This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Making great bread at home is easy— how else could it have become the staff of life and staple food since ancient times? There’s no reason why, with a little planning and organization, homemade bread can’t be a regular part of your cooking routine. This app will help you make any and all kinds of amazing breads by following bread baking ratios. If you want to remember a specific recipe, share it with a fellow cook, or print it out, hit the email button and a print version will appear. The first and fundamental fact to understand about bread—this basic combination of flour, water, yeast and salt—is to think of it as a living thing. And it is: leavened bread is filled with wonderful fungi we call yeast that are munching on sugars and releasing gas as a result. The bread is alive until you cook it, and you have to treat it the way you treat any living thing: with individual care and observation. Each dough is a little different so you need to pay attention to the details. If the kitchen is hot, those yeasts will be a little more active than if the kitchen is chilly, meaning the dough in a hot kitchen will rise faster. The second basic idea you need to absorb is that in order to trap the gas being released, you have to develop the protein in flour, called gluten. You develop this by kneading the bread so that it becomes elastic. Only after the dough has become elastic can it stretch to contain those gas bubbles and give your bread a soft, airy crumb. The final thing to learn in basic bread baking is when to kill it, as it were. Bakers have a great term for this: Thermal Death Point, the temperature at which yeast die: 138 degrees F./59 degrees C. You can’t just pound dough down and throw it in the oven—you’ve got to let those wonderful little, hungry yeasts keep doing their work, and when you have the right amount of rise, put it in the oven, to end their happy lives and gel the starch into soft, spongy crumb.
And that’s all there is to it. Mix, rise, shape, rise, bake. Of course there are infinite levels of finesse involved here. You get better and better the more you practice. But the essence of bread is not more complicated than those three ideas. The Five Steps of Great Bread: Mixing/Kneading: Mix or knead the dough to the point that it can be stretched to translucency. This ensures that it will adequately trap the gas being released. Not mixing enough will fail to develop the gluten that makes it elastic; over-mixing can break up the gluten network. Mixing flour, water, salt and yeast is the first pleasure of making bread–I like my hands in the dough and always at least finish the kneading by hand because it’s fun and also relaxing. If you’re using an electric mixer, you can over-mix, mixing so much that you begin to break up the gluten network (but you really have to mix it hard); you can’t really over-mix by hand. The First Rise: Sometimes called fermentation, the first rise is what you allow the dough to do after you’ve mixed it to a point of smooth elasticity. The yeast is already getting to work creating gas and other compounds that give dough flavor. Let the dough rise, covered. I leave it in the bowl I mixed it in and cover that with a pot lid, plate, plastic wrap, whatever’s at hand. It should roughly double in size, and it should not spring back when you poke it with your finger—that’s how you know it’s ready for the next step. The first rise should take between two and four hours depending on the ambient temperature and the type of yeast you’re using. Shaping: After it’s risen, knead it again to force out as much gas as possible and to redistribute the yeast (if you let the yeast exhaust their food supply, they’ll die). Let it relax a little, 10 minutes or so, so the gluten doesn’t work against you in the shaping. Shape it as you wish—into a boule, a baguette, or stretch it into a ciabatta. The important thing is to make it as tight and compact as possible so that it will retain a good structure when it bakes. The Second Rise: The second rise (sometimes referred to as proofing), is the step that allows the yeast to get back into action, aerating the dough into the shape and interior structure that will solidify once the dough is cooked. Bread should rise for at least an hour at room temperature, covered, after it’s been shaped. However, the slower you let it rise, the more flavor you will develop in the bread. So if you keep it in a very cold place, you can slow that yeast down. In my opinion this is the most important step to get right because this, more than anything determines the quality of the crumb. Too short and the bread will be too dense, too long and it will be too flabby to rise well. If you do the second rise in the refrigerator, let the dough warm up at room temperature for an hour or so before baking it.
Baking: When you’re ready to bake, be sure to have your oven at the temperature you want (very hot, and you should preheat your oven at least 20 minutes before baking). If you’re flavoring it with oil or salt, do so now. Then, score the bread. Always start in a very hot oven, 450 degrees F./230 degrees C. You can turn the oven down if you think it’s making the crust too dark. You can cook it covered—in a covered pot or on a stone covered with an upended pot—for the first half of the cooking so that the moisture creates a better crust. Or you can simply cook it on a stone, on a sheet pan, or in a loaf pan. The best way to ensure you’ve cooked your bread long enough is to use a thermometer. I cook my bread till the interior is about 200 degrees F/95 degrees C. Let it rest, preferably on a rack for faster cooling, at least a half hour, so that the starch can finish cooking. Great bread at home is not a mystery or a science, it’s simply a matter of recognizing the key steps above and paying attention to them. Ingredients Flour You can use pretty much any kind of wheat flour to make bread though each behaves a little differently. Flour called “Bread Flour” has a higher gluten content, meaning it is more sturdy and elastic. But if you want to bake bread and only have all-purpose flour, that works, too! Cake flour is a low-gluten flour, for a tender rather than chewy crumb, so it’s not the best choice for bread. Whole wheat flour is flour that has not been shorn of its bran or germ before being ground. It’s high in protein and nutrients, but the bran and germ hinder gluten formation which results in a heavier, denser bread. Other flours, such as those used in multigrain bread, have the same gluten-hindering effects that make breads more dense. Yeast Three types of yeast are available in most grocery stores. The most common is Active Dry Yeast. I prefer Red Star and SAF brands. Active Dry Yeast performs well and has a long shelf life, especially if you freeze it (you can freeze it indefinitely). Unlike Active Dry Yeast, Instant Dry Yeast doesn’t have a coating of inactive yeast surrounding it, so it works a little faster and you need a little less of it. Both Active and Instant work the same way though, and the bottom line is that how much you use is variable. The same dough can take 1/8th of a teaspoon or two teaspoonfuls and you’ll still have bread. One will simply rise much more quickly than the other. Less common but still available and good is fresh yeast, which is sold in cakes. Because the quality of active dry yeast has become so good, that has become bakers’ choice over fresh given that fresh yeast is less stable. Recipes here call for Active Dry Yeast. If you use fresh yeast, measure it by weight, multiplying the
weight of the flour by .03 and adding that amount (3% of the flour weight) to the mixing bowl. Salt We put salt in bread to give the bread flavor. That’s all there is to it. It does retard the yeast activity somewhat, but in basic bread baking, the key is to include about 2% salt relative to the weight of the flour.
Other grains and garnish: There are all kinds of other grains and seeds that can make bread more interesting and delicious. However, most of them reduce the percentage of gluten in the dough, the stretchy protein that gives rise to a dough. So you need some straight bread flour or all-purpose flour in your mix so that you have a pleasing texture and flavor. I find that 1 part whole wheat flour, 2 parts bread flour, and 2 parts nonwheat flour is a good ratio. Non-wheat flours include barley and buckwheat flours, for instance. Rye flour gives you a very distinctive flavor (add caraway seeds to rye sourdough for classic rye bread). You can add rolled oats to a dough, or course corn meal, or millet or cooked rice, or rice ground to a powder. I like whole seeds for texture and visual interest, as well as for their nutritional punch—sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds work well. Whole grains, particularly the ones that went into the bread itself (oats and sunflower seeds for instance), make an excellent garnish on top of the bread. Sourdough Starter: What It Is and How To Make Your Own Sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water with an active wild yeast culture growing in it. Used in place of commercial yeast, it results in bread far more tasty and complex than bread made with store-bought yeast. It’s easy to make and worth the effort. To make your own starter: In a quart measuring cup or other container, put in equal weights of flour and water, about 8 ounces/250 grams of each. Stir it to mix it thoroughly. Put a leaf or two of organic red cabbage or any red cabbage that hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides, into the flour and water. Leave it out on the counter, uncovered, for 24 hours. Add more flour and water and stir. You can add the same amount (equal parts by weight) or you can add equal volumes for a looser starter, 2 cups each of flour and water. If you don't have a bubbly starter after 48 hours, stir in some more flour and water let it sit another day. I use a slack starter, maintaining it, feeding it, with equal parts flour and water by volume. If I have a half a cup of starter, for instance, I’ll feed it with a quarter cup of flour and a quarter cup of water. For the next feeding, I’ll add a half cup each of
flour and water. When I’m done with it, I put about a cup of it in a deli container and keep it in the fridge, where it will keep indefinitely. Remove it from the fridge the day before you want to use it, pour off the water that has risen to the surface (it may be black or discolored) and feed it to activate it. It may take a few feedings before it’s up to full strength. Starter can be used for all leavened doughs and batters, pancake batter, fritters, deep-fry batter, quick cakes and muffins, but its main use is in bread. The basic ratio we use here for sourdough is 2 parts flour, 1 part starter, 1 part water, and then add salt, 2% of the total weight of the dough. Tools Generally, the only tools you need for baking bread are an oven and one or two hands. But some tools can make it easier and more fun, and can contribute to a better finished product. Mixer I use a 5-quart Kitchen-Aid stand mixer. It is my most used countertop appliance. It’s a big-ticket item and I highly recommend the investment if you cook. It does indeed make bread baking a breeze. But if you don’t own one, there’s no reason you can’t knead the dough yourself. Indeed, kneading can be a meditative pleasure. Cooking is more fun when you get physical with your food. Baking stone Baking stones give your bread a good bottom crust and are especially handy for pizza. As with all bread tools, it’s optional. If you don’t have one, a sheet tray works just fine. Dutch Oven Frankly, after the mixer, my big 7-quart Le Creuset Dutch oven is my favorite bread baking tool. It is THE best thing to bake bread in. It traps the moisture released by the cooking dough, mimicking the steam in professional deck ovens. You could use a regular pot with a tight fitting lid, but the enameled iron is a great cooking surface, and the pot is a great kitchen tool generally, worth the cost in my opinion. Peel A flat wood surface with a handle is handy for delivering a dough to a baking stone. It’s especially useful for transferring a pizza loaded with cheese from work surface to oven.
If you don’t have a peel, use parchment paper to deliver pizza or other heavy doughs to the oven. Bench scraper or offset spatula If you knead dough on a countertop, that counter will end up with a dry hard patina of flour stuck to it. I use the edge of a large offset spatula to scrape it up. You can also buy a bench scraper for this work. Banneton and other special pans These are baskets made especially for proofing dough; they prevent the dough from spreading out and make it easy to upend your dough onto your baking surface. They also give the surface of the dough an appealing texture. If you don’t have a banneton, you can improvise one by lining a bowl with a kitchen cloth or napkin, dusted with flour. Loaf pans come in handy and tubular pans for baguette shapes are available as well. But again, they are not strictly required for baking bread. For More Information For other ratios beyond bread, see my book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking or the smart phone application Ratio. For more about me and more cooking tools I recommend, see my site, ruhlman.com. Notes on Bread Types White This is the basic dough; five parts flour, three parts water, plus yeast and salt. It can be used to make all basic breads: pizza dough, flatbread, baguettes, sandwich bread. It can be cooked and eaten as is, or it can serve as a blank canvas for any kind of flavoring you wish (see notes on flavoring toward the end of this reference section). I almost always coat it with olive oil and kosher salt before baking it. Sourdough Sourdough is white bread made with a natural starter. That is, wild rather than commercial yeast. Otherwise, it’s the same (except that it tastes better). Sourdough can actually have some tang from the acid given off by the bacteria, which adds to the complexity of the finished bread’s flavor, but sourdough shouldn’t actually be sour. Developing your own yeast culture results in such a better, more flavorful finished loaf that I include sourdough ratios for each of the breads. For basic white sourdough, the ratio is simple: 2 parts bread flour, 1 part starter and one part water. As always, you need to use common sense. The exact hydration
varies, not only depending on whether you measure equal parts by weight (100% hydration) or equal parts by volume, as I prefer (more than 150% hydration). The amount oftime you’ve let your starter feed on itself before mixing also has an impact on the flour-water ratio. See the pages in this reference section on how to make your own starter. Whole Wheat My whole wheat dough uses a combination of bread flour and whole wheat flour. If you want more whole wheat, feel free to reverse the proportion of whole wheat and refined bread flour. The more whole wheat you use, the heavier and denser your bread will be. I also like to add honey to whole wheat breads, which benefit from the sweetness—a couple of tablespoons per 32-ounce/900-gram loaf. Add honey as you desire. Whole Wheat Sourdough Whole wheat dough, leavened with sourdough starter, or natural, rather than commercial yeast, will give you more flavorful finished bread. See the pages in this reference section on how to make your own starter. Multigrain Multigrain breads have a dense texture and distinctive bite. I like to include some plain bread flour to the dough to prevent its becoming too dense, as well as whole wheat flour. As for the non-wheat flours, use any combination you like. Flours to choose from include, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, spelt, teff, rice, potato, and corn. You can also add oats, corn grits, and various seeds to your multigrain; flax seeds and sunflower seeds, for instance. Whole grains thatwon’t completely hydrate, such as millet, and steel-cut oats, should be soaked or cooked ahead of time. Other starches, such as cooked rice and cooked potato can be added to the dough. I like to garnish the top of multigrain doughs with oats and seeds for visual appeal and interesting textures. My multi-grain ratio is equal parts bread flour and non-wheat flour, and half as much whole wheat flour. For a good multi-grain loaf, try equal parts buckwheat or barley flour, rolled oats, and corn grits as your non-wheat grains, then experiment with different flours and proportions. Rye Rye is a rich, dense, delicious bread. I love a traditional deli-style rye flavored with caraway; add about a tablespoon of caraway seeds per 32-ounce/900-gram loaf. Or don’t. But if you like rye, this is an exceptional bread to make at home. Rye Sourdough Rye sourdough, basic rye using a bread flour starter for leavening rather than commercial yeast, results in a much more flavorful finished loaf than one made with commercial yeast.
Notes on Shapes The purpose of shaping the dough is to create the desired appearance of the dough and to create a good internal structure, especially for boules and baguettes. The ciabatta shape is flat and loose, like elongated pizza dough, and structure is less important, given the high ratio of crust to crumb. You can make any dough any shape, but some doughs are best made in certain shapes. For this reason, we’ve not included variations for a rye pizza dough, for instance, or a multigrain ciabatta. I think these doughs are better in forms that have more crumb and less surface area—thus, our selector will not allow you combine those doughs with those shapes. Feel free to make any dough in any shape. If you want to make a rye ciabatta, please do. Make the dough using the rye dough recipe (selecting boule or loaf as the shape) then follow the step-by-step for ciabatta or pizza dough after you knead the gas out of the dough following the first rise. Boule A boule is formed by pushing the dough back and forth on the counter into a tight ball shape. A boule gives you a large round loaf with lots of crumb. It’s a good choice for all doughs, especially the denser ones, multigrain, whole wheat and rye. Baguette The classic baguette shape is one I prefer only for white and sourdough breads, though I offer this shape for all eight doughs. Loaf All of the doughs here can be baked in a loaf pan. Loaf pan breads should be shaped like stubby baguettes (see photos in the step-by-step section) so that they have a good internal structure. Ciabatta Ciabatta, “slipper” in Italian, is the easiest shape to make. It’s simply stretched, stippled, seasoned with oil and salt if you wish, and baked. It results in a lot of toothsome, golden brown surface area. I recommend this dough using white, sourdough and whole wheat, and it’s a good shape if you’re adding savory flavors to your dough (see notes on flavors and garnish for your doughs later in this section). Pizza Dough Pizza dough is a vehicle for other ingredients, so I prefer this in white and sourdough. You can up the fiber content by using whole wheat doughs, and this is a good option as well. I like to roll out my dough as thinly as possible. Pizza dough is probably the easiest dough because it doesn’t require a final rise. Just roll it out, garnish, and slide it into the oven. It can be baked on any surface, but it’s best if that surface is preheated. If you don’t have a peel, set your dough on parchment paper and use that to transfer the dough from countertop to oven. Notes on Flavoring and Garnishes
Garnishes are whole or chunky additions to your bread that add flavor, texture and visual appeal. Any dough can be flavored and garnished to taste, but in order for the flavorings to stand out, I only flavor or garnish plain white dough, sourdough, and whole wheat dough. Some popular flavoring combinations that I enjoy are kalamata olive and toasted pine nuts, chopped fresh rosemary and roasted garlic, whole kernels of fresh corn with chipotle chillis, and chunks of chocolate and dried cherries. But you can use any kind of flavoring for interior garnish that you wish. Use different fresh herbs that go together in other circumstances (basil and sun-dried tomatoes for example), or top the bread with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. As a general rule, large ingredients such as chopped olives or nuts can be added at about 1/2 cup per 32-ounce/900-gram loaf, herbs at 2 tablespoons. Spices and seasonings can be added according to your taste. Sweeteners such as honey and molasses can also be added to dough. Try replacing the water with a flavored liquid; apple cider or beer, for instance. Fats, such as butter or olive oil, will make a dough softer and richer, as will the addition of eggs. Notes On Baking Surfaces You can bake bread on whatever you happen to have in your kitchen; a sheet pan, an overturned cast iron skillet. But the heavier the surface, the better the heat transfer and the better the crust. If you bake a lot, keep a baking stone in your oven. And of course bread can be shaped and baked in a loaf pan, as well. One of the best tools for great bread is a Dutch oven or any heavy duty pot with a lid to keep the moisture in. Professional bread baking ovens have a device for injecting steam into the oven, which results in an especially toothsome crust. You can mimic this effect by baking bread in a covered vessel. As the bread bakes, it releases moisture that remains trapped in the small space. Midway through the baking, remove the lid so that it browns. This technique results in a superlative crust. Great Books On Bread Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, or any of Reinhart’s books. Nancy Silverton’s Breads From the La Brea Bakery, a great book on using natural starters. Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.