breadmaking without tears
Breadmaking needn't be daunting. You can make wonderful, delicious, healthy bread at home in your kitchen with minimal equipment (and you don't need a breadmaker!)
While I've included a basic bread recipe in our recipe section, I've tried to include some tips here that I've found have helped enormously in turning out a decent loaf of bread.
One book I can't recommend highly enough is "The Beginner's Book of Breadmaking" by Diana Dasey ISBN 0 86417 767 4 - not only does it contain some wonderful recipes but it switched me on to breadmaking and convinced me that I could achieve a really good loaf at home.
tips for successful breadmaking
Don't be afraid of yeast. Many breadmaking books and recipes convince us that fresh yeast is the only yeast to use in breadmaking, but I've used dried yeast with great success. It means I always some on hand whenever I need it. For dried yeast, you need to use about 1/3 of the specified amount of fresh yeast.
Pay careful attention to temperatures. While cool temperatures will require a longer rising time for your dough, temperatures that are too high will kill the yeast and the only way ahead is to throw out your dough and start again.
Make use of a "sponge" to really get your dough active - see more about this in the basic bread recipe.
Be patient. Often the best breads will take longer but the end result more than justifies the wait.
Use high quality flour. Breadmaking flour (sometimes called "strong" flour) is different to flour used in pastries and cakes because it has a higher protein (gluten) content. You can generally buy breadmaking flour from a wholefoods store but if you can' t obtain it locally, you can sift one teaspoon of gluten flour to each cup of plain flour instead. I use unbleached biodynamic wheat flour and it gives consistently good results.
Don't be afraid to experiment. You can experiment by adding grains, seeds and other flours to your mix. Start by substituting half the flour called for in your recipe and adding it to the wheat flour.
Use time saving devices if you need to. I use a food processor to mix the dough initially and I find this saves me an enormous amount of time. The bread dough also requires a little less kneading.
Don't skimp on kneading. Ten minutes is usually long enough to knead the dough. You'll know when it's ready when you press your thumb into the dough and the indent made with your thumb disappears readily. Another way to test it is break off a small piece of dough and gently stretch it - it should stretch and not break. Well kneaded dough should feel smooth and elastic to touch, and not sticky.
How to knead bread dough. Tip dough onto a lightly floured surface. Fold the dough toward yourself and then push down onto the dough, away from yourself with the heel of your hand. Give the dough a quarter turn and continue in this manner until it's sufficiently kneaded.
Buy or borrow some really good breadmaking books. They'll contain many recipes and lots of tips for how to improve your breadmaking methods including how to incorporate other ingredients and how to obtain softer crusts or crustier bread. Many will also contain specialty international breads, croissants, bagels and other yeast cooking. I've borrowed a number of good breadmaking books from my local library.