" without it breaking (as in the picture above)
14. Put it in a large oiled bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in size, 1-2 hours.
15. Shape the Loaves - Sprinkle a little flour on your work surface and turn the risen dough out on top. Divide the dough into two pieces and shape the dough into round loaves or sandwich loaves as desired. Let these loaves rise until they've nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour. (We'll also have videos of this process up later today.)
16. Bake the Loaves - Preheat the oven to 450°. Quickly cut a few slashes 1/2-inch deep into the tops of the loaves with a serrated knife and place them in the oven. Round loaves should be baked on a baking stone while sandwich loaves in baking tins can be baked right on the oven rack.
17. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the loaves have developed some color on the crust, sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and the inside registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Let the loaves cool before slicing into them.
• This recipe we followed in this tutorial is adapted from the "Country-Style Hearth Loaf" from Bread Alone by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik. This is a great book for anyone wanting to get into bread baking. (Buy It! $25 on Amazon.com)
(Images: Emma Christensen and Faith Durand)