Hey Bread heads!
It is no secret that baking bread takes some repetition and practice to get the result you're looking for. In fact, one of the beautiful things about bread is that you can always improve your skills, consistency, and technique. For beginners especially, it can be overwhelming with so many different things to work on. For that reason, we have broken down 5 simple things you can do to have the greatest impact on the quality of your bread right away.
1. Cold Proof Overnight!
The simplest thing you can change about your dough to instantly get better flavor is to give it more time to develop! If you leave your dough on the counter overnight, however, it will over-proof and deflate. Instead, reduce the yeast in your recipe to about 1 tsp., then place your dough in the refrigerator until you're ready to shape it the next day (or up to 3 days later). The cold will slow down the process of fermentation so the dough doesn't over-proof, while allowing the yeast extra time to develop flavor. The result will be a darker crust (more sugars develop in the dough and caramelize on the outside), and a more complex flavor.
In our beginner baking kit, we include overnight baking timetables in all of our recipes so you can adapt the process to better fit your schedule. Note that you'll have to rest your dough for longer after pulling out of the fridge, since it will need to come back to room temperature to rise.
2. Bake in a Dutch Oven
This tip is primarily for round / hearth loaves, as other bread types wouldn't fit. While you can absolutely bake any of our recipes without a Dutch oven or other more expensive equipment, if you want to start investing in baking equipment, this is where you should start.
Getting bakery quality results relies on mimicking bakery conditions, especially capturing steam. Unfortunately, traditional home ovens are designed to vent out steam, not capture and maintain it. A Dutch oven will trap the steam coming out of your dough and create a more even and uniform bake.
Steam is vital to bread baking, as it keeps the surface temperature of your dough lower to prevent it crusting over and hardening before the steam inside has time to escape and cause the loaf to rise. It also helps in getting a nice crispy crust on the outside of your loaf.
We will be posting a guide to Dutch ovens on the blog soon, but for now, here are a few of our favorites:
- Low Cost, Versatile: Lodge 5 QT Combo Cooker
- Low Cost Enameled: Amazon Basics 6 QT Dutch Oven
- High End Enameled: Le Creuset 5.5 QT Dutch Oven
3. Get an Oven Thermometer
This is another really small adjustment, but most home oven temperature gauges are fairly inaccurate. If you've been having trouble with your bread coming out under or over-done, consider getting an inexpensive oven thermometer like this one. It will help you ensure that your temperature is accurate and create a much better result.
4. Use a Digital Scale for Ingredients
This is another small adjustment that can make your life a LOT easier in the kitchen. Most of us start out just using our measuring cups for ingredients, but when it comes to baking, precision can be really helpful in getting the right consistency in your dough. Measuring things precisely in grams is a huge help, so if you don't have one, consider investing in an inexpensive scale. I've had success with this one if you're looking for a recommendation!
5. Focus on Shaping!
Of all the skills that matter most as a beginner baker, shaping will probably make the biggest difference in how your bread looks and tastes. If you mess up kneading, that can be problematic, but letting the dough sit overnight (as we suggested above) will erase any issues as the dough strengthens over time. Shaping, however, is harder to remedy once it's been done. It can affect how the bread rises, how it maintains its structure after baking, and even the texture. The two most important aspects of shaping to focus on are creating tension and achieving a seal.
Shaping is about creating tension in your loaf. If you fold your dough up and it still seems loose when you're done, let it rest for 20-30 minutes and shape it again until you've achieved tension. That tension will help it rise in the oven to create more volume. It is easy to get caught up in the folding technique and forget that the goal is actually to tighten the loaf. Always be careful about creating too much tension - when the dough starts to tear, you've gone too far - stop and leave as is.
Achieving a seal:
It doesn't matter how much tension you create if you can't properly seal your dough when shaping. The biggest obstacle to successfully sealing your shaped dough is when you've put too much oil in your bowl during proofing, or when you put too much bench flour on your counter during shaping. Both can keep your dough from sticking to itself when you fold it up. Only use flour on your counter when you absolutely need it to keep the dough from sticking. Once you have shaped, you can also pinch the seal to further close it up.
If you focus on these two steps while shaping, you'll see the quality drastically improve!
Summing it Up:
In summary, we've given you 3 tools that we'd recommend that can really impact the quality of your bake and two techniques for better handling and resting your dough to improve flavor and structure. There are so many things to learn when you're starting out as a bread baker, but these small adjustments can really make a difference early on. Leave a comment below if this content was useful!
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