Short of waiting outside the bakery at 4 a.m., slicing into home-baked bread is the freshest and most delicious way to enjoy it. The ingredients are usually simple, but little details about your method can totally change your end result. There’s no shortage of ways to make bread at home, but also plenty of ways to goof up. Here’s how to steer clear of the most common home-baked mistakes.
Often the simplest answer is the right one. Check out your rising agent—is your yeast expired? These things really do have a shelf life, losing potency over time. (Here are some other possible reasons why your bread isn’t rising.)
It’s a common error—you scoop a measuring cup into the bag of flour and go on your merry way. Often, though, this method of measuring really packs in the flour and results in too much flour in your recipe. Try spooning your flour into the measuring cup to keep from packing it down. You can also measure your flour by weight for ultimate precision. This is how to measure all your baking ingredients to get the lofty, open texture home bakers strive for.
The second rise, after your dough is shaped, should be no longer than 60 minutes in a warm spot. Once the dough has doubled in size, it’s time to bake. Too much rising at this stage can cause your dough to collapse in the oven.
Over-kneading has a tendency to result in chewy bread. Here’s how to tell if you’ve kneaded enough. Another possibility—you used bread flour when all-purpose flour would do. If a recipe with bread flour turned out chewier than you like, try it with all-purpose and knead only as much as the recipe directs. Check out this quick primer on the different types of flour you should be baking with.
Fats keep your bread moist. If your loaf was too dry, try adding a tablespoon or two more oil next time you make it. Likewise, water does more than hydrate your dough. It helps yeast do its thing, activates gluten and determines the volume of your loaf—all crucial for the right results. Even if you add the exact amount of water a recipe calls for, using too much flour can throw off your flour-to-water ratio.
Most bread recipes give a time range for baking—check your bread at the lower end of the range. Give your loaf a tap and listen for the hollow sound that lets you know the bread is done.
Pro Tip: You can mimic the steam injection commercial bakers’ process by making a water bath. Use a pan of cold water on a rack beneath your bread. Otherwise, bake your bread for the first half of its bake time inside a Dutch oven or casserole dish covered with foil or an oven-safe lid to trap moisture around your bread.
Resist the urge to just add more salt. Your bland bread could be the result of rushing the process. Try a slow overnight rise in the refrigerator. Plan ahead to proof your loaf overnight. This hands-off time in the icebox will slow the fermentation process in your dough and result in a complex-flavored loaf.
For more tips and tricks on baking the perfect, airy and tender bread, make sure you’re familiar with our ultimate baking guide.
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