How to Make Bread, From Beginners to Experts
Anyone can bake bread — it's just a matter of choosing the right recipe. Whether you've never turned on your oven or you come from a long line of artisan bakers, the perfect bread recipe exists to match your skill level. I'll help you find it.
If you have ever thought about making your own bread, now is the time to start and here's why:
- It's a healthier option than store-bought: No preservatives or chemicals added, and it tends to be easier to digest.
- It tastes wonderful: You can mix and match your flavor combinations and have endless variety.
- It's entertainment: Making bread can take from mere minutes to multiple days, depending on the recipe, and let's face it, we all need a little diversion right now.
Tips for Best Results
Before we dive into the flour bin, here are a few basic tips to set you up for success. No matter what your skill level, it's important to always:
Follow the recipe. This is not the time to wing it. Does the recipe say to grease your pan? Do it. Need room temperature butter? You better pull that stick out of the fridge plenty early. What temperature are you supposed to be baking at? Double-check that dial. While you're at it, make sure your oven is calibrated correctly. Your dial may say 350 degrees F, but if it's really baking at 325 or 375 degrees F, your recipe may not turn out right. You can check this with an oven thermometer ($7, amazon.com).
Measure, measure, measure. If you've ever heard that baking is a science, you heard right. You need to get the ratios correct so the ingredients react with each other and do what you need them to do. If you really want to do things properly, get a kitchen scale ($11, amazon.com) and use it. Volume (i.e., measuring cups) can be deceiving, especially when measuring flour. One light-handed scoop is different than a heavy-handed scoop, and that could make all the difference in a perfect loaf versus a perfect doorstop.
Check for freshness. Check the expiration date on your leavening agents (yeast, baking soda, and baking powder). They do have a shelf life, and if you haven't baked in a while, they might be past their prime. If your recipe calls for dried herbs and spices, give them a sniff test to see if they're still viable (rub some between your fingers to see if they release aroma). And, always start with the freshest flour you can find, especially if you're using whole grain flours, which though healthier for you, don't last on the shelf as long as other flours. Flour should be stored in a cool, dark spot, and whole grain flours should be stored in the freezer to preserve freshness..
Easy Breads for Beginners
Build your self-esteem and your skill level in the kitchen by starting with breads that use common ingredients, simple recipes, short rise times, and require no kneading (which requires a bit of practice). Give these breads a try:
A favorite for bakers of all skill levels, and especially good if you're just starting out. Quick breads are usually leavened with baking soda or powder. Which is great news when you can't find yeast at the store. Try a classic like Janet's Rich Banana Bread or Mom's Zucchini Bread, or reach into the savory zone with Spicy Cheese Quick Bread. Get tips to make the best quick breads.
As an alternative to baking loaves of quick bread, start off with something easy like muffins. Any quick bread batter can be made into muffins by reducing the baking time — start checking for doneness at about 20 or 25 minutes for a standard size muffin. To get started, whip up a batch of our top-rated To Die For Blueberry Muffins for breakfast. Get tips to make delicious muffins.
A quick bread that only requires baking soda to rise, soda bread is a great recipe for kids to try. Soda bread is moist, dense, and hearty, and you can add your own special flavors like currants, raisins, or chocolate chips, or keep it simple with Irresistible Irish Soda Bread. Get tips to make Irish Soda Bread.
Biscuits often use baking powder, or baking soda and buttermilk, to achieve the perfect texture. Homemade biscuits taste so much better than their refrigerated cousins, and are surprisingly easy to make.
Start with EZ Drop Biscuits, which don't require any more equipment and know-how than wielding a kitchen spoon. Once those biscuits have passed the test, try a cut-out biscuit. Use a biscuit cutter ($5, amazon.com) or if you don't have a biscuit cutter, don't worry. A drinking glass dipped in flour makes a beautiful circle. Basic Biscuits is a traditional recipe, but you can also add any flavorings you choose, like cheese and spices in Cheddar Bay Biscuits or add something sweet, like dried fruit, to Tea Biscuits.
Follow a few tips for success: keep your ingredients cold, don't overwork the dough, and make sure to fold the dough over on itself a few times to create mile-high layers. Get tips to make baking powder biscuits.
Related: How to DIY Your Own Quick Baking Mix
Though similar in texture and style to soda bread and biscuits, scones are a step up on the baking ladder. An ideal scone is tender, flaky, and moist, but if you don't make them right, they can be tough and dry. Just like with biscuits, you want to keep your ingredients cold (try freezing and grating your butter) and not overwork the dough. Tip: Pop the formed dough in the fridge for 15 to 30 minutes before baking. Start off with Grandma Johnson's Scones, then up the ante with fun flavors ranging from sweet Hazelnut Chocolate Chip Scones to savory Easy Cheese and Garlic Scones.
Breads for Intermediate Bakers
Once you've gained some confidence in the kitchen, you're ready to try making yeast breads to develop a little more skill level. You'll work with a new leavener (yeast), learn some dough-handling skills (kneading and shaping), and practice a little more patience (longer rise and bake times). Get tips to make yeast breads.
Most often when we think of bread we think of something that bakes and rises in the oven. But, flatbreads, like Naan are made in just about every country around the world. (Note: Some flat breads use yeast and some don't.) Flatbreads can be boiled, steamed, fried, grilled, or baked. And, once the dough is ready they are quick to make (no waiting around for an hour for a baked loaf). Whip up a batch of your own tortillas, make some of Peppy's Pita Bread for lunch, or try something new like Lebanese Mountain Bread.
Similar to flatbread, focaccia takes a little more skill, but is very forgiving to make. You can make this yeast bread in a food processor or by hand, and bake it in a cast iron pan or on a baking sheet. Nail down the basics like Focaccia Bread and Michael's Foccacia Bread. When you're ready to up your baking game, try decorating the top of your focaccia bread with herbs and vegetables (it's so much easier than you'd think).
This is sliced bread at its best. You'll need a little practice to form perfect loaves for your bread pan ($14, amazon.com), but the results will always be tasty. Bring back childhood memories with Amish White Bread and slather slices with peanut butter and jelly. Or, make bread with a healthier twist and mix in whole-wheat flour in Simple Whole Wheat Bread. The whole wheat gives the loaf a distinct flavor, texture, and a healthy twist.
Breads for Experienced Bakers
If you've mastered quick breads and feel comfortable with basic yeast bread, now it's time to dive into the deep end with next-level yeast breads and laminated dough.
A sweet yeast bread, loaded with butter and eggs (yes, please!), brioche is made from an enriched bread dough that bakes up soft and pillow-like. You already know how to work with yeast and can take your time waiting for bread to rise, so now you can practice your simple dough-shaping techniques. Think Homemade Hamburger Buns and Sweet Dinner Rolls.
Now is the time to get super hands-on with your dough! Not only is it fun to work dough into different sizes, shapes, and configurations, it allows you to really get a feel for the different stages it goes through.
You'll pair braiding and filling when you make babka.
Somewhere between a shaped dough and sandwich bread lies the bagel. The dough is no more complicated than a regular yeasted bread, but you need to take the extra step of shaping them into the traditional ring shape and boiling the dough before baking. This is what gives bagels their beautiful shine and cooks the outside just enough so that they keep their shape in the oven.
Make the real deal yourself with Real Homemade Bagels or let your kitchen appliances do some of the work for you in Bread Machine Bagels . Whichever you try, don't forget the sesame seeds, poppy seeds, or cinnamon and raisins! (Or have it all with Everything bagels.) Get tips to make bagels.
If you can't find commercial yeast in the stores, making sourdough bread is the solution, as you cultivate your own yeast (known as a sourdough starter). You'll need up to two weeks to get your starter going (or get some from a friend or buy it online), and sometimes up to two days to prepare the bread. But, it is totally worth it for this tangy, chewy, crusty bread, like Chef John's Sourdough Bread. The best part? You usually get more bang for your buck, using the leftover sourdough starter in other breads, ranging from waffles to muffins and crackers. Once you've practiced a few times, you'll find you can master sourdough. Get tips to make sourdough bread.
Oh, laminated dough! Layers of butter and flour, folded to perfection to create ethereal layers of pastry that melt in your mouth. But, perfection takes time, patience, and a lot of work. So, give yourself the mental and physical space when you're ready to prepare Chef John's Croissants. And, if you're really feeling fancy, add a bit of chocolate. When you're ready to take it even further and earn your bread-making merit badge, try Chef John's Kouign-Amann. It starts out like croissant dough, but made with bread flour. Then takes it to a whole new level with a sweet, salty, sticky twist.
Now get to baking!