I know I talk about it all the time, but I love baking bread at home. Running and bread baking are my top two hobbies. As much as I hate to admit it, a good loaf of bread makes me as happy as a good run, while a failed loaf of bread puts me in the same mood as a bad run. Just as I’ve learned to refine my training over the years to have more good runs than bad runs, I’ve also learned a few homemade bread hacks.
I really believe that it’s feasible for everyone to make their own homemade bread if they wish! Homemade bread is more nutritious, free from preservatives, and tastes better. It can seem like a complicated process and learning to bake bread can certainly be frustrating, but these homemade bread hacks will help you create a better, tastier loaf.
Hack #1: Weigh your flour.
Measuring flour by volume can be imprecise. Depending on how your flour is stored, how you scoop it into the measuring cup, and how much you pack the cup can vary actual amount of flour. Instead, measuring your flour by weight ensures that you use the same amount of flour each time.
A simple kitchen scale (which you can get for as cheap as $15-20) makes measuring your flour simple. I place my mixing bowl on the scale and use the tare button to cancel out the weight of the bowl. Then, I measure in how much flour I need until the scale hits the desired number – as simple as that! A kitchen scale is also useful if you are making your own sourdough starter.
This ingredient weight chart from the Kitchn will tell you exactly how many ounces you need per cup that your recipe calls for.
Hack #2: Bake the bread with a separate bowl of water in the oven.
The secret to a browned and thick crust, like you would find on a loaf of artisan bakery bread? Steam. Simply place an oven-safe pan with a couple inches of water on the lower rack of your oven when baking bread. I also bake my bread at 425 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 35 minutes for a standard size loaf), which helps with the crust as well.
Hack #3: Learn how the dough should look and feel.
Baking is both a science and an art. Or, more accurately, it’s a learned, practical knowledge rather than a strictly theoretical knowledge. While you can follow a recipe, many external variables (temperature, humidity, etc.) will affect your dough and you will need to make adjustments to how much flour and water you use. You can’t strictly rely on a recipe because you aren’t baking in a hermetically sealed test kitchen – so learning how the dough should look after kneading is important.
Too little flour and your bread will collapse as it attempts to rise, too much dough and your bread will be dense. You want your dough to be smooth and springy – not so tacky that it sticks all over the mixing bowl, but not tough with excess flour. You should be able to form it into a tight ball when shaping it after the first rise. This takes time and trial and error, but once you learn it, homemade bread baking will be so much easier.
Hack #4: Use a combination of bread flour and whole wheat flour.
I have given up on baking 100% whole wheat bread at home. On its own, whole wheat flour produces a heavy, dense, flatter loaf of bread. That’s great for pizza crust or other flatbreads, but not ideal for sandwich bread. Whole wheat flour doesn’t contain the protein needed to create a tall rise.
Whole wheat flour doesn’t contain the protein needed to create a tall rise. While vital wheat gluten can supplement protein and aid in the rise, I’ve found that a combination of bread flour (which contains a higher amount of protein) and whole wheat flour strike the perfect combination of nutrition, flavor, and texture. A ratio of about 50/50 is a good place to start, and you can tweak it as you go. Currently, I use a combination of approximately 2 parts whole wheat flour, 1 part part bread flour, and 2 parts sourdough starter.
I highly recommend purchasing high-quality flours, since the quality of the wheat and the milling can impact the quality and nutrition of the flour. I purchase Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flours exclusively. High-quality flours also taste better!
Hack #5: Include an autolyse stage before kneading.
The autolyse stage is a technical way of saying to let your bread rest between mixing and kneading. Once the yeast is proofed, mixed together all of your ingredients until they form a shaggy dough – and then walk away for 10-20 minutes before kneading. Don’t touch it – just let the dough rest. This step is essential if you are making sourdough, but it will aid in making any type of yeast bread.
During this time, the protein will break down a bit and reform as gluten. Kneading forms the gluten as well, but kneading also incorporates oxygen into the bread and too much oxygen (over-kneading) makes for tough bread. By letting the gluten form during an autolyse stage, your bread will have the elasticity to rise while still remaining soft.
The autolyse will help your bread rise more, make it easier to knead, and create a more flavorful loaf. And it’s not like these 20 minutes involve any extra work from you; if anything, this step will save time and stress later.
What’s your favorite way to eat bread?
What’s the most intimidating part about homemade bread baking for you?
What are your plans this weekend?