Dave Duncan

"Eat Well, Stay Fit, Die Anyway"

The Idiot-Proof Step-by-Step Guide to Baking Bread

There was a time when I thought baking bread was probably the hardest thing in the world.  It seemed like the kind of thing professional bakers or pioneering homesteaders could do, but not a guy like me.  Then, a few years ago, I asked my grandmother to show me how to bake bread at home, and I found out just how easy it is.

So, from my grandmother to you, what follows below is an idiot-proof illustrated guide to baking your own bread or rolls in the comfort of your own home.  The only really specialized tools you’ll need are bread pans, but you don’t need those if you want to make delicious dinner rolls instead, just use muffin tins.

I won’t assume any culinary knowledge whatsoever, so don’t be intimidated at all by this process, and if you DO have some skill in the kitchen, just enjoy the read and the photos, and take from it what you will.  The entire recipe is after the jump, and if you want to see a larger version of any photo, just click on it.

So, here’s a list of the ingredients you’ll need:

  • 2 packages (little envelopes) of active, fast dry yeast (they come in sleeves of three in the baking section at the supermarket).
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 cup of milk (2% or fattier)
  • 1/4 cup of butter (bricks of butter have measurements on the label that show you how much to cut off)
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 6 cups of all-purpose flour (Grandma swears by Robin Hood, I prefer Five Roses.  It doesn’t really matter)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon of grated lemon rind (totally optional.  Good idea for dinner rolls)
  • Cooking spray (like Pam)

First, we’ll start with preparing the yeast.

1. Pour the lukewarm water into a cereal bowl
2. Cut open the sachets of yeast and sprinkle the yeast as evenly as possible across the surface of the water.
3. Sprinkle the two teaspoons of sugar over the surface as well, and let the whole thing sit for 10 minutes.

4. Pour the cup of milk into a pot and scald it (which means, bring it nearly to a boil while stirring it)

5. Once it’s scalded, remove it from heat and add the butter, 1/2 cup of sugar and salt.  Stir it until it’s blended (and looks and smells terrible) and let it cool until it’s lukewarm.

6. While that mixture is cooling, your 10 minutes for the yeast should be up.  If it is, take a clean spoon and mix everything in the bowl of yeast together as evenly as possible and let it sit a few more minutes.

7. Once the milk/butter/sugar/salt mixture is cooled to lukewarm, slowly stir in the yeast mixture.  This is the step where everything starts to smell like bread.

8. In a large mixing bowl, slow add the mixture to half of your flour and beat it well to make a nice, thick batter.  You can just mix it with a spoon until it’s pretty evenly mixed.

10. Add your beaten eggs (and grated lemon rind, if that’s the route you want to go) and mix it REALLY well.

11. Once it’s well-mixed, stir in the rest of the flour a 1/2 cup at a time.  In between each addition, keep mixing it and stop adding when the dough is still soft by doesn’t stick to your hands or the bowl.

12. Once it’s pretty uniform and non-sticky, sprinkle flour on your table (or any smooth, wooden surface) and start kneading it.  Just push it in with your knuckles and turn it over to get the whole thing a uniform consistency.  If it’s still sticky, just add more flour by sprinkling it on the dough.  You want it to be smooth and satiny.

13. Knead your smooth and satiny dough into a ball.

14. Spray some Pam or cooking spray in a bowl and flop your ball of dough in it, then flip it over so the whole thing is coated in the spray.  Don’t spray directly onto the dough.

Here’s the grandmother ‘lifetime of baking’ secret…

15. Put plastic wrap over the bowl and wrap the bowl up in towels, then put a folded towel over the stove element that acts as a vent for your oven.  If you don’t know which one it is (usually upper left), turn on the oven light and look down on each element.  Whichever one is showing light is it.  Then, put an upside down plate over the towel.

16. If you haven’t already, turn on your oven light.  You’re going to use the heat from the bulb to help the dough rise, and the plastic wrap and towels will help insulate that heat.

17. Put your dough-bundle into the oven with no heat on other than the lightbulb.  Leave it there until the entire ball is double in size (probably close to 90 minutes).

This is a REALLY good time to wash some dishes and otherwise hang out in the kitchen, because after about 10 minutes, it’s going to smell awesome.

18. Once the dough has doubled in size, take the bowl out of the oven and punch it down with your knuckles.  Then, very lightly knead it again.

19.  Next up, grease up your bread tins or muffin tins.  For the sake of this forum, I used both.  Well, that and we only had one muffin tin.  I like to spray them with Pam and then wipe them lightly with a paper towel to make sure it’s on evenly.

20. Once your various baking pans are greased up, tear chunks off the dough and roll them in your hands to make them roundish, but in the shape you want for your pan.  Here’s some tips:

Bread Pans: Roll them kind of long and about 1/3 to 1/2 of the interior of the tin
Muffin Tins: Roll them into balls about the size of a ping pong ball and put the roundest, smoothest side up

21. Cover ’em in plastic wrap again (this may seem like you’re killing the environment, but I’m 20% sure it’s still less wasteful than buying bread).

22. Put them back in the oven with the light on (again, no other heat aside from the light) and wrapped up in towels.

23. Let them double in size again (maybe another hour).  Check after 30 minutes and then every 15 minutes after that.  You don’t want them growing monstrously big and taking over your oven.  It can happen.

24. Once they look like they should (aside from being freakishly pale… like me), take them out of the oven (and the towels too) and take the spare towel and plate off the oven vent.

25. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit and once the little light goes off (meaning the oven is preheated), pop your bread in.  Bake it for the following times:

  • for rolls, 15-20 minutes
  • for loaves, 35-40 minutes

26.  Use some judgement on times, but when it looks and smells done, take it out of the oven and admire your handywork.  This is a good time to invite over friends and neighbours to bask in your baking glory.

27. For one final touch, melt some butter and dip a paper towel in it.  Then, lightly wipe the tops of your buns or loaves and they’ll have really nice shine on them.

If you’ve got any tips to add, or you tried this recipe and want to share your experience or photos, let me know in the comments.

If you plan on attending a potluck dinner or any dinner this Christmas, you can’t go wrong bringing homebaked bread or rolls.  Everyone loves it, few know how to make it and you’ll always be invited back.

Good luck, and enjoy!


3 Comments so far

  1. Karim December 22nd, 2008 9:16 am

    wow.. those look good. Idiot-proof eh? I like those odds!

  2. Bodyc March 1st, 2009 4:29 pm

    Super post, Need to mark it on Digg

    Thank you

  3. claudette February 6th, 2012 12:05 pm

    I am the idiot at bread making and so going to give this bash! If -“I”- get this right the recipe goes with me forever! And I love your grandmother. Will stop by again I am sure

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