Friday, 8 February 2019

Four Tips to Help You Make Better Bread at Home

Why do people find baking bread regularly at home so hard? You can make bread that is far and away better than anything you can buy in a supermarket yet so many people try and then give up. 

A friend of mine went on a bread making course and made really good bread but couldn't quite match the success of that day at home. So what's going wrong with home-baked loaves?

Here are my top tips for baking better bread at home, and some of the reasons why we struggle: 

1. Following recipes: most of us use a recipe to bake bread, usually the recipe will give timing guidelines (this is especially the case if you've been on a bread-making course where you had to fit the process into a given time)  

Ignore the timings 

Making bread is a natural process and relies on the reproduction of yeast to make it swell and grow into the glorious shapes we know and love. In order for it reproduce it requires conditions that are conducive for it to get down to it (we all know that feeling).

Your kitchen may be different to that of the recipe writer, or from where you did your course so things might not happen in exactly the same time as you expect. Be patient, it will happen, get used to how the dough should look and feel rather than looking at the clock saying 'it should be ok by now'

2. Don't get bogged down by the faff! 

'I'd love to make my own bread but I can't be bothered with all the faff' says another friend of mine. 

Have a look at this post for a case study of how you can make good bread with less effort and make it fit your lifestyle, instead of sitting indoors waiting for your dough to rise. Make bread in a way that suits you rather than fitting your day around the bread. 

3. Ovens - the place where the magic happens: 

Ovens need to be hot, I don't mean just hot, I mean REALLY hot. 

When you gently slide your lovely swollen pillow of dough into the oven it needs to immediately jump up with a shout of 'Good grief that's hot'!  


There's a term that bakers use called 'oven spring'. That's a way of describing the rapid expansion of the gases inside your loaf the moment it enters a hot oven: that's what gives it that fabulous blooming rise and gives it the holey texture we associate with bread. The yeast has made bubbles inside the loaf as it reproduced and they expand as it heats up rapidly in the oven. 

Most domestic ovens are not good at being very hot, well at least not good at staying very hot when the oven door is opened (unless you are fortunate enough to have an Aga or similar hefty cast iron cooker). 

Another term bakers like to use is 'thermal mass' this is the capacity of your oven to retain heat so that when the oven door is opened the temperature doesn't dip too much. Increase your oven's thermal mass by baking on a baking stone or similar that has been preheated in the oven. I have one oven shelf full of fire bricks, and one with a cadged tile from the floor of a bakery oven (see picture). 

Whatever the thermal mass of your oven it needs to heat up properly before you are ready to bake: that means not assuming it is hot enough when the light goes out but giving it a good 45 minutes or so to get really hot before you introduce your bread to it. 

4. Crust: Are you disappointed with the lack of crust on your loaves? Most commercial bakers add steam to their ovens during baking. Also most domestic ovens are vented to allow steam to escape as food cooks: this is bad for crusty bread.

You can help to create crust by adding boiling water to a tray on the bottom of your oven as you put your bread inside, some of the steam will still escape but you will certainly get a crustier loaf than otherwise. 

Did you know that the crust to crumb ratio in a loaf makes different shaped loaves of the same bread taste differently? Amazing isn't it: so a round crusty cob with a large surface area will have more crust than a tin loaf where only the top surface is crusty and taste totally different. 

So don't give up, home baked bread is fabulous, come back and let me know how you go on. Send pictures of bread on Twitter @crofty  - you can't see too much bread porn!.. here's one I made yesterday. 

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