For years, I baked my kids’ birthday cakes and made frosting from websites like Cooking for Engineers, yet I was intimidated by bread and the magic of yeast. One day, I happened to watch a documentary that showed people baking bread around the world: grinding wheat with stones, mixing dough while bent over the floor, and baking without thermometers or timers.
I realized I had no excuse to be afraid of baking bread. I had access to the best organic flours in the world, a comfortable and somewhat climate controlled kitchen, and a temperature regulated oven.
What could have been difficult about baking bread?
When I started, my greatest areas of insecurity were figuring out when to end the first rise and the final proof, and having a sense of touch for shaping loaves. Photos are so helpful that I’m including them at various stages to help you as a new baker. Shaping does get better with practice, but I hope my photos will help demystify shaping too.
Bread is actually forgiving.
In the recipe below, I say, Let the dough rise until it’s a little more than doubled, but truly your bread will still be fantastic if the dough rises a little more or less than that. You don’t have to be so exact to make a great loaf of bread.
You can also make bread baking work for your lifestyle. You can choose a recipe and adapt it so that it fits your schedule.
The more you bake, the more you’ll understand variables that let you bake better bread and how to control the process to fit your schedule.
The biggest risk of baking bread is its biggest reward:
You will make slightly (or wildly) imperfect loaves of bread and become intrigued to learn about the variables that make this hobby an enjoyable craft to learn.
When all is said and done, the process is very rewarding. The most amateur fresh-baked bread is almost always edible and quite often downright phenomenal. It will always be much, much better than what you can buy in a grocery store.
Baking Tools That We Love For Baking Bread
It’s always fun to have the right tools for baking bread. Many of these you may already own, and you really may not need all of them because it’s easy to make substitutions:
- The Challenger Bread Pan for just the right amount of steam.
- A kitchen scale for precise weight measurements.
- I’ve included measurements in cups, but a scale will make you a better baker.
- I love these bowls for proofing because they come in three sizes. I use this one for mixing dough.
- I prefer a lame for scoring dough.
- Bannetons are fantastic for keeping the shape of the dough while it’s proofing, but you can just use a bowl lined with a towel.
- Kitchen towels are versatile and can be used in many places.
- These plastic caps are good for covering just about anything.
So, are you ready to get started? This recipe should be fairly easy for you. You can start it at lunch and have fresh bread for dinner. It’ll be ready in less than four hours.
Same Day Bread
3 cups all purpose flour (400g)
1 cup + 2 Tbsp water (265g)
1 ½ tsp coarse salt (1 ¼ if table salt) (8g coarse salt)
2 tsp instant yeast (6-7g)
In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together until you don’t see anymore wet flour. I always use my hands because it’s fun to feel everything mix together. You can also you use a spoon or just about anything.
You will want to knead your dough for about 10 minutes or approximately 240 pushes. This is not as hard or as long as it sounds. It’s actually fun. Click here to see a video of how to mix dough by hand.
- Lightly flour your counter where you want to knead your dough.
- Remove the dough from the bowl, and place it onto our lightly floured counter. Shape it gently so that it looks somewhat like a ball.
- With the heel of your hand, push the dough down and then away from you.
- Fold the top of the dough over and give it a ¼ turn counter clockwise.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4, and your dough will just get smoother and smoother and then start to feel “elastic” too. It you pull a bit of dough uip, it’ll look like the above picture when it’s done.
NOTE: If the dough feels sticky after a minute or two, you can lightly sprinkle it with flour before Step 4.
There are many ways to knead dough. Another way that many bakers knead their dough is to use what's called the Rubaud Method for about ten minutes, and then they stretch and fold their dough every twenty minutes until the first rise is complete.
With your hands, place the kneaded dough into an 8-cup measuring cup. Cover and let the dough rise for 1½-2 hours, until it has a little more than doubled. When using a container with measuring marks, this is growth from about the 2-cups mark to the 5-cups mark (the center of the dough will dome upward past the 5 cup mark).
- Sprinkle a good amount of flour onto your counter, and scrape the dough out onto it.
- Fold the left side of the dough about ⅓ of the way over, and press down lightly. Then fold the right side of the dough on top of the just-folded dough, and press down lightly.
- Flip the dough over. Now you want to try and tighten up the dough so that it’s round. It feels awkward at first, but trust me, the more you do it, the more comfortable you will be. I scoot it around from different sides until looks more like a ball.
Cover the dough and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
Now is a good time to prepare the vessel where you are going to proof the dough. If you have a banneton, lightly flour it all around. If you’re using a bowl and towel, press the towel into the bowl and lightly flour it.
- Uncover your dough, lightly sprinkle the dough and your counter with flour. Flip it over onto the floured side.
- Gently stretch the dough on all sides so that it looks like a rectangle. Then stretch and fold the top about two thirds of the way down the dough.
- Gently stretch the left side outward, and then fold it about two thirds of the way over.
- Gently stretch the right side outward, and then fold it on top of the other piece.
- Finally, stretch the bottom of the rectangle, and then fold it all the way to the top. Push this seam down gently.
- Now, starting at the top, you want to roll a portion over and gently tuck it under. You want to keep rolling and tucking the dough under until you get to the bottom. Then just roll a bit more so that the seam is resting underneath the dough. Pinch the sides lightly and flour the top with some flour.
- Let it rest this way for two to three minutes.
- With your Challenger Bench Knife, lift the dough gently from your counter and place it gently in your proofing vessel.
FINAL PROOF/SECOND RISE
Cover the dough and let it rise at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.
Begin preheating your oven and Challenger Bread Pan to 500F at least thirty minutes before the proofing is complete.
- Begin preheating your oven and Challenger Bread Pan to 500F at least thirty minutes before the proofing is complete.
- Flip your dough into the base of the Challenger Bread Pan.
- Score the top with a lame, a razor blade, or even a sharp paring knife.
- Cover and bake at:
500F for 15 minutes
450F for 10 minutes
- Remove the bread from the pan and bake an additional 5-10 minutes directly on your oven rack.
Tips and Tricks
The time ranges I give for rising are broad due to varied room temperature. For example, in the summer in an 80F kitchen, you would use the shorter end of the rising times. Overnight in a winter kitchen, plan for the longer rising times. The important thing is to watch your dough more than the clock. Refrigeration and colder water can also slow things down. Putting your dough into the oven with the oven light on, and/or mixing with warmer water can speed things up.
A tea towel in a standard size loaf pan works as a proofing basket/banneton if you don’t have one.
I like to wash and dry the dough bowl right after the first rise and then use it as a cover for the dough during the bench rest as it doesn’t stick to the dough the way that plastic wrap would. Likewise a shower cap or plastic grocery bag is a good cover for your dough when it’s in the proofing basket.
To transfer the dough to the hot baking pan, I like to use a rectangle of parchment paper. I place the paper over the proofing basket, then a cutting board over the paper, and flip everything. After removing the proofing basket, I brush off any excess flour, score the dough, and lift the parchment with the dough into the Challenger Bread Pan base.
Adding 1-2 two ice cubes into the base of the Challenger Bread Pan just before putting on the cover makes for a thinner crispy bread crust.
Feel free to play around with the bake times if you like your bread more or less toasted on the outside, but aim for an internal temp of at least 205F.
As you become more comfortable with these recipes, I encourage you to substitute a portion of the all purpose flour for whole grain flour, and to try different wheat varieties e.g. rye, einkorn, khorasan, emmer, turkey red, red fife, white sonora, durum and more. They add nutritional value and unique delicious flavors. You can also substitute the all purpose flour for bread flour for a stronger gluten structure, which can balance some of the weaker wheat varieties I mentioned. Note that whole grain flour usually absorbs more water, so depending on the amount you use, you will need to add more water to the dough.