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MissAusten's avatar

A quest to bake bread: what do I need to get started?

Asked by MissAusten (16092 points ) August 28th, 2010

I’ve never made my own bread (other than quick breads) and after receiving a very seductive King Arthur Flour Co. catalog, I’ve decided it’s time for me to try it out.

Is there anything in the way of kitchen equipment I need? I have a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook attachment, a couple of 8×4 loaf pans, and plenty of mixing bowls and baking sheets.

Also, what tips or advice would those of you who’ve baked bread without a bread machine give someone just starting to tackle this culinary adventure?

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15 Answers

Seek's avatar

Most important is an accurate thermometer.

All the liquids you’re working with have to be a certain temperature range (I believe it’s between 85 and 105 Fahrenheit, but don’t quote me on that). Too cold and the yeast go dormant. Too hot and you’ll kill them.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
tedibear's avatar

Oh, my favorite thing to do! I’m excited for you. :D

Equipment wise, it sounds like you’re all set. In terms of ingredients, flour, water, yeast and sugar are the only must haves. Everything else just adds to the party.

Your water needs to be about 110F. As Seek_Kolinahr said, too cold and it won’t wake up, too hot and you’ll kill it. Use a thermometer the first few times to get the temperature right. Pour the yeast into the water, not the water into the yeast. Then, add your sugar (or honey) to feed the yeast. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. You should see foaming and bubbles. That means your yeast is good to go.

The only other thing to add is don’t over-mix. You might want to take it part of the way on the mixer but finish it by hand to get the feeling of when it’s “done.” You’re looking for a smooth, soft skin.

And if you really get into this whole bread thing, I suggest reading some Peter Reinhart.

P.S. Can I come help you?

busymommy247's avatar

I agree w/ tedibear .

The only other thing I can think that might be helpful other than what she said is maybe the differences between yeasts. If you buy and inactive yeast, be sure to activate it before putting it into your mix. If you buy an already active yeast, there is no activating required, it’s all ready to go.

It’s really fun to me. Hope you have fun with it and good luck. :)

ragingloli's avatar

All you need to start is a big table, an oven, tools to measure the amounts of ingredients, your hands and the right ingredients.
You do not need mixers, mixing bowls, loafpans or anything of that schmarrn.
Proper bread is formed by your hands, not by a box.

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/basic-bread-recipe

MissAusten's avatar

This is good to hear. The yeast is what concerns me, having never used it before!

I have an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my virtual pocket. I think I’ll use it on a bread cookbook. :)

laureth's avatar

Baking with a machine is much easier (set it and forget it), but I baked for years before I got one and it’s not so bad. It does sort of force you to slow down and think, so I would attempt it on a weekend or day off rather than a busy day at first. Other than that, people have been baking bread for as long as they’ve had grain, grinding stones, and fire, so it’s not all that technically difficult. All I needed was water, flour, yeast, a little sugar or honey to get the yeast going, a little olive oil to grease the pans, some pans, and an oven.

If you want to look up some bread recipes online, you can make a test batch and see if it’s something you like to do, before investing in a cookbook or expensive supplies.

SuperMouse's avatar

My first recommendation would be to pick up the book Beard on Bread. This book held my hand all the way through my homemade bread phase. I also have to cast another vote for the thermometer, there is really nothing more heartbreaking than bread dough that does not rise.

Carly's avatar

you NEED to read this

it is the bread bible.
and it’s very simple

MissAnthrope's avatar

@MissAusten – You said the magic words, Amazon gift card. Have I got the book for you!! My Bread: The Revolutionary, No-Work, No-Knead Method

My testimonial.. I am a decent cook and baker and have done both for years. However, bread hates me. I love fresh-baked bread, so I kept trying to make it, and it never came out right. The last time (prior to the book above), it was overly dense, hard as a rock, and could have doubled as a doorstop. Frankly, all the work that goes into it and to have the result come out super crappy is frustrating and not encouraging at all.

My mom bought this book and harangued me until I gave up, took the book, and made the first recipe listed. And then, when it came out of the oven, I understood why she so wanted me to try it!!

So simple, so easy, and man, that bread was like something you’d get from a European bakery. I could not believe it. So now I am preachin’ the word from on high—if you like fresh bread and not a lot of effort, check this book out.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr and @tedibear have all the bases pretty well covered. I love my Kitchenaid mixer, 40 years old and works perfectly. The temperature advice on the yeast is critical. Sift your flour well before mixing. My favorite cookbook on bread is the old classic by James Beard “Beard on Bread”. @Carly s suggestion, Tassajara, is also good. I bake in an electric oven with a very good temperature control. You’ll quickly learn when the bread is done; the toothpick method and thumping with a finger being best.

Good luck! Baking is great fun. Pounding dough is almost as stress-relieving for me as blasting at targets. It’s also a nice ego-stroke that folks enjoy my baking.

MissAusten's avatar

Oh dear Lord, I’m going to need a lot more Amazon gift cards! :P

I’m going to write down all the book suggestions and see if I can get them at the library, because in my excitement I already ordered a book about bread! I chose Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day based on Amazon reviews and @tedibear ‘s suggestion above.

The kids are going back to school next week, so I’ll have some free time to bake without interruptions.

deni's avatar

The awesome thing about bread, and the reason I like making it so much, is that it requires nothing fancy-shmancy, it’s fun and relaxing (I think so, anyhow) to make, and its soooooo good!!! I have always had a “way” with yeast…I’ve never made dough that didn’t rise. People come from all around to see. JK, kinda, lol no, but really, my opinion is that it’s all in the temperature of the water you use. That’s really important. I’ve never had a thermometer though. I always just feel it with my hands and it always works. Then I have friends who use a thermometer and get it to the perfect temperature every time and it never rises. Honestly, I’ve heard some people say that they think their “body chemistry” just doesn’t work with yeast. It sounds silly, but what other reason could there be?! I really do think some people are just luckier with yeast than others. Anyhow, after you make some regular bread you should make challah, which if you don’t know if a Jewish egg bread that is really delicious for french toast and is super fun to make and you get to braid it too!

And, like @stranger_in_a_strange_land said, it’s an awesome ego stroke when someone says “this is some of the finest dough i’ve ever seen!” My brother’s picky girlfriend who is also an excellent chef said that to me this summer, and I almost fell over.

Oh, one more thing, if you haven’t made dough before, I would start with dough for a pizza! Even if it doesn’t rise as much, it still tastes sooo good.

Oh, one MORE thing, where do you live? Dough rises so well in the bay area, and it rises pretty well out here in Colorado where I am, but when I go home to Pennsylvania and make it, holy shit, it becomes gigantic! You have to keep an eye on it or else it just keeps growing and growing and can take over everything in it’s path and eat your pets!

MissAusten's avatar

@deni We live in CT, very close to the shoreline. My daughter will be so sad if the dough consumes her rabbit!

I can’t wait to try it out. I love to cook and bake, and think I’m pretty darn good at it. At least, I get lots of complements and the food always tastes good to me! I hope experience in the kitchen in general will help out, and I have one kid who will eat anything so I’ll give the “mistakes” to him.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@MissAusten You’ll love it, a great family activity. J has learned to bake now that I’m temporarily one-handed and it gives her a great sense of accomplishment. Teaching a new skill to a loved one is an incredibly fulfilling experience.

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