My top bread baking tips
Based on my 18 years of experience of baking bread for my family, friends and customers, here are my favourite tips on getting each loaf perfect every time.
How to get your bread perfect every time!
It’s interesting how people are often very confident when baking cakes and bakes, but when it comes to baking bread people think it’s some sort of black art, where everything needs to be just spot on and all measured perfectly.
To some extent that’s true, but once you master a few basic things, bread baking is actually a lot more forgiving than making cakes.
So here are my top 10 baking tips to get your loaf right every time.
They apply to any bread baking, but just in case you don’t have a basic recipe here is one now.
Basic Bread Recipe
500g strong bread flour
1 ½ teaspoon of easy bake yeast
1 ½ teaspoon of salt
1 ½ teaspoon of sugar (optional)
320ml of water
Mix everything together, knead, leave to rise, knock back and shape, leave to prove for the second time, preheat your oven, bake (about 30 min in total), cool and eat!
1. Make sure you measure everything correctly
It is important to measure everything correctly, but don’t get too worried if you are short of 25g of flour or something similar. Bread is not a cake and you can get away with not being perfect. Ingredients like salt and sugar are really to your taste – so if you prefer more salty bread add a bit more than the recipe says.
2. Use the correct water temperature
If you do use warm (tepid) water you give your dough an optimal temperature (about 23 C) and this give your bread a ‘kick start’. But, if you don’t use warm water, the process just takes a bit longer. It doesn’t have any effect on the taste or texture of your bread. In fact, if you want to leave your bread to rise over a longer period of time (say overnight in the fridge) you do need to use cold water.
3. Knead your bread well
There is no getting away from this! To get good bread, you need to knead your dough well. It doesn’t really matter how to you do it as long as you stretch your dough and fold it back on itself. 10-15 minutes is just about right – one episode of the Archers should do it!
And I’m sorry to say, that you can’t over knead your bread by hand – so no cheating!
4. Don’t add flour when you are kneading!
This is a common mistake, which will make your bread very tough indeed. If you have measured everything just about right, you don’t need extra flour for kneading. If your dough is sticky right from the start (say you have added too much water by mistake), add some flour straightaway and keep kneading.
If your hands are clean, your dough won’t stick to them! Use a dough scraper to get sticky dough off your hands or wash them if needed.
Extra Special Tip!
Use a bit of oil on your hands to prevent dough sticking to your hands.
5. Leave your bread to prove properly
Don’t put your bread to prove in the oven or a hot conservatory. It might get too warm and your bread will start to bake or the yeast will lose its strength too quickly. It’s better to leave the bread to prove for longer – the longer you leave it the better your bread will be. Your bread will rise in any temperature – even overnight in the fridge. This is a great way to split the baking process if you don’t have the time to finish baking in one evening.
You are looking for the dough to double in size – that’s what matters not how long it takes.
6. Shape your bread tightly
This is an absolutely crucial part of bread baking. Deflate the dough by punching your fingers in and then roll your bread twice to give it shape and tension. If you just try to shape the dough it won’t have any structure and it won’t stay in its shape.
7. Use the right bakeware
In all honesty, if you shape your bread well, you don’t need anything than just a baking sheet. But a loaf tin (you can use 2 lb cake tin) is useful if you are new to bread baking or you want to leave your bread to rise in the fridge overnight. The tin will help the bread to stay in one place even if you don’t shape it that well.
8. Slash the dough top to make it rise better
By cutting the tops of your bread (several slashes diagonally across your bread) you are helping the bread to rise more in the oven. You only need to cut in about 1cm, using a very sharp knife (or clean DIY craft knife with extended blade). Be careful not to drag the knife or push too hard down as this might deflate the bread.
9. Bake your bread at the right temperature
If you want to get a great crust on your bread and to get the bread rise more in the oven, the bread needs high heat. And I mean, the hottest temperature setting your oven goes up to! After the first 10 minutes turn the temperature down to about 220c for white bread and 180c for wholemeal. After another 15 mins check your bread by tapping on the bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s done. If not just pop it back to the oven.
10. Don't underestimate the cooling process
Always make sure you leave your bread to cool down on a wire rack.
Why ? Surprisingly enough the escaping steam is still baking your bread and by cutting the bread too early you’re ruining all the good work you have just done. The good thing is that you can cool it down as quickly as you need to – open window or take the bread outside (still on your cooling rack).
O.K. – like a ‘baker’s dozen’ there is one more!
11. Store your bread correctly
Your freshly baked bread will last up to 7 days, before it gets probably too hard to eat. I know that sounds strange when shop bought bread often gets mouldy after 3 days, but because your bread doesn’t have any nasty e-numbers in there is nothing to go off. Keep your bread in a loose plastic bag and in a bread bin for best results.
Bread freezes really well, so what you don’t need straightaway, just freeze on the day. It will be fine for about 3 months. When defrosting your bread, you can always pop it in the oven for 180C for 5 min and it will look and taste like you have just baked it! Psst, don’t tell anyone, but this one is a great for dinner parties – say you have just finished baking fresh bread for everyone!