The only real way to get better at baking bread is to get in the kitchen and get your hands dirty! However, there are some things that may be helpful to know before yo do. Use these tips to learn from my mistakes (and successes) and give yourself a head start on your baking journey.

Useful Terms to Know

BENCHING:

Letting the dough rest before shaping your bread.

CRUMB:

The inside of the loaf. Usually used to describe the size and pattern of the holes.

ENRICHED DOUGH:

Any dough that contains enhancement. Usually refers to eggs, sugar, butter, or cream.

FERMENT:

The leavening process of letting the yeast develop. The yeast will convert carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and alcohol which gives the loaf an airy texture.

FOLD:

A process used to develop more gluten and help the dough hold it’s shape. It’s when you take the wet dough out onto a floured surface and fold it over on itself, usually in thirds like a letter. Then return it to the bowl and let it continue to rise.

KNEAD:

Manually working the dough to develop gluten and strengthen it.

LAME: 

French for blade. The tool used to score the bread.

PROOF:

Letting the shaped dough rise before baking.

RETARD:

Slowing down the fermentation process by cooling the dough. Used if you don’t plan on baking the dough the same day.

SCORE:

Making slashed in the bread to allow steam to release and give it a pattern.

Tips & Tricks

  • READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE FIRST
    Be sure to plan accordingly. Baking bread takes time and can sometimes have a lot of steps. It’s important to know what each step will be and how long you’ll need. You don’t want to start making bread expecting to finish it that day only to realize it needs to proof for 4 hours and it’s already 10 pm. Knowing what you need to do and when can ensure you’re able to stick to the plan.
  • MISE EN PLACE
    That’s French for “everything in its place” and is one of the first things they taught me in culinary school. Before you start making your bread you should have all your ingredients out (even better if they’re already measured). I also like to have whatever bowls and utensils I’m going to need laid out and ready to go.
  • USE YOUR HANDS
    A stand mixer is great for a lot of things and fine for getting your dough started, but you should always knead with your hands. Bread making is equal parts science and art. Learning what each kind of dough should feel like will make you a much better baker. Even if you follow the recipe you might find that it needs a little more flour or water. Knowing how wet, how elastic, and how tough a dough should feel will help you get it right every time.
  • KEEP AN EYE ON IT 
    The temperature and time in a recipe should be treated like a suggestion. Never just throw the bread in and leave it. Every oven is different and I’ve never used one that bakes bread evenly. Look to see if one side is browning faster than the other and rotate it if necessary. If it looks done early, or not done enough in the time suggested, trust your gut more than the recipe.
  • PROOF NEXT TO A WINDOW TO SPEED THINGS UP
    The warmth from the sunlight will help the dough ferment and rise/proof faster. This can especially be useful if you like to keep it cold in your house.
  • START WITH LESS FLOUR AND ADD GRADUALLY
    This way you can make sure you get the right texture. Remember that if a future step has you rolling it out on a floured surface the dough will pick up more flour.
  • WEIGH AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
    Weighing each ingredient will always be more accurate than measuring so get a good digital scale and make it your best friend. How finely a flour is ground, how densely it’s packed, or how big an egg is can mess up the measurement, but weight will always be accurate.

Originally published in bobbyderk.com

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