How to Bake Homemade Bread: The Complete Guide
How to Bake Homemade Bread

How to Bake Homemade Bread: The Complete Guide

Homemade bread is one of the most comforting and satisfying foods to make at home. Nothing beats the aroma of fresh bread baking in the oven. In this guide, we will go through the complete process of how to bake homemade bread from start to finish.

You will learn how to select ingredients, use the proper tools, knead the dough, let it rise, shape loaves, bake to perfection, and store your fresh homemade creations. After going through these steps, you’ll be able to whip up soft, fluffy homemade loaves anytime you please.

 

Ingredients for Homemade Bread

The ingredients needed for basic homemade bread are simple. You’ll need:

  • Flour – all-purpose or bread flour works best. Bread flour produces a chewier texture.
  • Yeast – active dry or instant yeast. Instant rise the dough faster.
  • Salt – adds flavor. Use coarse salt for best results.
  • Water – lukewarm water activates the yeast. Room-temperature water also works.
  • Butter, oil, or egg – optional for a softer crust and richer flavor.

You can also add herbs, cheese, nuts, or dried fruit to customize your bread. Just be sure not to use more than 20% whole wheat flour when learning, as it can make the dough denser.

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Tools Needed for Baking Bread

Having the right tools makes the bread-baking process much smoother. Here are some essentials:

  • Mixing bowls – one very large bowl for mixing dough and a medium one for rising
  • Wooden spoon or rubber spatula – for mixing ingredients
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Baking sheet or cooking vessels (if baking rolls or sandwich bread)
  • Parchment or grease pan/sheet
  • Plastic wrap or towel to cover the dough
  • Rolling pin (for rolls or pizza dough)
  • Sharp knife for scoring

Consider investing in a stand mixer or food processor for easy mixing of bread dough. A baking stone or Dutch oven enables artisanal bread baking.

 

Mixing the Dough

In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, yeast, salt, and any flavorings. Create a well in the center and pour in water. Using a spoon, gradually mix water into the dry ingredients until a shaggy dough forms. Switch to hands when the dough comes together. Knead the dough for around 10 minutes until elastic.

Alternatively, use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and stick slightly to fingers when touched. Add small flour amounts if too sticky. Under-mixing results in a dense loaf.

 

Kneading the Dough

Kneading develops the gluten in the dough which results in a lighter texture. Do this by pushing the dough away with the palm of your hand, then folding it back in and repeating. Or use a stand mixer on low speed for 5 minutes.

Kneading is complete when the dough is smooth and elastic. It will feel soft and silky. At this point, form it into a ball by tucking the edges under to create a taut skin on the top and sides of the dough.

 

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Letting the Dough Rise

After kneading, place the dough in a lightly greased large bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

You can do this rise at room temperature or for even better results, rise the dough overnight in the refrigerator which intensifies the flavors as it slowly rises. Either way, this rising stage is an important part of developing the bread’s structure.

Gently deflate any air bubbles in the dough by punching it down before proceeding.

 

Shaping the Loaves

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut into two equal pieces for sandwich bread loaves.

For each piece, use floured hands to shape it into an oval/ football shape. Transfer shaped loaves seam side down onto a parchment-lined or greased baking sheet, spacing 3-4 inches apart.

For rolls, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a tight ball before placing it on the pan. Cover loosely with plastic or towel and let rise until nearly doubled about 30 minutes.

 

Second Rise

After shaping, allow the loaves to rise again until puffy and nearly doubled in size. This second rise is important for the bread structure.

In the last 15 minutes of rising, preheat oven to 375°F. For a chewier crust, place a baking dish with water at the bottom of the oven before baking which creates steam.

The steam prevents a hard outer shell from setting before the interior is fully baked. Alternatively, you can bake in a Dutch oven.

 

Baking the Bread

Once doubled in size, use a sharp knife or lame to score tops of loaves. For a boule/round shape score a deeper X shape.

Bake for 25-35 minutes until the crust is deep golden brown and the inside temperature reaches 190°F. Tapping the bottom of a loaf should result in a hollow sound.

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Rotate halfway through if needed for even browning. Enjoy a fresh out-of-the-oven spread with butter or your favorite topping!

 

Cooling and Storing Bread

Allow bread to cool completely on a wire rack, for at least 1 hour, before slicing or storing. This allows the interior crumb to set fully.

Bread is best consumed within 3 days at room temperature in a paper bag or bread box. For longer storage, place individually wrapped loaves in the freezer for 3 months. Thaw frozen bread at room temperature before serving.

 

FAQs

Why is my bread dense?

Common reasons for dense bread include under-kneading the dough, not letting the dough rise fully before baking, or adding too much flour while kneading.

My bread is flat, what went wrong?

Under-rising is usually the culprit if bread comes out flat. Ensure the dough has doubled in size before shaping and rising again until puffy before baking.

The crust is hard, how can I soften it?

To prevent a hard outer crust, try creating steam in the oven when baking. You can add ice cubes to the oven instead of a baking dish of water for homemade loaves.

Can I make bread without a mixer?

Yes, you can make bread by hand. It will just require more elbow grease for kneading. Switch to hands after the initial mixing if using a stand mixer is not an option.

How can I add flavors to my bread?

You can mix in herbs, spices, garlic, nuts, seeds, or dried fruit when making the dough. Just be sure not to exceed 20% of the total flour weight. Cheese makes for a delicious homemade cheese bread.

Will homemade bread expire faster than store-bought?

Properly stored homemade bread can last 5-7 days at room temperature or up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator in an airtight container. It may expire a little faster than supermarket bread due to being fresh-baked.

Can I freeze homemade bread?

Yes, bread freezes beautifully! Allow to fully cool before freezing loaf slices or whole loaves in ziplock freezer bags for 3-4 months. Thaw frozen loaves at room temperature before serving.

Is it okay to use melted butter instead of oil?

For a richer, softer crust you can certainly use melted butter instead of oil in the dough. Just be aware it may shorten the refrigerator rise/proofing time slightly since butter is a fat.

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