Before attempting to bake homemade bread there are a few things that I suggest.
- Purchase an oven thermometer. Even brand new ovens can be calibrated incorrectly. A few degrees in the wrong direction in baking can make more of a difference than you think.
- Make sure you’re using fresh yeast. Once your jar has been opened, keep it in the fridge and use within 6 months. While proofing your yeast (the process of letting it sit warm water and sugar) if it doesn’t ever bloom (expand or bubble), then it should be thrown out and replaced. The temperature of the “warm” water shouldn’t be hot. It is possible to kill the yeast and your bread will not rise correctly. A good rule-of-thumb is- if you can’t leave your fingertip in the water for more than a few seconds, it’s too hot.
- Use bottled water. Tap water contains additives which can alter the way things work together.
- Use room temperature ingredients. This is a good rule with baking in general. Room temperature ingredients mix together much easier and uniformly than cold ingredients.
- Always measure your ingredients correctly and accurately. Baking is not usually the best time to eye-ball measurements. Baking is chemistry and everything reacts in certain ways according to correct measurements. The most accurate way to measure flour when baking is to scoop the flour by spoonful into the measuring cup and then run a knife across the top to level it off. Don’t shake the flour down into the cup as you’ll actually end up with more flour than the recipe calls for.
Tips on kneading:
- To check the readiness of the dough, pull a small amount of dough off. Start to stretch the dough apart, it should not immediately or easily tear apart.
- Knowing when to stop kneading can be tricky and will take practice. Don’t give up, and keep trying! It will be worth it!
- If you’re kneading by hand it’s quite easy to under-knead as it can be tiring. It is possible to use your mixer with a dough hook to get the process started. This does make it easier to over-knead, so be careful!
- When you’ve baked your bread, after turning it out of the pan, tap on the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it’s done.
- Cool your bread on a wire rack. Cooling it in the pan can trap steam and cause your bread to get soggy.
- Most of all, enjoy it!