Making perfect bread every time is an art and science. While it may seem intimidating to start the journey into bread baking, it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools, ingredients and tips, you can learn to bake everything from sourdough to dinner rolls and sweet breads like a pro.
Going to the bakery to get a fresh loaf of bread is a real treat. Replicating those results at home, however, present a bit more of a challenge. Bakeries have the tools to make the perfect loaf every time, from ovens with steam injection, pre-made dough mixes and dough conditioners. Investing in those tools is not exactly practical for home bakers, but you can still enjoy awesome results when it comes to baking up your favorites.
Start With a Basic Recipe
There really are only four main ingredients when it comes to bread baking, but these will make or break your end result. Flour, yeast, water and salt are the building blocks, and you will need the most high-quality of these four ingredients if you want to enjoy good bread every time.
Take it Slow
Make baking an all-day affair. Use a bit less yeast than the recipe calls for. This makes the dough rise slower, giving the dough more time to develop good flavor. The dough retarding process takes this a step farther, leading to a more delicious bread. To retard your dough, use cold water to slow down the rising process or refrigerate your dough.
Weigh Instead of Measuring
For most baked goods, there is nothing more reliable than the old standby measuring cup. Not so with bread. The best way to get the right amounts each time is to weigh your flour and salt. Not only does this prevent the mistake of adding too much flour, it allows you consistent results each time you bake.
Use a Baking Stone
Want to re-create that brick oven environment? Use a baking stone to get that delectable crust on your bread. A baking stone will also prevent over-browning your bread. If you pre-heat your baking stone, you will be able to bake your bread at lower temperatures, which will prevent them from coming out too dark or wet.
As always, pre-heat your oven to ensure even baking and best results.
Getting the Right Crust
Put the finishing touches on your bread by creating the right crust each time.
- Artisan–dust with flour before baking to give it a down-home, rustic look
- Golden, soft crust–brush with an egg wash before baking
- Sandwich style–use a milk wash to give your bread a nice golden brown crust
- Soft crust–brush with oil before baking
- Crisp crust–brush with water before baking
Storing and Keeping Your Bread
When your bread is done baking, store in a cloth bag or wrap in paper. Let it cool for at least two hours before slicing. While it can be tempting to sample your loaf hot and fresh from the oven, the internal temperature is still high, and the bread is still baking, albeit slowly, just after you remove it. Cutting into it too soon will leave you with a soggy, underdone loaf.
Eat within one to two days. Sourdough bread, however, can remain fresh for about four days. Freeze the extra dough by wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap and storing for up to three months.
The Best Tools for Bread Baking
- Bowl Scraper–This handy tool allows you to get every last bit of dough from your bowl without using your hands. With a rounded edge, you can reach every single spot in your bowl so you don’t waste any valuable ingredients.
- Bench Knife–a must have for bread bakers, this tool is excellent for cubing butter, portioning your dough and transferring your ingredients from one surface to another. Better than a serrated knife for cutting bread, the bench knife allows you to slice through without severing the gluten strands.
- Silicone Mats-keep your loaf from sticking to the bottom of the pan with a silicone mat. No need for using tons of parchment or overly greasing the pan. Just slide one into your pan and lift your bread without fuss.
- Stand Mixer— the right stand mixer makes all of the difference in how your bread ultimately turns out. Using a stand mixer prevents over-kneading, and allows you to enjoy a light, airy loaf each time. There is a wide variety of stand mixers on the market, so choosing the right one is paramount to your bread-baking journey.
- Scale–if you are baking an artisan loaf, the scale is a necessity. It can be hard to accurately measure ingredients using measuring cups alone, and precision is key if you want a perfect loaf each time. Weighing your ingredients also makes it easy for you to replicate your recipes.
- Lame–if you love the look of a nice slice in the crust of your loaf, a lame will do a much better job than a regular knife. A lame will also help to ventilate your loaf so that steam can escape and give it one last, good rise before you remove it.
The ultimate hack, however, when it comes to perfect bread every time is the stand mixer. The best stand mixers for bread dough give you consistent results every time, making your bread baking skills rival those of fancy bakeries. There are many stand mixers on the market, and knowing the right one for your needs is key to enjoying the best bread every time.
One of the brand’s most popular models, the SM-50 5.5 quart stand mixer is both functional and stylish. Its versatility makes it the perfect kitchen tool—the mixer features a chef’s whisk, flat mixing paddle and dough hook. The splash guard with pour spout makes pouring a breeze. A powerful 500 watt motor means mixing thick dough is simple and efficient. Use this heavy duty mixer for breads, cookies and cakes. The Cuisinart SM-50 also works with optional accessories that make baking simple.
The “grandaddy” of stand mixers, the KitchenAid KSM180QUSD stand mixer is in a class of its own. With 10 variable speeds, 14 attachments and five quart stainless steel bowl, there is no kitchen task that this stand mixer can’t tackle. Make fresh pasta, burgers, noodles and more with a variety of attachments for every task. Of course, the dough hook on this model is perfect for mixing up a variety of doughs in different textures. This mixer is a heavy capacity model, mixing up to nine batches of cookies at a time.
There are stand mixers that happen to be great for mixing dough, then there are stand mixers that are specially made for making dough. The Cusimax 800W is the latter. This tilt-head, five quart stand mixer with dough hook, mixing beater and whisk is a heavy duty workhorse that many bread bakers swear by. With 800 watts of pure power and variable speeds from slow to fast mix, the Cusimax makes it easy to make pizza dough, bagels, cookies and more. A five-quart stainless steel bowl makes it easy for you to mix up multiple batches at once.
Bakers love this stand mixer because it packs a punch into a small frame. The mixer, which comes with a dough hook and beaters is a 300-wat mixing marvel. With 3-way mixing action, you can incorporate all of your ingredients while reducing waste from the sides of the bowl. Soft start technology means that the mixer will gradually get up to speed, reducing occurrences of ingredients flying all of the kitchen suddenly. When you need a bit more when it comes to mixing tough doughs, the burst of power function helps you to work through tough batters with ease.
One single beater does the work of two on this mixer, and it is a baker’s favorite for making pizza dough, cookies and mashed potatoes. Performing at the same level as its more expensive counterparts, the Hamilton Beach Electric Stand Mixer aims to impress. There’s no scraping necessary with this model as the included paddle covers the entire bowl with ease. With seven available speeds, this mixer is great for mixing bread dough without ruining the texture or quality. Clean up is easy with the stainless steel construction that allows you to simply wipe it off and go.
What to Look for When Buying a Stand Mixer
While there are some bakers who love to do things the hard way and knead every bread by hand, there are simpler ways to get amazing results in the kitchen. Stand mixers are a staple in most bakers’ toolkit, and this must-have item can save you time and energy. With a stand mixer, you can adjust speeds with ease, avoid over-kneading and enjoy uniform results. There are a few things to look for when buying your stand mixer that will ensure you get the best one for your baking needs.
- Volume Needs
Are you going to be using this mixer a lot or only occasionally? If you are going to be mixing up multiple batches of cookies each month, or baking bread to sell, you absolutely need the most powerful mixer you can find. Stand mixers are versatile, and can be used to make everything from pasta to meatballs, mashed potatoes and baby food. Think about how often you will use the mixer when deciding on the right model.
Stand mixers vary widely in price. A top of the line model can easily cost up to $500, while you can find inexpensive models for as little as $50. For at-home chefs, a mid-range model usually does the trick, and is excellent for making breads and mixing tough dough. These models come with multiple setting options that make it easy for you to mix up a variety of foods. For occasional baking, a stand mixer in the $200 range will usually do the trick.
A lot of bakers don’t factor in the weight of a mixer when they make the purchase, but it is something to consider. If the stand mixer will simply live on your kitchen counter, this is less of a concern. However, if you have to lift it out of a cabinet each time you use it, you will want to consider how heavy it is. The heavier the mixer, the sturdier it is, and the better it is for mixing thick dough. You don’t want a mixer that moves around every time it hits the high speeds. The high end models seem to be in the heavy duty category, so weight and price usually correlate with each other when it comes to choosing a stand mixer.
- Speed Settings
If you have ever added your ingredients to a bowl, turned on the mixer and had flour fly all over your kitchen, you will understand why speed settings are important. Most of the higher end models feature the “slow start” setting that gradually increases the speed of the beaters until you get up to the desired speed. This is great for folding in ingredients or adding flour a little at a time. It also allows for more even mixing and reduces waste as less dough sticks to the sides of the bowl.
There are so many things you can do with a stand mixer when you have the right attachments. The best mixers are versatile and have their own set of attachments that give you a range of baking and cooking options. Some of the stand mixer brands have interchangeable attachments, so you can use a dough hook from one brand and a wire whisk from another. Some common attachments include:
- Pasta roller
- Sausage stuffer
- Ravioli maker
- Fruit strainer
- Ice cream maker
- Wire whisk
- Flat beater
- Ease of Cleaning
Dough makes a mess. There really is very little you can do to get around this fact. Having the right mixer, however, can make cleanup easier. The stainless steel mixers with dishwasher safe attachments are the clear winners here. In a lot of cases, you will have to hand wash most of the accessories when it comes to stand mixers, so keep this in mind when making your selection.
There are tons of attachments available to make a variety of foods, so finding the mixer that is compatible with the most attachments is key.
When it comes to making perfect bread every time, choosing the right stand mixer is key. Whether you want to buy a mixer to be used only for bread-making or find one for all of your cooking needs, it pays to know how to find the best product. Stand mixers are a versatile kitchen tool, and provide the right power you need to mix up almost anything, from sweet desserts to savory favorites.