Baking Great Bread

 

Love the smell of fresh bread baking in your oven? Try some of these tips!

  • A simple way to speed up the process is to replace regular dry active yeast with a packet of fast-acting yeast. True to its name, fast-acting yeast will go right to work making those bubbles in the dough that cause it to rise.
  • Make sure all your ingredients are room temperature before you start mixing. (This may take a bit of advance planning to determine the right time to remove items from the fridge.)
  • Use the right kind of flour. Some recipes do alright with all-purpose flour, but many bread recipes call for bread flour or whole wheat flour.
  • Knead your bread until it doesn't stick to your hands anymore. It should be smooth, even, and flexible.
  • To get dough to rise, you need a draft-free spot with a temperature of 75–80 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the bowl of dough, lightly covered, in an airing cupboard, by the stove, or on top of the central heating boiler.
  • Try using a clean plastic shower cap to cover your rising dough. It's easier than plastic wrap, and a large cap will allow enough room for the dough to rise without becoming uncovered. You can keep the cap from sticking to your dough by spraying the inside of it with non-stick cooking spray before putting it over your dough. When you're done, you can wash the cap out and use it again.
  • Your bread dough is done rising when it has doubled in size. It will rise more in the oven as it bakes, so make sure you put the oven racks low enough to allow the bread to grow.

Lots of things can go wrong while you're baking, and some of them can be fixed pretty easily.

  • You start making your dough only to find that your pans are missing. No problem; you can use two large, clean coffee cans and fill each only half full of dough. Grease the lids, too, and place them on the cans. When the rising dough pushes the lids off, it's time to bake the bread. Place the coffee cans without lids upright in the oven to bake.
  • Your dough doesn't rise. If you did everything right (all the ingredients, followed directions, etc.), it probably means that the yeast was bad. All you can do is bake ultra-dense bread or start over. Next time around, make sure that your yeast is the right temperature and that it hasn't expired.
  • You burn the bread crust. Rub off the black spots with a kitchen grater. For severe burns, simply cut off the damaged part and eat the rest.
  • One good website with lots of tips for fixing your bread messes (or at least figuring out why things went wrong) is Baking 101 at http://www.baking911.com/bread/problems.htm.

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