If you have never made your own bread, it is such a rewarding thing to do. The ingredients are so simple, yet they are transformed into something extraordinarily delicious. Fresh baked bread barely resembles the shelf stable store stuff, and a piece of warm just baked bread with butter is just about as good as eating gets. The easiest breads to make are white breads that use AP/bread flour. Whole wheat, rye, whole grains, and those types of breads are more challenging to get right due to less gluten development, so this recipe is a great one to start with if you are new to bread baking.
This bread is soft and tender and has a delicious flavor. It makes the BEST toast! It is also perfect for cold sandwiches, grilled cheese, it even makes good french toast (I have a great french toast recipe I will share soon).
There are few tools I routinely use for bread baking that really are useful. I’m going to share a few here. You don’t need these, one of the great things about bread is that you actually need very little to make it. They do make bread baking easier and more enjoyable though.
The first is this dough rising bucket. I have had it forever and I love it. It makes it so easy to judge if your dough has actually doubled, which can be hard to tell in a bowl.
I use oil spray to spray the inside before putting my kneaded dough in and you can move it around and stick it in a warm place when the weather is cold. I use my laundry room! It seals tightly so you don’t need to use plastic wrap or cover the dough.
The second really useful tool is a bench scraper. Bench scrapers are used to get stuck dough off your counter, or to pick up excess flour, to cut dough into pieces, or you can even use them to smooth frosting on a cake. I use mine really frequently. They are an inexpensive tool, but a huge help for bread baking.
Another useful tool is a lame (pronouced LAHM). This is basically just a razor blade and holder used to score bread. You can use a sharp knife instead, or a razor blade without the holder, but a lame gives you better control of your scoring. People do amazingly artistic scoring that is so beautiful, which is something I’m still working on learning.
When I first started to bake bread, I had so many questions. It is one of those hobbies where there is always something else to know or learn, which I love about it. Even when you make a mistake, the result is often still edible and delicious. I am going to walk through some bread baking basics, and I am happy to answer any questions anyone has.
Things that affect your bread baking:
Temperature – one of the biggest variables to baking bread is the temperature of your house and the time of year. Bread rises much more quickly in warm temps than in cool. If you are making bread in the winter, and your house is on the cooler side, you need to allow more rising time. In the summer, if it is warm, it will rise much faster. You can estimate your time needed to finish the process based on the conditions. Sometimes this fact is used as a technique to develop more flavor in bread, since slowly fermented bread tends to have more flavor. If you see recipes instructing you to put your dough into the fridge to rise overnight for example, that may be to allow flavor to develop.
Humidity – depending on where you live in the country, or the weather conditions, you may need to add more or less water to achieve the right consistency. This is something you have to play by ear every single bake. Water needs to be adjusted according to how the dough feels, so liquid measurements are just a guideline.
Type and brand of flour – this may sound odd, but different types and even brands of flour have different protein content, and that effects your end product. Bread flour has a higher protein content, which allows more structure to form and allows a higher loaf with a chewy texture. Softer breads sometimes use AP flour. I prefer KAF brand bread flour and I have really seen a difference in my bread when I use grocery store brands instead. It is also different to work with whole wheat, rye, and whole grain flour because they don’t develop gluten as well, so you have to treat them differently. Bread flour is the easiest to work with, which is why this is a great starter recipe.
- 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, slightly warmed if it has been in the fridge
- 1/2 cup water (more or less, depending on your conditions)
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp instant yeast (I love this one)
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 5 1/2 cups bread flour (I used KAF brand), measured by spoon and level method
In the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook, or in a large bowl if you are making by hand, combine the butter, buttermilk and water and stir. Add the salt, sugar, baking soda, and yeast. Add 2 cups of flour and turn on the mixer, or stir by hand. Continue adding more of the flour until you have a sticky mass of dough. Initially the dough will stick to the bowl, but as it kneads it will clear the sides and then the bottom as the gluten develops. Let the mixer go for 5 minutes, and then check the feel of the dough by wetting a clean hand and grabbing the dough mass. It should feel cohesive and a bit stretchy. If it feels dry or stiff, add a few tbsp of water and mix some more. If it seems very sticky and loose, add a few tbsp of flour and continue mixing. You may need to adjust more than once while kneading. Continue kneading until the dough is a solid ball or smooth, stretchy dough.
Take a small piece between your hands and stretch it slowly. If it breaks, there isn’t enough gluten and it needs to mix longer. If you can stretch it thinly without it breaking so you can see some light coming through, it is ready. This is called the window pane effect. Kneading by hand will take longer than the mixer to achieve this.
Once your dough has achieved window pane stage, spray a dough rising bucket or bowl with oil spray and place the dough in it. Cover and allow to rise in a warm area, about an hour until your dough has doubled. This can take more/less time depending on the conditions I mentioned above.
Once the dough has doubled, remove it onto a lightly floured counter top. Cut in half using a bench scraper or knife. You can use a scale to weigh your dough first if you want exactly equal loaves. I use my favorite scale I mentioned in my post on empanadas. Gently press each half into a rectangular shape (don’t press too hard as you want to keep some of the air in the dough). Roll the dough up into a log and press the seam to seal it.
Spray 2 8×5 inch baking pans with oil spray and place the rolled up dough into them, seam side down. Cover with oiled plastic wrap, and allow to rise for about 45 minutes, or until the dough is about 1 inch above the pan at its highest point. Preheat your oven to 375 while you wait. You can tell when dough is ready to bake by poking the top with an oiled finger. If the dent you make remains, and doesn’t fill back in right away, its ready.
Remove the plastic wrap and place the pans into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pans and bake for another 10-15 minutes until nicely browned and at least 200 degrees internally as checked with an instant read thermometer. Remove and allow to cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Then remove the loaves and cool them on a cooling rack until fully cooled before slicing. Bread being sliced for sandwich bread needs to cool before you cut it, because it will compress and lose its lightness if you cut it warm. I do cut other bread warm though that we will be eating right away, because its sooo good warm.
If there is anything you’d like to know, or questions you have about making bread, please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment. I love to talk bread.
*note – as an Amazon Affiliate, I get a small portion of any money spend on items linked on this site.