MacKenzie has asked me to take on the healthy food challenge for the month of February – and it just so happens to be one of my favourites – baking bread!
I know that the idea of bread making tends to translate into fear and trembling for a lot of people. The concept of yeast and flour and rising (or not!) can be overwhelming.
But what I’ve learned in the past couple years is that it isn’t all that scary after all! What helps is having people who have done it before sharing recipes and ideas, tips and tricks, and then just not worrying about the process or result, but having fun doing it.
In this post I’m hoping to do just that, by taking you through the basics of getting started in bread baking. Whether you have zero experience or are already adept in the kitchen, I hope you’ll find this to be an encouragement!
There isn’t really a “must-have” item for baking bread, but there are some things that you may already have in your kitchen which would be tremendously helpful.
- Breadmaker – if you have a breadmaker, you’re pretty much set! Just gather ingredients, follow the recipe, and away you go :0)
- Stand mixer. I have a basic Kitchenaid which does the job on smaller amounts of dough (enough for 2 loaves). This saves you the hard work of 5-10 minutes kneading by hand (depending on the recipe).
- Bosch mixer. The mother of all mixers, this is the one on my wishlist for making 4-8 loaves of bread at a time (which is very much needed since our family eats through one loaf in one sitting!).
The way I started making “traditional” bread was to use my breadmaker to do the kneading (as I didn’t have a stand mixer), then remove the dough to rise in the pans and bake. For some reason it just tasted better to me baked in the oven, y’know what I mean?
If you don’t have a stand mixer or a breadmaker, you can still make bread! You’ll just be doing the kneading by hand, but don’t worry, your biceps and deltoids will thank you later ;0)
There could be a novel’s worth of information in this section, but I’ll try not to overwhelm you and stick to the basics.
If you’re going to make your own bread, then you want to get good flour. You can go so far as to grind your own wheat berries (here’s a great post with more information on wheat!). But if that isn’t an option, try to get the freshest flour possible. When wheat is ground it goes rancid within a few weeks to months, meaning it’s lost most of the nutrition it contained at the time of grinding.
We managed to find a grain mill very close to us where we buy our flour from. It’s cheaper than buying a grain mill (though I’d like to in the future) and very fresh, plus I have the options of buying organic or regular, gluten-free and stone ground.
Have no fear if none of these are options for you though. Just buy your flour from the grocery store in smaller amounts (if you’re not baking often) – you’re already doing better by making your own than buying store-bought bread as you’ll be skipping all the additives and preservatives!
Quick rise yeast is the best option – you don’t have to let it proof and it kneads in very easily.
Water temperature should always be VERY warm – not too hot that when you stick your finger in it it hurts – and not too cold. It should feel like bath water. Too hot or too cold and the yeast will either be killed or not proof.
Kneading the dough is sometimes the bit that scares people off the most, as well as knowing when their bread has enough water or flour added to it. Using the windowpane method, you can easily determine if your gluten has been developed enough (that’s fancy talk for having kneaded it enough :D) and your bread is ready to rise and bake.
Ok, so now that we have the prep out of the way, we get to the fun part. The recipes! Where oh where to start? There are literally BILLIONS of bread recipes out there, what is the best one?
I have spent hours and hours trying different recipes, ending up with mostly the same results – some very happy kids and hubby, and a not so satisfied me. Why? Because I was striving for perfection, and the fact of the matter is, with baking, there just is no such thing.
So put aside your high expectations, and get ready to just have fun! I’ll be sharing some of my favourite recipes below, but ask around from others who have made bread. Everyone has a different opinion as to what makes a good loaf of bread. For myself, I love 100% whole wheat for toast or french toast, but I find it’s just too dense (for me) as a sandwich bread. So I do a 50/50 whole wheat and white for our sandwiches, and everyone’s happy either way.
If you want to start off nice and easy with your bread making, homemade English muffins is super easy, not a long rise time and pretty quick.
Another quick and easy favourite of ours is bagels – seriously, you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten homemade bagels! Our favourite is a hand-rolled bagel recipe. (You can find both the english muffin and bagel recipes on my blog, Serving From Home.)
My go-to recipe for baking whole wheat bread keeps on changing (hey, I warned you I’m hard to please :D) but one of the recipes I’ve tried and consistently liked is from Ann Voskamp. (Keep in mind, 100% whole wheat bread is different than the s0-called whole wheat bread you’d buy from the grocery store, so keep an open mind.) This recipe is HUGE and makes a lot of bread, so if you want to start off smaller, try this Whole Wheat bread recipe from Raising Arrows or this one from Money Saving Mom.
I hope you have everything you need to start making your own bread! Please, do ask any questions in the comments, or share your experiences with bread making (both good and bad!). We’d also love to hear your favourite recipes!