Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bread bread bread

Recently, I've been basking in the joys and smells of bread baking at home.  I'm still learning the ins and outs of amateur bread making, but so far all of the loaves have been tasty (though not always pretty.)  I think a lot of this has to do with my unpredictable Brooklyn apartment oven: runs hotter or colder depending on the alignment of the planets, not incredibly well insulated so heat recovery time is a little weak, etc. etc.

So what I thought I'd do is write a little about my kneading and raising techniques, post a basic recipe or two that I use and then give the rest over to pictures add pictures in later posts.  Comments, critiques, tricks are all welcome.

Starting and Kneading

When I start a loaf, I've been doing one of too things: I either add the activated yeast and water to 1 cup of flour and stir it vigorously for about a minute to develop the gluten, let this sponge rise for about 30 mins, and then add the rest of the flour and knead.  The other way I start a loaf is simply adding the yeast and water to the flour, give it a thorough mixing and a quick knead, let it rise for a few minutes and then get on with the kneading.  

These are both techniques I have read about, though I really have no idea how they affect the final product.  Thoughts?

As far as kneading goes, I'm a fan of working with a moist dough and adding flour throughout the kneading until I have a dough ball that is still slightly moist, but doesn't stick to the work surface or my hands.  I knead for about 10 minutes or until I can push a couple of fingers into the dough and it not spring back immediately.  

Kneading goes thus: flatten the dough with my left hand, stretch the dough with my right (just stretching, no tearing), pull back the dough, quarter turn, repeat.  When the ball has the right amount of springiness, I form a sphere with the dough and work it into a quasi-round shape (great description, I know.)  Basically, I pull the dough with my thumbs and work the dough to the bottom of the ball and knead it back into the center.

Then I let it sit for a couple of hours, covered in a lightly oiled bowl, until the dough has doubled.  Punch the dough down and knead again for a few minutes.  I turn it back into the bowl and let it rise a second time.  


A few weeks ago I decided that it was time to invest in a baking stone.  I don't regret it.  Worth every penny.  

When I bake bread, it is usually a basic loaf and I start it at 450 degrees and may or may not lower the temperature depending on how the loaf looks after 10 minutes.  

I've tried a couple of different baking techniques to get different crusts.  Our oven is not huge and we don't have a large steaming pot, so I haven't yet tried a simulated steam bake.  But I have put a pan of water in the back of the oven to increase the overall humidity.  I also tried spraying the loaf with water every couple of minutes for the first 20 minutes.  As I understand it, a more humid oven simulates a wood burning oven and gives you a crustier loaf.  Again, thoughts, suggestions, tips are always welcome.

Dough Cutting

I've read a lot about cutting the top of a loaf before baking to give the bread room to expand.  This certainly seems to work, though I always wind up with weird alien head loaves rather than a nice round.  Any tips?


Basic White
3.5 cups all purpose or baking flour, plus extra for kneading
1 Tbs butter, softened
1.33 cups warm water
1 packet active yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Basic White with flax
Same as above, but substitute .5 cup flax meal for .5 cup flour.

Basic Whole Wheat
Same as above, but substituting some whole wheat flour for the all-purpose.  The more whole wheat that is used, the denser the loaf will be and possibly will require longer baking times.


  1. Okay, I people may think a little bit biased because I am in love with you, but what they don't know is that I am in love with you because of your bread. I was actually the first one to try bread baking in our household, but it turns out I'm not very good at it. Erik is a wizard. Eating a slice of Erik's hot, fresh bread with butter and honey is like, oh, I don't know, sliding down a rainbow and landing in a cloud as stars rain down upon your smiling face. It's that good.

  2. Erik, this is inspiring and beautiful. I may have to try my hand at bagels, thanks to you!

  3. Erik, I am glad you are enjoying baking bread your Grandmother would have been so pleased. She tried and tried to impart her bread making skills to me with out much sucess.