Weekend Cooking: Bake Bread!

When it's dreary and cold outside, we can't think of anything better than filling the house inside with the smells of baking bread. If you've been dreaming of baking your own bread but have been nervous to try, here's a round-up of tips, techniques, and recipes to help you overcome your fears...Tips for the Newbie:

Start with a simple, white sandwich bread. Whole wheat and other grains can be tricky for beginners because they affect how gluten is formed. We really like this recipe:

Easy Basic White Sandwich Bread from a Year in Bread

Use instant yeast. This stuff is fool-proof. You can even mix it right in with the flour and it will still work - no need for dissolving or proofing! If yeast gives you nightmares, give this stuff a try.

Don't stress about kneading. Use the heel of your hand and stroke the dough away from you, parallel to the counter top. Fold it in half, turn it a little, and repeat. Think of stretching the dough, not punching it down. If you get tired, stop and sip your tea for a few minutes - the dough will wait!

Do the window-pane test to tell when the dough is done being kneaded. Also, if you've been kneading for at least 15 minutes and you're still not sure it's ready, it probably is. And even if it's a little under-kneaded, chances are it will be just fine. No stress!

Try not to add to much flour while kneading. Too much flour can make the dough dense and give you a brick instead of an airy loaf. The dough should not stick to your hands or the counter while kneading. If it feels like you're trying to knead bubble-gum, try the dip method to avoid adding too much flour.

Also, don't forget about no-knead bread. There's a reason so many people are hooked on it - it's easy and it's good!

Techniques to Grow Into

Make Your Own Sourdough Starter
Working with Preferments
How to Shape a Round Loaf
More Flavor with Delayed-Fermentation

Equipment to Play With

Proofing Baskets
Baking Stone
Kitchen Scales
Dough Whisk
Bench Scraper

Recipes to Try:

No-Knead Bread in a Hurry
No-Time Bread
No-Knead Challah
Oatmeal Toasting Bread
Naan Bread at Home
Beginner Sourdough Loaf

What tips or stories of encouragement do you have for a novice baker?

(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)

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