Because sometimes my hastily written recipes are not enough. Sometimes you need a little more information. You want clarification, explanation and video footage.
In this article, you will be exactly sure of what I mean because I will show you.
This is a step-by-step guide to making a loaf of bread, from scratch, by hand. It's my Master Method, if you like: a method that will work with all my loaf recipes.
Check back here anytime I've missed out a detail or been unclear in my bread recipes.
Follow this Master Method with any bread recipe and you will make an excellent loaf.
And, if you have any further questions, leave me a comment or email me. I'm always happy to help.
The bread featured in the videos was made using the recipe for the Awesome Everyday Loaf.
Ready to bake some bread?
Ok, so here's what to do.
Use a large bowl
Choose a large bowl. You need to be able to fit all your ingredients in, plus your hand, with enough wriggle-room for mixing.
After that, your bowl has to be able to accommodate the dough as it rises to double its original size.
Got your biggest bowl out?
Mix Your Ingredients
Pop your bowl on the scales and weigh in all the ingredients. All of them. In any order at all. Everything. All into the big bowl.
I do this by hand but do feel free to use a mixer with a dough hook if you prefer.
The simple reason why I use my hand is because my kitchen is too small to fit in another gadget. Also, I make dough in smallish batches, which really doesn't warrant a huge mixer.
Working by hand is nice: you're able to feel the texture and consistency of the dough. You'll come to know and understand dough. When you create your own recipes, you'll recognise the feel of successful dough: enabling you to adjust and refine accordingly.
So, hold the bowl still with one hand and use your other hand to squeeze the ingredients together.
Your aim, at this stage, is to make the ingredients into a cohesive lump that can be tipped out of the bowl in one piece.
Squash and squeeze and press, whilst also scraping round the sides of the bowl so that every last bit of flour is stuck to the dough.
Want to see what I mean? Here's a video:
Now For The Kneading
Having got your dough clagged together into a rough lump and tipped it onto a clean surface, you're ready to knead.
Note, I don't advocate the sprinkling of flour onto the surface. All my recipes are designed to have the ideal dough hydration. Adding more flour at this stage would alter the balance.
That said, if you've slipped with the ingredients at the weighing-out stage, it is ok to add a little more flour or water to achieve a workable dough. Altering the proportions of the ingredients might not result in the perfect loaf, but you'll still make a super-tasty loaf so don't hold back.
Ok, back to an ideal world, where your weighing out has gone perfectly and your dough is on the unfloured surface for kneading...
I've written in more detail about the importance of kneading here. Suffice to say that you are aiming to stretch the dough, lengthening the gluten strands as much as possible.
Different bakers have different methods of kneading and I don't suppose there's a 'best' way. Just stretch and fold the dough in a way that is comfortable for you.
My method is like this:
- Hold the dough at one end with one hand and use the heel of the other hand to elongate the dough away from you, as far as it will go.
- Don't worry if the dough breaks, as you do this - it's bound to, at first - simply stick it back together and carry on.
- Roll the dough back on itself, curling it up towards you.
- Rotate the dough through a quarter turn and repeat the stretch and roll process again.
Want to see? Don't worry, I won't make you watch me kneading for the whole ten minutes. Please forgive the dodgy cut part-way through when the film jumps to show the finished knead.
Time to Ferment
The dough now needs to ferment. This is when the yeast wakes up and starts converting the flour into alcohol, which gives the bread its yummy flavour.
As the yeast ferments, it produces carbon dioxide, which is (of course) the gas that makes the bread rise.
So, leave your dough alone for a while. I recommend 45 minutes to an hour but in cold conditions, the process might take longer.
I don't have an airing cupboard so my dough remains in my chilly kitchen. If you put your dough in a warm place, you can speed up the fermentation.
As a general guide, allow the dough to double in size.
I cover my dough with the upturned mixing bowl, to keep it clean and prevent it from drying out.
45 Minutes Later...
When you return to the dough, you're going to shape it, ready for proving and baking.
There are different ways that you can shape the dough at this stage, depending on whether you are making loaves, rolls, baguettes or whatever. Here, I am talking about a loaf, to be baked in a tin.
Take the dough and gently squash it to degas it (a process also known as 'knocking back'). Degassing the dough knocks out most of the gas that has already been produced by the fermenting yeast. This is important, so that the bread doesn't rise too much before it goes into the oven. Dough containing too much gas cannot hold its shape well and is likely to collapse.
Don't worry, all the yeast is still alive and active - it'll soon start producing more gas to lift that loaf.
Once the dough is squashed out into a flattish sort of shape, roll it up like a Swiss roll, pressing gently to stick it together.
Using your palms, roll the dough, rolling-pin style, over the worktop to seal the join. Pressing down at this stage will help to elongate the loaf until it is the right length for your tin.
Pop the loaf in the tin.
Now To Prove
You're nearly finished! This is the last stage before you can actually bake the loaf.
This part of the process is called 'proving' or 'proofing'. Essentially, you are letting the dough rise before you bake it.
There is more information on proving here.
Leave the dough to prove until it has doubled in size. I usually say 45 minutes, as a guide, but this depends entirely on how warm your dough is. If you want to speed up the proving stage, pop the dough somewhere warm, like an airing cupboard. If you want to slow it down, pop it somewhere cool. It's even ok to put your dough in the fridge, overnight, if that makes things more convenient for you.
Let your dough rise until it has grown past the top of the tin. You can troubleshoot your proving here.
When the dough is sufficiently proved, you can bake it.
My loaf recipes state that you should bake your loaf at 180oC for 30 minutes. This comes with the caveat that my oven is rather fierce. Most bakers seem to recommend baking bread at a high temperature. I came back from an artisan bread course with the instruction to bake at 240oC but when I did that, my bread was burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.
Now, I prefer to preheat the oven to its hottest temperature and turn it down to 180oC as soon as I put the loaf in.
I have found that cooking cooler, for longer, works better for me, with my oven. I think this is something you are going to have to experiment with in your own oven but please email me if I can help at all.
A cooked loaf:
- Smells great!
- Is golden brown
- Tips out of the tin easily
- Sounds hollow when you knock on its bottom
I've written more detail about how to know if your bread is properly cooked here.
Can I eat it now?!
Hang on! Don't cut it straight away.
Bread should be tipped out of the tin and placed on a wire rack to cool for a while before cutting it.
If you cut it too soon, it will be claggy inside. It will also be too hot to eat.
For best results, leave the loaf for half an hour (if you can!) before you cut into it.
Great! I'm ready for some recipes!
My very easiest recipe is the one in my FREE guide: Fresh Bread In 20 Minutes, so you could start there.
After that, I recommend making a loaf, or some pizza dough. Check out my recipes archive and have a go!
Let me know how you get on.