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As we’ve shared before on this blog, we used to think that bread baking was one of the hardest things you could do in the kitchen. Never mind that using yeast at all seemed like pro-level difficulty. Bread itself just seemed littered with potential pitfalls. How do I know if the yeast is working? Am I kneading right? What if the dough doesn’t rise? Is this how the dough should look/feel/smell? There are so many ways to get it wrong! We even created our own post here on Knead Rise Bake about the most common mistakes new bakers make.
But once we dove into the world of bread baking, we learned a really important thing; baking bread is actually a lot easier than it seems. And most of those fears we had are either unfounded or easily avoided. So with all the craziness going on, and so many people baking more than ever, we want to present you with 8 reasons why you should start baking right now. These aren’t a list of ways that baking could go wrong. Instead, it’s a list of fears you may have that are either unnecessary or easily remedied. While it’s true that bread baking can be a pretty specific science, it turns out that there is also a lot more wiggle room than many of us realize. If you don’t have fancy tools, don’t know special techniques, or just feel overwhelmed with all the unknowns, you can still bake bread!
Still not convinced? Read on to see if your fear of bread baking can be debunked!
- You don’t want to buy special equipment.
No, you don’t need a bread maker. Neither do you need banneton baskets, lame cutters, or special lint-free kitchen towels. And while having a stand mixer sure can help with the kneading process, it’s not needed either. As long as you have what I would consider a normally stocked kitchen, you can make bread today. The only items I might recommend that maybe not everyone has are a kitchen scale and digital thermometer. They’re just helpful for taking even more of the guesswork out of bread baking. But no worries if you don’t have those things. Most bread recipes can be made with these common kitchen supplies: mixing bowls, mixing spoon, measuring cups and spoons, plastic wrap (to cover the dough), and some kind of baking vessel, like a loaf pan, dutch oven, or cast iron skillet.
- You don’t know how to knead bread.
If you do happen to own a stand mixer, then you’re good to go! Many bread recipes are written with the assumption that you’ll be using a stand mixer to knead the dough, anyways But what if you don’t have a stand mixer, or, like us, you did own one but got rid of it in a fit of kitchen purging (thanks, KonMari)? It’s OK. To start out, just choose a different bread method. Thanks to the no-knead method that swept the baking world a few years ago, there are many no-knead bread recipes out there that, as the name implies, require no actual kneading! There are also many bread recipes that call for folding the dough instead of kneading it. When folding the dough, you’ll pick up sections of the dough, stretching them up and over the rest of the lump. In my opinion, it’s a lot easier than kneading. Here’s a great short video from America’s Test Kitchen demonstrating two different folding methods:
- You don’t know how long the dough needs to rise.
Although many recipes give you a time frame, like “let rise for two hours”, there’s often a caveat attached such as, “until doubled in size”, or even better, “until puffy”. If you’re like us, these little postscripts can cause a lot of anxiety when working on a recipe. Has this dough doubled yet? Is this “puffy” enough? What will happen if I let it rise for too long or try to bake it too soon??
Here is the good news: even if your bread is slightly over or under proofed, it will still bake up fine. We’re not running professional bakeries, here. We just want fresh bread for ourselves and our loved ones. So go ahead and just stick with the time frame laid out in the recipe. As time goes on, you may start to learn more about those visual and textural cues. But in the meantime, you’ll still have delicious homemade bread.
(Still need more reassurance? Check out our blog post, How Do You Know When Bread Dough Has Risen Enough?)
- You don’t know how warm the water should be, how the dough should look or feel, or how warm or cool the room needs to be.
In a word; too many subjective directions. Because while there are a lot of recipes out there that really break it down for you, there are lots of others that don’t give you such specific details. If you’re like me, directions like, “the water should be warm, but not too hot” or “let rise at room temperature”, or “knead dough until tacky, but not too sticky”, make you break out in a cold sweat.
First, some reassurance. Most bread recipes are vague on these kinds of things because they can be. There really is a range of water temperature/room temperature/dough texture that is just fine. So it’s OK to relax and just go with your common sense on what those directions mean.
Or, if you still don’t like to leave things so loosey-goosey, then I recommend finding a recipe that does spell out all the details. Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe is great in this regard. There aren’t too many areas where you can go really wrong, and he gives a lot of reassuring directions and details along the way.
- You don’t want to make a giant mess
I get it. Baking can get crazy, and washing a huge pile of dishes, plus the counter (and maybe even the floor) does not sound like a good time. Trust me on this; one of the ruling principals of my meal planning is that a recipe should create as few dirty dishes as possible.
Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any bread baking methods that require absolutely no clean up. You will need to use a couple of dishes to mix, rise, and bake the bread, and probably will also need to sprinkle flour on some kind of work surface. But it doesn’t have to be too bad. Here are some things we’ve learned that cut back on the amount of clean-up needed:
- If you use a stand mixer to knead the dough, or use a no-knead or fold-instead-of-knead method, there’s no need to flour the counter for the kneading stage (which, in my opinion, is the messiest part.)
- For all of these methods you can let the dough rise in the same bowl that you mixed and kneaded (or not, as the case may be).
- Also, if you don’t have a stand mixer and you’re really begrudging the dirtying of each implement, you can use your hand to mix the ingredients instead of a spoon. While I don’t find this necessarily “easier” (since you do need to, you know, clean your hands up afterwards), it does mean one less implement to wash!
- If you don’t have a lot of work space, use a large cutting board as a work space instead of the counter. contains the mess and seems easier to clean up than the whole kitchen counter.
- For most breads, the final rise can be done either in the baking vessel itself or right on the counter or cutting board where the dough was shaped. Even many recipes that call for proofing in a bannaton or towel-lined bowl do fine with either of these alternative methods.
So at the end of it all, sure, there are a couple more dishes to clean, and you may have some flour on your counter. But it isn’t as bad as you might think, and using some of these tips can help alleviate the work.
- You don’t have time
This can be a big one. We’re all busy, right? The good news is that baking bread doesn’t have to be as time consuming as it may seem. Before we continue, though, we do need to have a choose-your-own-adventure type conversation. To you, what seems easier, time-wise? Is it a recipe that may take many hours, possibly even days- but with very little hands-on time? Or a recipe that has more hands-on components, but takes a couple of hours from start to finish?
If the former is your idea of time saving (as it is mine), then the previously mentioned no-knead method is the one for you. Because although the dough will sit in the fridge overnight, your total hands-on time is less than 1 hour. There are other similar methods out there, too. In general, artisan breads that have really long rise times tend to follow this pattern. Mix the ingredients, basically leave them alone for a long time, come back to shape the dough, leave it alone again, and pop it in the oven. Not too bad!
Or, if that still feels too needy, time-wise, then there are lots of great recipes out there that will fit your need. In fact, there are recipes out there that will get you yeasted bread in under an hour! (More on that later!)
- You don’t know what ingredients to get
This may seem silly, but it was honestly a big hurdle for me. First, I never had bread flour on hand (why would you if you’re not baking bread?) And second, I never had yeast on hand.
Here’s the good news. You can use whatever type of flour you have in your pantry. You do not need bread flour, let alone whole wheat, rye, stone-ground organic barley, or any other type of specialty flour. If all you have is regular old all purpose white, you can still make one killer loaf of bread.
Unfortunately, if you don’t have yeast, yes, you do need to go to the store and get some (unless you want to dive in the deep end and make your own sourdough starter! If so, King Arthur Flour has a great tutorial.) But if you’re like us, and find those little packets most commercial yeast comes in annoying, it turns out that many grocery stores also sell jars of yeast. They last up to 6 months after opening when stored in the fridge, and are way easier to measure out of. So maybe but the set of packets for the first go-around, and then if you find that bread making is your jam, go ahead and save yourself the trouble of keeping “yeast” constantly on the shopping list by investing just a bit more in the jar.
- You don’t know what kind of recipe to start with
It can be pretty daunting to sift through all the recipes out there and try to find one that looks easy enough, or doable enough. Don’t despair; here are some pointers to help you choose a recipe that will set you up for success.
- In our experience, artisan-style loaves are easier to make than sandwich bread loaves. They tend to require fewer ingredients, and many of them require little or no kneading.
- If you’re worried about vague directions, look for recipes that have lots of details, such as water temperature, specific descriptions of the dough, and other helpful pointers. The Jim Lahey no-knead mentioned above, our Simple No Need Crusty Bread , and our Not Quite No Knead Rustic Loaf are great starter recipes. They don’t need any special techniques, ingredients, or equipment, and we give you step-by-step instructions along the way.
- If time is the biggest factor holding you back, Modern Honey’s Miracle One Hour White Bread recipe can be made, start to finish, in one hour! It does require a stand mixer, though. Don’t have one? An extra hour will get you to King Arthur Flour’s Easiest Loaf of Bread You’ll Ever Bake. The recipe includes instructions for both hand-kneading and using a stand mixer, and as a bonus, has really helpful pictures of what the dough will look like at each stage.
Hopefully these tips dispelled some of your fears about baking bread! If any of you have tips or advice for new bakers, please share them in the comments!