The ingredients for homemade bread are simple, it’s the method and action that makes all the difference. Too much flour will leave you with a dense loaf. Over proofing can cause your bread to collapse among other things. And let’s not forget about kneading. A helpful tip is using something called the baker’s percentage. It’s a unit of measurement where each ingredient is expressed as a percentage of the flour weight. For example, if you made bread with 500 grams of flour, 14g of yeast, 375ml of water, 6 grams of salt, and 30 g of melted butter, the ingredient would be the following:
Melted Butter: 6%
It’s a little confusing at first, particularly because making the switch to a whole another metric system is confusing. However, once you have it you’ll be able to work out how much of each ingredient you need much faster.
Obviously the most deciding factor for quality, soft, chewy sandwich bread is the type of flour you use. Strong white bread flour yeilds the best results. You can mix and match certain flours to create your own favorite bread recipe. For one large loaf of bread, you’ll need around 4 cups of flour with around 2 1/2 cups of liquid.
Yeast has a far more significant role to play on bread than most people realize. It doesn’t just ferment to rise the dough, but it really enhances the flavor of what bread should be. Sourdough is what bread should taste like, but traditional sandwich bread is made with incredibly fast-acting yeast, that sacrifices a lot of flavors. For now, just go with the active dry or instant yeast. 1 sachet per loaf you bake should do.
The amount of yeast is hardly ever the amount you’d actually require to make a solid loaf of any bread, whether it’s homestyle bread, dinner rolls, or baguettes. The reason recipes call for a whole 14g sachet is just because of the time it will cut off the proofing process. Different yeasts have different names to tell you that to. Active dry (must be dissolved in water first) and instant yeast are two very fast-acting yeasts that will proof your dough at room temp in an hour, but it won’t deliver very much flavor. If you use half the yeast, and bout the ferment time, you’ll have a much stronger and distinct loaf of rustic bread.
Dry vs Wet yeast
Like all living things, yeast can die. The timing depends on the type of yeast you buy, but standard dry yeast can last up to 6 months. Wet yeast on the other hand can only serve for a few weeks in your fridge. Obviously, if the yeast has died it can no longer do its jobs and ferment, so it’s rendered useless. Check the expiration date on a package of yeast to know how long you have to use it.
Kneading is the step that either makes or breaks the perfect bread. If you over-knead the gluten contracts, stiffens, and breaks instead of providing that essential elasticity. Dough that isn’t needed enough won’t have enough developed proteins and will break because of a lack of elasticity, and honestly, it all depends on you and the conditions around you, so no recipe can ever tell you early how long you have to knead for. Some days you’ll be less energetic, it might be warmer or colder, more or less humid. There are a ton of factors that play in.
The best way to check if your dough is ready is top tug on it. If it doesn’t snap easily, it’s ready to proof. Again no one can really tell you how much stretch is enough, but even after the first time you’ll get a good feel for it, and you’ll be much more confident in your kneading. Method wise there is also no right or wrong way, every cook and chef has a slightly different method, but keep in mind kneading dough is just working it to develop the gluten. Using a stand mixer with a dough hook is of utmost convenience, but a stand mixer won’t give you the experience.
Proofing is when the bacterial yeast feeds off the starches in the flour and converts them to simple sugars. This conversion creates a byproduct that fills the dough with many little air pockets. These air pockets are often punched down and redeveloped for hours, or days before baking. How long you proof depends on 3 primary factors. Setting, amount, and condition of the yeast.
This applied to the room you’re proofing in. Bacteria love warm spaces so that’s where they’re most active, yeast is no exception. A warm room will make your dough double in around 30-60 minutes, whereas you could also proof the dough in the fridge for days at a time to develop that distinct yeast flavor. Typically lower humidity will also result in crustier bread.
Shaping a loaf of homestyle bread can require some practice, but it is easy once you have a feel for it. Just get a rolling pin and gently roll it out into a large rectangle, then roll it up from the short side to create almost a log of dough. Place the log into a greater loaf tin and let it proof again for an hour.
Most soft, homemade bread baking happens around 350f to avoid drying out the bread any more than needed. Depending on the size fo your loaf it shouldn’t ever really take more than 30 minutes. Plus it’s super easy to identify if it’s ready from how it looks. A loaf with an evenly golden brown top will most likely be done inside. Remember that heat retention continues to cook the bread slightly.
Right, when your bread comes out of the oven you’ll notice the top that has been exposed to the hot air is hard. It will only keep getting harder as it cools unless you take some proactive steps to make sure it doesn’t. There a two very reasonable ways of doing this, the first is to place the whole loaf in a zip lock bag so that no moisture escapes, or you can mix some melted butter and honey then brush it over the entire top. The butter and honey give sweetness and doeth to the bread so I strongly recommend going with that method. If you don’t have a pastry brush, just use a paper towel to absorb some butter, then lightly brush it onto the fresh, soft, delicious, homemade bread.
Tips To Avoid Making Dense Bread
When you make bread at home for the first time it can be frustrating when loaves come out dense as a brick and crumbly. There are some common mistakes people make when making their own bread. Here’s what to do and more importantly what not to do when making soft, chewy, homemade bread:
- Not kneading long enough: This is probably the most common one I see among aspiring bakers. When you knead bread you’re activating the gluten inside of it which will give bread its elastic configuration. Knead for at least 8-10 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook followed by at least an hour rest.
- Dusting too much flour: Dusting too much flour while kneading turns the dough ball into a dense, compact mess and it’s really easy to avoid.
- Adding salt to yeast: Yeast will die as soon as it comes into direct contact with salt, avoid adding any salt to your warm water, yeast, and sugar mixture. Also ensure the water you’re using to activate the yeast is not too hot, this will also kill the yeast.
- Using the wrong kind of flour: The right kind of flour is essential for the type of bread you make. Research the next type of bread you’re going to make and decided based on the bread’s texture profile.
- The wrong ratio of ingredients: A lot of baking is simply down to science, bread making is no exception so the right amount of each ingredient is essential. Invest in kitchen scales, they’re way more accurate and super cheap to buy.
- Wrong proofing conditions: Temperature and time effects proofing hard and its the most frustrating part of bread making. When proofing dough, poke it with your finger if it leaves an indent and bounces almost all the way back your dough is ready to bake. If it doesn’t leave much of an indent and it doesn’t spring back, your dough in under-proofed, if the indent doesn’t during back at all it is over-proofed.
- 2 cups lukewarm Water
- ½ Whole milk
- 4 tbsp Sugar
- 2 sachets Yeast
- ½ cup Butter, melted
- 8 cups Bread flour
- 2 1/2 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Honey
- 1 tbsp Butter, melted
- Mix the water, milk, sugar, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a dish towel and let the yeast activate for 10-15 minutes.
- Add the melted butter to the wet ingredients and combine the bread flour and salt in a separate bowl.
- Add the flour to the wet ingredients one cup at a time, combining with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
- Lightly flour a surface and empty the dough onto it. Use your hand to form a rough dough. At this point, it would probably be easier to split the dough in half and work with the two separate loaves. Or if you’re feeling strong knead all of it at once.
- Knead each loaf for 5-6 minutes or until elastic to withstand a significant stretch.
- Coat the inside of a bowl with olive oil and place the kneaded dough inside. Shuffle the dough around inside the bowl so coated evenly in olive oil then cover it with a dishtowel.
- Proof the dough until it has doubled in size. Timing depends on how warm and humid the room is, usually it takes 1-2 hours.
- Drop the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to lightly roll it into a rough rectangle. Roll the rectangle up from its short side and place it into a greased loaf tin to proof for the second time until it has doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350f. Once your dough has doubled in size, bake it in the middle of the oven for around 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.
- Remove the loaves from the oven and brush them with a melted butter and honey mixture to ensure the tops don’t dry out. Alternatively, you can wrap the freshly baked loaves in foil so that no moisture escapes.