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Gathering Ingredients and Equipment
Welcome to the first step in our bread making journey! Before we can get our hands in the dough, we need to gather a few simple ingredients and pieces of equipment that will act as the foundation for our loaves.
There are four main ingredients that form the basis of nearly any bread recipe:
Flour - The flour provides structure and substance to the bread. Most artisan style breads use a higher protein bread flour or all-purpose flour. Bread flour has a bit more gluten forming potential than all-purpose flour which gives the bread a nice chewy texture.
Yeast - The yeast is responsible for leavening the bread and giving it rise. Active dry yeast is a common choice and can be found in the baking aisle of any grocery store. Make sure the yeast is fresh and check the expiration date.
Salt - Salt adds flavor and also helps control the fermentation rate of the yeast. Table salt or kosher salt work well. Add it in moderation.
Water - The water hydrates the flour and allows the gluten strands to develop. Use lukewarm water which helps activate and bloom the yeast.
You likely already have some of the basic equipment needed for bread making in your kitchen. Here are the key items to have on hand:
Baking sheet - A rimmed baking sheet with a bit of depth is useful for free-form loaves baked directly on the pan. Line it with parchment paper for easy release.
Loaf pan - Standard 9x5 inch bread pans are perfect for sandwich loaves with a more contained shape.
Mixing bowl - Choose a spacious bowl with room for the dough to double in size as it rises.
Measuring cups & spoons - Accurate measurements are important in bread baking. Have a liquid measuring cup and set of dry measuring cups and spoons ready.
Mixing spoon - A sturdy wooden or silicone spoon helps mix and knead dough. Avoid metal which can react with the yeast.
Knife - A serrated knife or bread lame makes clean slices through crusty loaves.
Cooling rack - Allows air circulation under baked loaves as they cool.
Many of these items can be found affordably at grocery and home goods stores. Improvise as needed - bowls and spoons from your kitchen can work in a pinch!
Don't let a missing ingredient or tool stop you from baking. Here are some handy substitutions to know:
No bread flour? Use all-purpose flour. The bread may be slightly less chewy.
Out of yeast? Try a natural yeast starter you make yourself from flour and water.
No loaf pan? Shape a free-form loaf and bake it directly on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Missing a cooling rack? Place loaves on a plate or cutting board, propped up slightly to allow air flow.
No lame or serrated knife? A regular sharp knife can still cut through the crust nicely.
Bread has been made for thousands of years with very basic ingredients and equipment. Don't be afraid to improvise and experiment!
Now that we have our fundamental ingredients and tools, we're ready to dive into the fun part - making the dough! Onward to the step-by-step process.
Step-by-Step Bread Making Process
We're now ready to walk through the hands-on process of making bread, step-by-step. Follow along chronologically, and soon you'll be shaping and baking your own fresh loaf!
Proof the Yeast
The first step is to activate the yeast so it's ready to help the dough rise. Pour the yeast and a teaspoon of sugar into 1/4 cup warm water (about 110°F). Let it sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbly and foamy. The bubbles show the yeast is awake and ready to go to work!
Make the Dough
Now it's time to mix up the dough. In a large bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the proofed yeast mixture and warm water.
Using a spoon or your hands, mix and stir everything together until a shaggy dough forms. You'll feel the dough starting to come together as the flour hydrates. Don't worry if it's a little sticky at this point!
Knead the Dough
Here comes the fun part - kneading the dough! Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Using the palm of your hand, push and fold the dough repeatedly for about 10 minutes.
Kneading develops the gluten strands in the dough, making it smooth and elastic. You'll feel the dough become less sticky and more cohesive as you knead. Such a satisfying feeling!
Let It Rise
Now we let the dough take a break and rise. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let it rest in a warm, draft-free spot for 1-2 hours.
During this first rise, the yeast will produce gas that puffs up the dough. It should about double in size when ready. The rising dough smells amazing!
Shape the Loaf
Once doubled, gently punch down the dough to release excess air. On a floured surface, shape it into a loaf by folding the sides under to form a smooth top.
For a free-form loaf, shape into an oval boule. For a pan loaf, form a log and place into a greased loaf pan seam-side down. Cover and let rise again for 30-60 minutes.
Bake and Cool
Finally, the moment we've been waiting for - baking! Place loaf in a preheated 375°F oven. Bake until deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack before slicing.
Hear that crackly crust? Smell that wholesome aroma? Taste the fresh, fluffy interior. You did it - enjoy your homemade bread!
Here are some handy tips if you run into any issues:
Dough too sticky? Add a bit more flour while kneading.
Dough won't rise? Check yeast is active and allow more time.
Loaf won't bake through? Increase oven temperature 25°F.
Burnt bottom? Place loaf on lower rack next time.
Tough, dense texture? Knead thoroughly and let rise fully before baking.
Don't worry if your first loaf isn't perfect! Making mistakes is part of the learning process. Take notes and keep tweaking until you get the results you want.
Celebrate Your Bread Baking Wins!
As a new baker, be sure to celebrate the small victories along the way. Making your first loaf from scratch is an accomplishment to be proud of!
Appreciate how the simple act of combining flour, water, yeast and salt can create something so nourishing and delicious. Enjoy the anticipation as each rise fills your kitchen with that welcoming aroma. Marvel at the transformation when the dough goes into the oven as a pale blob and emerges with a beautifully browned crust.
Savor that very first bite of bread you made yourself. Share your loaf with friends and family and watch their eyes light up. The joy of homemade bread is meant to be shared!
You've unlocked a wonderful new skill and can now bake loaf after loaf to your heart's content. Here's to many more happy years of baking ahead!