Homemade Bread

Tuesdays and Thursdays have become bread baking days in our house. Years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to bake bread. However, I gave up after a few dense loaves. I’ve been trying again this fall, and all my practice is beginning to pay off.

There’s something wholesome and cozy about taking the time to bake a loaf of bread. It’s not quick or simple, but the slow process of mixing and kneading and waiting for the bread to rise makes a small thing like spreading butter and jelly onto slices of bread feel so intentional and purposeful. It also makes our house smell like my grandma’s house, and I love the idea of passing on this baking tradition to my children.

I’ve been experimenting with different recipes and pans. I enjoy kneading bread, but this week I tried a no-knead loaf that turned out beautiful. Here are a few of my bread baking tips I’ve gathered from cookbooks and through the trial and error of my weekly baking attempts.

First, an electric mixer helps a lot. I originally didn’t have a mixer and wanted to learn how to make bread without modern appliances. It’s not absolutely necessary, but the mixer helps smooth out the dough, and makes the whole process easier–and you don’t get a sore arm *mixing on high speed for 3 minutes* by hand. My mom gifted me her vintage (old) mixer, and it has made the bread baking process so much easier.

Use as little flour as possible if you want a light and fluffy loaf. Begin with the measured amount of flour the recipe calls for in step one. When it comes time to add more flour add 1/4 of a cup at a time, trying to add as little flour as possible. As soon as the dough is stretchy and not sticky, stop adding flour. Every single speck of flour the dough touches as you knead it is part of the flour mentioned in the recipe, and it’s really easy to add too much flour– and too much flour makes your loaves too heavy.

While letting bread rise, cover it with a thin towel and place it in an unheated oven along with a pan full of hot water. I can’t remember where I read this piece of advice–probably in a Martha Stewart book–but it’s a warm, cozy place for the dough to rise. It’s also a safe place away from little, curious fingers that like poking and deflating the dough when it’s left out on the counter.

I purchased some mini loaf pans recently, and they’re currently my favorite pans to use. They bake the cutest little loaves, and the kids especially enjoy the small slices of bread. They’re also really easy to bag and give as gifts because each batch of bread makes 6 small loaves: plenty for our family and a couple extras to share.

What about you–do you bake homemade bread? If so, do you have any bread baking tips to share? It’s a process that I’m dedicated to conquering, and any extra ideas are always appreciated!

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