Delicious and Easy Homemade Bread

Say goodbye to the intimidation factor. Our tips for easy homemade bread will inspire beautiful loaves and a whole new outlook on baking.
By William Rubel
December 2010/January 2011
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Easy homemade bread doesn't have to mean undecorated bread. Try applying an egg glaze to achieve golden loaves like these.
PHOTO: JIM MACKENZIE
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I have always found baking homemade bread to be truly simple. I just put flour, water, leaven, and salt together and stir. I often put the water in the bowl directly from the tap and just turn off the tap when I think I have enough. I never measure precisely, and people always love my bread. I honestly think you can’t fail at bread making as long as you pay attention to the dough and don’t try to bake it when it isn’t ready.

Making bread you’re happy with is a matter of both the bread and your expectations. A loaf of bread doesn’t have to look the same every time or match a picture in a book. There is no one pathway to delicious bread.

Here, I’ll share how to prepare easy homemade bread and provide links to recipes for three variations: a crusty white loaf, a deeply flavorful multigrain bread and a lovely sandwich bread. I encourage a largely free-form, no-knead system in which your role as bread baker is like that of improvising jazz musician or nurturing gardener. It is a holistic system that recognizes fermenting bread dough as alive and ever-changing. It is a system that sees each batch of dough as having the potential to produce an infinite range of successful conclusions, such that each recipe is a window into a world of possibilities rather than an end in itself.

The Yeast You Can Do

Yeast is active in dough at any temperature above freezing up to the oven temperature that finally kills it (about 140 degrees Fahrenheit). Like plants, yeasts grow more quickly at warmer temperatures. Just as hothouse vegetables may look beautiful but have little flavor, when dough rises at hothouse temperatures (80 degrees and higher), you get good gas production but not good flavor. Yeast needs time to create good flavors. I suggest using an instant-read thermometer so you can check dough temperature conveniently.

Experiment with long, slow fermentations (12 to 20 hours). This means experimenting with a small amount of yeast in the dough — no more than one-half to 1 teaspoon per pound of flour — and dough rising temperatures from the low 70s down to those of your refrigerator. In a hot summer kitchen, mix the dough with cool water. In a cold winter kitchen, mix it with warm water. Be patient with your dough and it will always yield fabulous bread.

That said, sometimes you may need to make bread in a hurry. If you have to, use a packet of yeast (2¼ teaspoons), mix the dough with warm water and let it rise in a warm place — and be happy! It’s always better to enjoy a homemade loaf than plastic-packaged bread.

Yeast Types and Tips 

Saccharomyces cerevisiae is the single-celled fungus responsible for fermentation in beer, wine, and bread. Bread yeasts are simply strains of S. cerevisiae selected for maximum carbon dioxide production in doughy environments.

Yeast strains optimized for bread come in three forms: as blocks of refrigerated, active compressed yeast (19th-century technology), as granulated dried yeast to be rehydrated in warm water (1940s technology), and as finely milled dried yeast to be rehydrated with the flour (1970s technology). This last form of yeast is often called “instant yeast.” Beer and wine yeasts, which you can easily purchase online, produce exceedingly flavorful loaves.

In my talks with yeast companies, I’ve been consistently told that most of their customers are more interested in speed than taste. Instructions on yeast packets reflect this priority. Here’s my advice: If the yeast should be hydrated in water, then use warm water, as the packet directs. But if the yeast should be stirred directly into the flour, then, as a rule, don’t use water that is above 80 degrees. The worst that can happen if you use water cooler than the yeast manufacturer recommends is that less yeast will come back alive in your dough than the manufacturer anticipated. This means your bread will take longer to rise from a given unit of yeast, but because a longer rise is associated with better flavor, that is a good thing (unless you’re in a big hurry). If you’re in a hurry, use warm water.

For recipe improvisers, you may want to keep this in mind: Active compressed yeast contains lots of water, so you need to use more of it — about twice as much by weight as you’d use of dry yeast to achieve the same results. Also, some recent quick rise yeasts don’t seem to support repeated rises, so if your bread seems to die after an initial rise, try changing yeast brands.

No Need to Knead

Kneading seems inextricably linked to bread making, but a shift in thinking is underway on this topic. Many think breads require much less kneading than tradition suggests — or even none at all. The recipes I offer are all no-knead recipes.

As many bakers are now discovering, kneading is not necessary for the development of a wheat bread’s gluten structure (for more information, see No-Knead Healthy Bread Recipes). In fact, the gluten network develops during fermentation. I stopped kneading bread 30 years ago after I did some testing and realized it didn’t seem necessary for the kinds of breads I like to make. Lately, my reading of 19th-century American cookbooks has made me suspicious of kneading for other reasons. For instance, the length of time a housewife kneaded her bread dough was long associated with how much care she was thought to be showing her family.

My advice to home bakers is to give up your bread machines, experience the pleasure of making bread by hand and don’t stress the kneading. To achieve breads with a good final form (remembering that form and taste are different things), you can give the dough a few folds as you form the loaf. Folding is particularly effective in strengthening the gluten structure of softer dough. (For information, plus videos of the technique, see Bread-Folding Techniques.)

Living Dough

A couple of years ago I visited a friend of mine, a baker, at his main plant. He has a large baking business, Acme Bread Co., which is respected in the artisan baking world. I was struggling at the time with how to write down bread recipes, so I asked him whether he ever baked from written recipes. After a long pause, he said he must have when he was just starting out. In my friend’s bakery, recipes are adjusted on a daily basis, and that includes the oven temperatures at which they bake.

It was an epiphany for me. For the first time, I saw that for a commercial baker, the written recipe is the start of a lifelong association. The baker and the recipes evolve together.

I hope you think of the recipes here as beginnings, not ends. Change them. Make them yours. If you’re a meticulous person, then write down what you do. Try paying attention to dough temperature, recognizing that you are the gardener, the nurturer, of this living dough. There may not be flowers, but there are lots of complex fruits of the fermentation process — and many of the best fruits, the best flavors, are developed at low temperatures, even in the refrigerator. Experiment. You will be rewarded.


Bread Recipes

And now, three recipes to start your hands-on education and evolution as a bread baker.

Crusty White Bread
Farmer's Bread
Basic Sandwich Bread


William Rubel has been making bread since he was 11 years old. His first book on the subject, Bread, will be published by Reaktion Books in late 2011. 


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Post a comment below.

 

Michael Lovett
12/15/2013 7:27:53 PM
I liked the comment about "if you need bread in a hurry". I don't have the patience or need to wait 24 hours for the bread to rise--two hours is plenty! I have been making that "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes" that seems to be prominent in every search online I do these days. I have actually never baked a thing, other than those chocolate chip cookies you pretty much cut off a log of pre-made dough. My mom was a major baker; before she retired, we always had a cake, a pie, or a cobbler on the table. After retirement, the number doubled! I am 52, and really want to improve my quality of life and reduce costs, so naturally, I have looked at how I can spend less, cook more, be happy. I started making the Artisan bread mentioned back in November, 2013. Now it's December and I am currently waiting for some dough to rise--the two loaves I will get out of the 6.5 cup recipe are the 7th and 8th loaves I will have made. I let one cool, then cut it up with a serrated knife and cover it with a plastic bag on a plate. The other loaf I don't cut, and wrap it up in two plastic bags with a couple of newspaper pages inside to absorb any "sweat". The two loaves usually last me about six to seven days, depending on how many sandwiches I make. Bake bread people! It's as easy as he says here.

TERRY HAWK
1/9/2011 8:25:07 PM
I am sooo relieved to find out I wasn't the only one who had trouble with the opulent farmers bread. My hubby has been giving me a hard time about Elly Mae Clampetts biscuits. It was so hard I couldn't cut it with a knife so I finally broke it in somewhat half. I managed to slice those halves in half by going through the inside and trying to break through on the other side. I managed to break those halves open too. I could chew it but hubby said I sounded like I was eating milkbones. I have good teeth and wasn't about to waste all that hard work. The taste of the bread was very good despite the hardness of the crust.

Nerdmom
12/17/2010 12:09:45 PM
Thanks for this article and the recipes. We have only been baking bread for about 6 mos now, and NEVER buy it in the store anymore. I am about done with crackers and store bought pasta also, unless it's on sale. I find that I have to talk face time when I try to get people to make their own bread, and after they've had a couple of turns at it, then it becomes the study of alchemy that bread making has become for me. I just tell people, 30 minutes actual face time is all that is needed to make 1-4 loaves of bread. When they hear that they are interested, who doesn't love fresh baked bread. Question, I've never used bread conditioners, but am told this is how you get that store bought texture, is this so?

Suzanne Horvath
12/17/2010 11:20:13 AM
Ok, now let's get all this bread baking expertise into the GF world, please! GF bread is not like regular bread and most of the GF recipes/mixes contain the ubiquitous white rice flour - Yuck. I really think that someone who has baked for years and considers themselves expert could bring a lot of new ideas to the baking of GF bread. I REALLY want some great GF bread - preferably a french baguette :-}

William Rubel
12/17/2010 11:11:32 AM
Author’s response for Opulent Framer’s Bread continued: So, here is a revised baking instruction. Start at 400F for fifteen minutes and then lower the oven to 350F and after an hour, you could lower it to further to 325F. You do want to be sure that the interior temperature reaches 200F to 205F, something you can check with an instant read thermometer, and that it holds there for a while. I can't quantify for a while, my own system is to always let it go longer than my instincts tell me is necessary and I find that that works out, but for at least 30 minutes. You want the interior of this dense bread thoroughly cooked. I do bake the bread for 2 ½ hours. I like a very strong crisp crust and I have exceedingly sharp knives. I think the point of the article is that unless the bread is burnt on the outside or raw on the inside there is really no right and wrong to baking times. Bake to your tastes. If your intuition tells you that you 2 hours is enough, then take it out. Traditionally, you thump on the bottom of the loaf and if the sound is hollow, then bread is done. Let me know how the lower temperatures and possibly shorter baking times work for you. This is a delicious tasting bread and I hope you will try it. William Rubel

William Rubel
12/17/2010 11:09:33 AM
Author’s response regarding the length of the baking on the Opulent Farmer's bread. The bread is made with two pounds of whole grain flour -- wheat, rye,and barley. With this type of dough you want to err on the side of baking longer, rather than baking less, otherwise you end up with a sticky interior. Always let the bread sit a day before cutting into it. This also allows the inside to set fully. Thus, a long baking is a good idea. This said, I am afraid that Thom is right and the time is a bit too long for the 400F oven temperature. I will have to look back at my notes, but my guess is that somewhere the instruction to start at 400 for fifteen minutes and then drop the oven temperature to 350F was left out. (Starting high and reducing the oven temperature mimics the temperature drop in wood fired ovens.) [Continue onto next comment.]

Thom
12/14/2010 11:01:27 AM
Made the Opulent Farmer bread yesterday as directed. 2 1/2 hrs was definitely too long! Crust was so hard I couldn't cut it. Hoping that was a misprint. Any suggestions on a better length of time?

Blaf
12/4/2010 11:32:00 AM
I am trying to make the Opulent Farmers’ Bread from the latest issue. It says that baking time is 2 1/2 hours. It sounds too long. Any comments on this? Thank you in advance, Blaf

glen_1
11/9/2010 8:24:51 PM
here is the original link http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/2007-12-01/Easy-No-Knead-Dutch-Oven-Crusty-Bread.aspx glen

glen_1
11/9/2010 8:03:23 PM
An interesting article indeed. I have been making home made bread following the no knead dutch oven recipe I found on Mother for a few years now. this recipe is as follows: 3 cups flour 1 and 1/2 cups water 1 and 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp yeast mix all ingredients let rise 12 to 18 hrs. pour dough onto well floured surface and fold over itself a few times. let 2nd rise once shaped into loaf ball for 2 hrs under floured tea towel. 30 min before end of 2nd rise preheat oven with good cast iron dutch oven to 425*f-450*f. put dough into heated dutch oven and cover with lid. bake 30 min. remove lid and bake 10 min longer. This yields a large holed crusty loaf with great flavour.(yes I'm Canadian as guessed by my spelling of flavour as aposed to flavor.) This loaf is a treat in my home as we really try to limit our carbs. But the kids (read between the lines adults included) exclaim with enthusiasm when I make it. Glen








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