Bread Baking Tips

Wed Jan 13, 2010 8:26 pm
Comments: 0 Views: 334

Italian bread  Baking your own bread from scratch is easy. Baking a really good loaf of bread from scratch is hard. Well, not so much hard, as it just requires a lot of know-how. Once you have the process down, it is not hard at all.  I offer these tips as someone who has attempted baking bread from scratch for years and has had a lot of "failures" along the way. These are a few things I have learned that have helped me to make better bread:

1. Use spring water. If the tap water where you live is nice and relatively chemical/mineral-free, then great, don't worry about it. But where I live, the tap water is really funky...I mean reallly funky. Once I started using spring water instead of tap, my breads have been turning out much better. Especially during the step of steaming the loaves in the oven - my tap water used to give the loaves a white-powdery look to the outside of the loaves. Since I started using spring water, the loaves look clean and browned, as they should.

2.  Covering the dough with fabric during the final proofing. Previously, I had been covering the dough with "oiled plastic wrap" as SO many recipes recommend. No. Dust the outer surface of the dough with a small amount of flour and loosely cover with a clean non-terry dishcloth during the final proofing because a) by covering the dough with oiled plastic wrap, you are effectively oiling the surface of the dough right before it goes into the oven and that is not good for proper crust formation and b) by covering the dough with plastic wrap, you are keeping the surface of the dough more moist than it should be and thereby making it more difficult to score. If you keep the surface covered with a dishcloth, then the surface of the dough has the opportunity to dry slightly and that make the scoring of slashes in the dough surface much easier.

 3. Proper shaping.  Proper surface tension of the dough is key to bread making. The surface of the dough must be kept taut during the final shaping. Otherwise, the bread turns out weirdly lumpy in shape and does not rise in the way that it is meant to. There are many good videos on YouTube that show proper dough-shaping techniques. 

4. Proofing on parchment.  It helps to conduct the final proof the dough on parchment paper.  I used to shape the dough and proof it on a cutting board or other flat surface, then transfer it to a peel, then attempt to transfer that to the baking stone in the oven. Half the time it deflated significantly on its way to the peel, the other half of the time, I could not get it off of the peel and onto the baking stone. Now, I shape the loaves and put them directly on a sheet of parchment paper for final proofing. Then I just slide the peel under the parchment and easily throw the whole thing onto the baking stone. About 10 minutes before the bread is to be done, I open the oven and pull out the parchment from underneath the bread so that it can properly brown on the bottom. Way easier than the other method and no deflating of the dough trying to get it into the oven.

5. Sufficient preheating time.  My oven needs to preheat for at least 45 minutes to an hour to allow the baking stone to come up to optimum temperature before loading the dough into the oven.

6. Steaming the oven. It's important that the surface of the bread comes into contact with steam during the first 5 minutes of cooking so that the crust can form properly.  I keep a cast iron pan underneath the baking stone in the oven during the preheat and immediately after loading the bread dough into the oven, I carefully pour 3/4 cup spring water into the cast iron pan and quickly shut the oven door to keep as much steam as possible inside the oven.

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