The Baking of Bread

I do tons of baking for family and friends throughout the year but never so much as at the holidays: cookies, candies, candied nuts, treats, quick breads and so on. Last year I even shipped boxes of holiday treats all over the world. But baking bread is another story altogether.

I have always been afraid of yeast breads. So many things can go wrong: dead yeast, flour types, wrong liquid temperature, kneading, proofing, etc. It’s a nightmare before you even get started.

I had attempted to make rustic Artisan Bread in the past with pretty good results, however, I didn’t feel confident with yeast at all. The bread turned out well and everyone loved it, yet, it was not the pillowy soft and tender cinnamon rolls that Grandma used to make.

Then, for Christmas last year, I got a cookbook: America’s Test Kitchen Bread Illustrated. Now, I live in Minnesota, where the winters are long and hard, and cabin fever is real. So, to amuse myself, this past winter I decided to learn to bake with yeast. I also watched every single episode of The Great British Baking Show with Paul Hollywood at least twice. I do love Mary Berry, but no one makes bread like Paul Hollywood.

After much experimentation, many failures and then finally success, I concluded that there are really just 3 basic bread dough types: enriched, plain and artisan. These are probably not the correct terms, but I am just a home cook, not a fancy trained baker or chef.

A few things I know for sure:

  1. Don’t be afraid. The worst thing that can happen is you toss your dough and start again.
  2. Read the recipe. Read it 3 or 4 times until you understand exactly what you will be doing.
  3. Be prepared. Make sure your stand mixer has the correct attachments in place. Prepare the baking sheet or pan, bread stone (if needed) and the proofing bowl as well. Make sure all your utensils are ready to go.
  4. Be sure your oven racks are correctly placed before you turn on the oven.
  5. Yes, you do need a digital thermometer.
  6. Get ALL of your ingredients together and measured out before you start to mix anything.
  7. Start with all your ingredients at room temperature unless the recipe states otherwise.
  8. Measure carefully. Baking is a science and measuring matters.
  9. Use good quality ingredients. You can totally tell the difference between King Arthur flour and generic store brand.
  10. Do not let your yeast touch sugar or salt until you are ready to actually start mixing.

If you follow the recipe YOU can make tasty breads, sweet rolls and dinner rolls. It is really quite easy. Once you understand the dynamics of dough, you can fill it with whatever you want.