I have very fond memories of watching and occasionally helping my mother make bread. I have a deep rooted love for bread and bread making that most certainly stems from my mothers affection with such an art. We even now enjoy wonderful memories together making bread. My mothers technique is random and spontaneous however very intuitive. My childhood memories recall my mother just added “stuff” while making bread, she loosely measured (at best), never used a timer and rarely followed a recipe and did most everything by sight, smell and touch. So I guess by watching her, it embedded confidence in me at an early age that bread making was easy... which it really is.
I will preface this by stating that I am no "bread connoisseur" though I love bread and the process of making it, I am rather basic and have not ventured into more sophisticated breads thus the tips below are a few of the things I have learned and have shared during past bread making classes I have done.
Jens Basics of Bread Making
EXCESS FLOUR… The most common mistake in bread making is too much flour in the dough. Few recipes will say the exact amount of flour required because humidity and temperature will affect the amount you’ll need. With the exception of whole grains and stone ground flour which are reluctant to adsorb liquid (you must give them some time) and be conservative on the flour… you can always add more. My mother used to say when referring to dough "the wetter the better". This is possibly the most common mistake I find people make. Don't be afraid to get your hands messy.
INSUFFICIENT KNEADING… Kneading is very important because it starts activating the gluten in the flour. Gluten, when wet has the ability to stretch and make the elastic framework of dough. Any good “yeast risen” dough must be worked to elasticity. Properly kneaded dough (in addition to the other variables) will stretch like gum blown into a bubble. If the dough tears raggedly work it more.
LOW MOISTURE…. Avoid surface drying. Once the bread or dough has been shaped and set to rise, the surfaces must remain moist and soft. Moisture is a very important aspect in the rising of any dough. I oven use my wet hand and pat the top of the dough and then place a damp cheese cloth over the dough while it rises to facilitate proper rising.
LOW TEMPERATURE… There are 2 very important aspects to temperature while making bread, internal temp and external temp. When you heat your liquid, make sure it is very warm but NOT hot or it will kill your yeast. The heat will bring the internal temperature where it needs to be in order to rise properly. External temperature should also be warm. Yeast will respond best if external temperatures are approximately 85 degrees. If dough is kept from drafts and there is adequate heat and humility in your home it should abet rapid rising. You should see rising occur within 5-10 minutes.
RESERVE THE SALT FOR LAST... Salt will also kill the yeast and prevent the gluten from working the way it should. So knead your dough while it is very sticky and reserve the salt until the end when you knead in the remaining flour.
YEAST... Proof your yeast it you are insecure about it's activity, this will give you all the confidence you need to have beautiful, yummy bread. PROOF YEAST - 1/2 C warm water, 1 tsp sugar, 1 Tbl yeast. Stir together and let sit for a few minutes, if the yeast is "good" it should get foamy and bubbly and can be added to your dough
DON’T BE AFRAID OF YOUR DOUGH .... Remember you’re the Boss!
Bread of every kind is a staple in our home. Someone once said "if you want your kids to talk to you… learn how to make homemade bread!" I am convinced that there is a physiological response to the smell of fresh baked bread and not only am I in love with the smell but the taste , texture and favor that explodes into my mouth with each bite. I am confident that one day, if my children are ever reluctant to come home (heaven forbid), they will certainly come back home for homemade cinnamon rolls, bread sticks and hot bread with homemade jam. It is a very effective and coercive tool... YES, manipulative but a very useful strategy indeed.
ADDITIONAL Tips for the discouraged bread maker.
Making yeast bread from wheat flour substitute sometimes causes trouble. The substitute flour lacks the gluten which makes the dough firm and elastic and the bread light and porous.
Two loaves of bread made from the same flour can be of a different color, taste and texture.
Good home made bread has a flavor and quality peculiar to itself. No baker has ever attained it.
To make good bread it is necessary to have good materials.
There is no single best way to make good bread.
Soft, pure water is best suited for bread making purposes. Hard water generally neutralizes to a certain extent the fermentation produced by the yeast.
Water makes a bread of good flavor and texture and white in color.
Milk makes a bread of good keeping quality, with a tender crumb, greater elasticity, and of a creamy color.
Buttermilk, Sour Milk, Whey, make a bread similar to bread made with milk, except that the bread has the characteristic flavor of the liquid used.
Potato or Barley Water give the same results as bread made with milk, with a slight difference in the texture (heavier).
Yeast should be fresh, live, growing and in clean condition.
Yeast must have a clean and acid odor.
Too much yeast gives an increase of volume in the bread and a more crumbly loaf with an inferior flavor.
If the quantity of yeast used is increased, the time required for rising is decreased; and as the quantity of yeast is decreased, the time required for rising is increased.
If too much time is consumed in the rising, the bread is apt to sour.
Too much baking powder will make a bread of insipid flavor.
Good results are obtained in bread making by using one tablespoon of sugar to each one pound loaf of bread.
Too much sugar in bread gives a toughness to both crumb and crust.
Cane sugar gives the most satisfactory results in bread making.
Good results are obtained in bread making by using twice as much sugar as salt.
Too much salt will increase the weight of the bread, make the loaf smaller, and the crust lose its golden brown color and become a dull gray.
Too much salt, even in slight quantities, interferes with the proper aeration of the dough.
Too much shortening in bread will make a heavy loaf.
Lightness of bread is determined by the size of the loaf in relation to its weight.
Elasticity in bread depends to a great extent upon thoroughness of baking.
Coarse grained bread is caused by over rising, insufficient kneading, or too much heat in the first period of baking.
Sour bread is the result of the overgrowth of the bacteria which cause fermentation.
Soggy bread may be due to a low grade of flour, dead or inactive yeast, old or moist baking powder, insufficient kneading, or improper raising or baking.
Streaky bread results when the dough is not properly kneaded, or when too much flour is used in handling or in shaping the dough and loaves.