Ever tried made your own bread and after what feels like hours of pummelling and waiting, felt a little disappointed by the results? Everyone loves the smell of freshly baked bread but it's frustrating if after all that build up, your loaf doesn't quite live up to it.
We've been there, but we've also made enough bread to pick up a few tips that will help make your bake foolproof.
Homemade bread is a world away from a bag of sliced bread and it's easier to make than you think. Yes, it takes time - but there is cheats you can use to stop and start so it can fit around the time you have (more on that later).
1. Choose the right ingredients
Real bread is made of only four ingredients - flour, yeast, water and salt. Choose the best flour you can afford, making sure that you go for strong bread flour. The yeast is key so look for dried active yeast, rather than fast-acting varieties. The ingredients that go into making bread are so simple, it's important that you use quality ingredients for the best results - it will still be incredibly good value.
2. Weigh and measure carefully
As we know from Bake Off, baking is a science (and a simple mistake early on can have soggy consequences later). It's at the very beginning that it's important to follow a bread recipe exactly, especially when it comes to weighing and measuring your ingredients. Invest in electronic scales to give you the most accuracy and make sure you weigh everything - even your warm water because measuring jugs just aren't that accurate. Later on, when you're kneading, is the time to use your instincts!
Take a look at our bread recipes to get those vital ingredients quantities for so many different types of bread, from this lovely ciabatta recipe to a spelt soda loaf.
3. Roll up your sleeves
Kneading the dough is essential to release gluten and bind the bread. The easiest way is to repeatedly push and pull the dough while listening to three or four songs on the radio. That's roughly how long you should knead the dough for before the first rise.
4. Be patient
It's obvious, but I'm afraid you can't rush making bread. Put your dough in a bowl, cover with a tea towel or even a clean shower cap stretched over the rim and leave it in a warm place for the first rise - put it next to a radiator or in an airing cupboard until it has roughly doubled in size and feels full of air.
CHEAT If you want to leave your dough while you go out for a few hours or even overnight, for example, just pop it in the fridge at this stage to slow the yeast down.
5. Shape it
Only flour your work surface lightly if your dough is sticking to it and shape your bread any way you like. As Paul Hollywood often tells Bake Off contestants, a wetter dough makes better bread, so resist the temptation to shower it in flour as you handle it.
6. Put your feet up
Cover your dough with oiled clingfilm for the second rise, or prove. Your dough should have expanded again and spring back when poked.
7. Ready, set... BAKE!
Slicing a cross or scoring lines in the top isn't just for decoration - it will control where the bread expands when it's in the oven and stop it bursting at weaker points elsewhere. You'll know it's done when your loaf looks golden brown and if you tap the bottom, it sounds hollow. Leave your bread to cool, then enjoy with lashings of butter. That's the best bit.
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