Why Bake Bread at Home?
More and more people are becoming interested in learning how to bake bread at home. One reason is the cost of store-bought bread. At the time of this writing, Kroger (a national grocery chain) listed a single loaf of whole grain bread for $4.29. The same grocery store had a 22 ounce bag of national-brand whole wheat flour (which could make at least 6 loaves) listed at $2.99.
Another reason for the interest in home baking is health concerns. Home bakers are able to control the amount of fat, sugar, and salt their breads contain, as well as avoid scary chemical additives, such as azodicarbonamide (which is listed on the ingredients panel of most supermarket breads). Azodicarbonamide is used in the manufacturing of plastics, and is currently banned as a food additive in the UK, most of Europe, and Australia (FoodFacts, 2009).
Use a Reliable Recipe
This article does not attempt to provide all the information a home baker needs. Entire books could (and have) been written about this topic. However, there are a few important things a beginning baker must do, and one of them is to use a reliable recipe.
A reliable recipe is one that provides visual, auditory, and tactile cues, so that the baker can know for sure if he or she is doing things right. For example, a reliable recipe won’t just instruct the baker to add yeast to warm water, it will specify what temperature the water should be (100-110 degrees F)(Hensperger, 1998), and that it should look foamy after 5-10 minutes (Brown, 1995).
A Few Tricks for Great Crust
Getting a good crust is one of the most frustrating parts of learning how to bake bread. Professional bakeries are able to afford stone ovens that inject steam at just the right moment, which creates a brown, crisp crust. Fortunately, there are some ways to “cheat” at home.
To replicate a stone oven, the baker can place a pizza stone or unglazed, terra cotta saucer on the bottom rack of an electric oven, or the floor of a gas one. It is important that the stone goes into the oven before the oven is turned on (this prevents it from cracking).
There are several methods to introduce steam. Those with older, dial-controlled ovens can open the door about 10 minutes into baking, and spray the inside walls (but not the oven light!) using a spritz bottle. (FreshLoaf, 2010). This technique can damage newer digital controls, so owners of newer ovens can remove the bread and spray it, or they can place a metal pan of water in the oven, which produce steams as the bread bakes.
For Further Reading
For more information about how to bake bread at home, check out these great books:
Bread. By Beth Hensperger, with photography by Victor Budnik.
The Tassajara Bread Book. By Edward Espe Brown.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. By Jeff Hertzberg, MD.
Brown, E.E. (1995). The Tassajara Bread Book, 25th Anniversary Edition. Boston: Shambhala.
FoodFacts Staff. (2009, 1 July). Azodicarbonamide: Another Reason to Avoid Most Breads. FoodFacts.com. Retrieved 21 May, 2010 from https://blog.foodfacts.com/index.php/2009/07/01/azodicarbonamide-another-reason-to-avoid-most-bread/
FreshLoaf Staff. (2010). Lesson 5, Number 1: Steam the Oven. TheFreshLoaf.com. Retrieved 22 May, 2010 from https://www.thefreshloaf.com/lessons/tentips_1_steam.
Hensperger, B. (1998). Bread. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
Popoff, D. (Producer). (2005, 16 March). Good Eats: Dr Strange Loaf. [Television Broadcast]. Atlanta: Be Squared Productions.