John Baricelli of the new PBS television show Everyday Baking asked us for your baking questions. He's already answered questions on baking prep work and good-looking muffins. Here's the third of five baking questions. Reader Mike D asks:
Q: Baking bread is deeply rooted in my family history. My mother was tremendously impressed by my father's homemade breads while they were dating, back in the 70s.
Nonetheless, I am always a bit daunted by the frightening first steps necessary to get into baking bread myself. Can you recommend some good starter recipes? Nothing intimidating, just something that is tasty, plain enough for everyday baking. Can you also recommend some good equipment to get going?
A: Bread baking is not as daunting as one thinks. If you can manage patience and experimenting, you can bake bread very successfully. Remember, there are only a few (usually 4) ingredients in bread: flour, water, yeast and salt.
So imagine how simple and low cost it is to make bread. Now for technique. Read and educate yourself on the basics. Go to the library and do a little research -- don't buy any books just yet. Read about the basics so you have an understanding of how bread works. This will open many doors for your confidence.
Next, there are few pieces of equipment you need. Again, it will depend on the bread but you'll need a good hot oven, a peel, an oven thermometer, and great flour (the King Arthur brand is best if you can get it), a bench scraper (both metal and plastic) and a spray bottle for steaming the oven.
Now, you can mix by hand or a stand mixer. Don't ever use a food processor. The January issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine has an excellent article on basic bread recipes. Also a bit more technical but wonderful book is the book by Jeffrey Hamelman called Bread. He is one of the best bakers and his writings are easy-to-follow and precise. He also gives home measurements (cups and tablespoons) as well as weight. Give it a try.