What do you mean you "bake all your own bread"? And answers to other frequently asked bread baking questions

August 7 2014 | Guest post by Emily
Photo by Senorhueso.
Photo by Senorhueso.

I've been baking all of my own bread since the beginning of 2013. What started as a little experiment has now become a point of pride that I refuse to backslide on. Whenever I mention this hobby to someone, once they're done rolling their eyes and reminding me that one can buy loaves of bread at the supermarket, they start asking questions.

Thinking of diving into baking your own bread? Here are the answers to the most frequently asked bread-baking questions…

Why did you embark on this project?

At the beginning of the year, I felt like I had gotten rather sloppy about what I was choosing to buy and I wanted to get back in the habit of making things from scratch.

What do you mean you "bake all your own bread"?

Initially, I was pretty strict about this, but as time has gone I've gotten more lax about what qualifies as "bread." I enjoy baking bread, and it's a privilege to make my own, but I don't want to drive myself crazy. In the past year and a half I've bought plenty of bagels, English muffins, tortillas, and the like. My bread-baking applies to sandwich bread only.

How do you make time for that?

First of all, it should be noted that my husband Brian and I consume less bread than a lot of people. I eat it pretty regularly for breakfast, but we don't eat sandwiches routinely for lunch and we have no kids. So a loaf of bread generally lasts us a week, sometimes more. Whenever I bake bread I make two loaves, sometimes more.

But yes, it is a time-consuming project. As with many things, the more you do it, the more manageable it seems. I generally try to bake on a free weekend morning or afternoon. There is the occasional panic when I realize I don't have any empty mornings or afternoons in which to bake bread and get a little freaked out. But when something is important to you, you make time for it.

Part of the way I get away with not constantly baking is storage. Since I bake more than one loaf at a time, I generally only have to bake every 2-3 weeks. When cooled, both loaves get sliced and one goes into a zip top bag and is frozen. When the supply in the fridge is running low, we take some out of the freezer. If we need bread and all we have is frozen, a quick run through the toaster generally makes it ready to eat. I keep an eye on the supply and when it starts running low I start checking out the calendar for a time when I'll have a few hours to bake. The nice thing about bread, however, is that even though it takes a long time, that time isn't labor intensive and you can do a lot of non-bread related tasks during the rising and baking phases.

How do you keep the yeast from dying? And how do you know when it's done rising?

I have been incredibly lucky with my yeast. I use basic supermarket yeast, such as Fleischmann's or Red Star, which I store in the fridge.

I don't take the temperature of my water or other liquids, I just use my fingers to test whether it's warm. In the winter I often turn my oven to warm and rise my dough on top of it. Most modern recipes give specific times and/or sizes (doubled in size, etc.). I follow those guidelines and generally things work out. I have had a few loaves that didn't rise much at all, especially before I figured out that my apartment was too cold in the winter, but even flat bread still tastes pretty good.

What recipe do you use?

I've used several different recipes in my bread-baking journey. I've had success with the following recipes:

What's next?

As happy as I am with the bread I've made, it's not perfect. The loaves I've made have a very high white flour content. On one hand that's awesome because I can buy ten pounds at a time for a really reasonable price, but I'd really like to increase the amount of whole grains.

I also want to experiment, at some point, with sourdough and other starters. Starters are an entire additional level of time and effort commitment, so we'll see when I get the motivation to actually try it.

Any more questions about bread baking?

  1. I really like to use two cups of whole wheat white flour in my bread-making. I prefer all white, but Husband likes wheat, and I know it's slightly healthier.

  2. My favorite sandwich bread to make at home is a light wheat bread http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/01/light-wheat-bread/
    I like it because it's easy to slice thin with a regular bread knife, isn't too crumby, but is still light enough for pb&j sandwiches. Also I can make it easily with regular ingredients I always have on hand, using my stand mixer with dough hooks. It's almost the perfect at-home sandwich loaf in my opinion.

  3. Love this! My partner is a former professional baker so we make ALL our own breads, tortillas, etc for our family of four and have for about 3 years. I'm totally convinced that the Gluten sensitivity stuff isn't really a sensitivity to gluten (for most people) but instead, a sensitivity to all the preservatives and CRAP in store-bought bread. I'm going to try that fig bread. You rock! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. My husband has been baking our own bread for over a year now! We love it. We don't even have a bread maker. Just a pizza stone and our oven. He got the idea from the book: "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking"
    You make dough in a big container and then stick it in the fridge the dough lasts for about a week. You take the amount you want for your loaf and leave the rest in the fridge.
    He even makes buns, sourdough bread, etc.
    I highly suggest it!

    • We use that same book. I love making my own bread but found making bread for 5 carb loving people to be to time consuming. After discovering that book I just make a big batch of the no knead bread dough and store it in the fridge. Every day I take out however much we need and make that days worth of bread. Which for us is usually 5 rolls and 1 loaf of bread. Such a time saver.

      For special occasions or when the mood strikes me I will still make a regular loaf of bread but for everyday meals I stick with the no knead recipes.

        • Hey, I'm back! I just wanted to stop back in and comment on this post, as Offbeat Home just shared it on Facebook.

          I've been baking out of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day for about a year now and I LOVE IT. I always have a batch of dough in my fridge and people are always super impressed by it. It's removed that occasional "panic" caused by not having time to bake. I'm going to write a full post on my site about it soon, but for now, I'll just recommend it highly.

  5. "Since I bake more than one loaf at a time, I generally only have to bake every 2-3 weeks. When cooled, both loaves get sliced and one goes into a zip top bag and is frozen. "

    This reminds me of what I'm trying to do with brown rice. I'll make four (or more) cups at a time in a large pot, let it cool, then package it up so it's equivalent to one cup of (dry) rice per bag (obviously the cooked rice is more than one cup). Since they're in plastic bags I flatten the rice out and stack it in the freezer in layers. Then when we need them I take it out of the bag, microwave it for two or three minutes and fluff. Much quicker than spending 45 minutes cooking it every time we need some, and it means we don't have to have yet another appliance around cause I can do it on the stove top instead of in a rice cooker.

  6. This comes at such a good time – I'm moving to Alaska soon, and won't have a job to start out, so I want to do things like bake my own bread. I will definitely be trying these recipes once I get up there!

  7. I'm a big fan of Jim Lahey's no-knead artisan bread method. Requires a Dutch oven, works AMAZINGLY in my woodstove, and seems to be nigh on fail proof. Even loaves that looked horribly burned have turned out to be totally edible on the inside. It's not regular sammich bread, but it's glorious expensive tasting artisan style boule-type loaves for practically no time or money. And NO KNEADING

    He has books (My Bread and My Pizza I believe), but you can find his recipes plagiarized online.

  8. I've fallen in love with my bread machine, which I've had for about two years. Seriously, it's awesome. It takes about 5 minutes to dump all the ingredients into the bread pan, and then three hours later, I have bread that's *way* more delicious than anything I buy in the store!

    I do still by specialty products like bagels, pita, English muffins, etc. But for standard loaf bread? Bread machine all the way.

    • Do you have a preferred recipe? I've tried to work out a good, multigrain bread recipe for the machine, and I'm still not really happy with the texture. If I had a really good recipe, I would get back to baking it myself.

      Until then, we buy from a local baker. More expensive, but very tasty…

    • I love by bread machine too, but differently. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I use it as a mixer and proofer – just using the dough cycle – and shape-n-bake my loaves by hand. I baked all our bread for several years, but got out of the habit when the kids all started school. I need to get back into that.

  9. I love baking my own bread! I've been keeping a sourdough culture going for over a year now and use it for everything from sandwich bread to pizza dough to pretzels.

    Basically, every time the sourdough starter gets refreshed, the method I use requires dumping half of it, then adding more flour and water to give the yeast bacteria more to feed on. Rather than throwing it away, the portion I take out gets used in a recipe so there's very little that goes to waste.

    I recommend ANY book by Peter Reinhart for those looking to get into bread baking. The Bread Baker's Apprentice is my favourite, it walks you through all the different techniques and is very easy to follow, plus every recipe I've tried has turned out beautifully!

  10. I also bake all of our bread. My husband and I don't eat a lot of bread (mostly just toast or bread-and-butter), so if I bake two loaves on the weekend (one for us, and usually one to give away) that's enough to last us all week. The "Honey Oatmeal Bread II" recipe on Allrecipes.com is one of my favorites.

    I also really like this bread that I just call "Crusty Peasant Bread". Being only four ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, water) it's probably one of the oldest bread recipes. It's very low on work (no kneading), but takes a little more planning. The idea is that you quickly stir together some ingredients, let it rise 12-18 hours, and then bake it in a pre-heated dutch oven. So, the only complicated thing is figuring out where you'll be in 12 hours. I find that it's most convenient to stir it up first thing in the morning at 6:30am when I get ready for work (takes less than ten minutes), and then when I get home from work I preheat the oven (which does take some time because my oven is slow to heat), then preheat the dutch oven, and then it's 6:30pm and the bread has had 12 hours to rise and is ready to bake. http://www.simplysogood.com/2010/03/crusty-bread.html

    Then, of course, there's just nothing quite like plain, ol' yummy white bread. This is my dad's recipe, which I made recently and we ate BOTH loaves in about 36 hours:

    Idiot Proof White Bread

    3 tablespoons sugar
    1 tablespoon salt
    2 1/2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
    2 tablespoons margarine
    5-6 cups flour
    2 tablespoons dry yeast
    1 egg, beaten
    1 tablespoon milk

    In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water. Stir in the margarine. Add 3 cups of flour and yeast, beat with an electric mixer until smooth, about two minutes. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time and beat with a wooden spoon. Keep adding flour until a heavy rough mass is formed. Remove dough from bowl and place on a work surface. Knead dough about ten minutes, add more flour if it gets sticky. Keep kneading until flour is absorbed and dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl, and place bowl in a warm spot (or just on counter if it's a warm day) and let dough rise 30 minutes. Punch down, and let rise two more times (punching down in between). Shape dough into to large loaves and place in greased loaf pans. Split tops of loaves with a sharp knife 1/2" deep. Let rise for another 20 minutes more, until about double. Brush loaves with beaten egg and milk. Place in an oven preheated to 400 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown on top and loaves sound hollow when bottoms are tapped. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack

  11. I've been looking into this, wanting to do artisan breads. I mostly make pizza dough with my kitchenaid (need a better recipe btw…) but I want to ask, is it cheaper this route to make your own bread?

    I ask because I'm going to start buying stuff in bulk to make my own cheeses and butter. It'd be nice to have some homemade bread to accompany it.

    • I would assume that homemade bread is cheaper, unless you're using some crazy expensive ingredients. If a five pound bag of flour costs $2.50, and you can make at least four loaves of bread out of it….well, any bread other than store brand white fluff bread will cost at least that much per loaf. Ok, add the cost of salt (pennies) and yeast (a few more pennies)……Still pretty cheap, especially if you buy in bulk. One of my oft-used recipes is literally just flour, water, salt, and yeast, so the cost is probably something like 50 cents a loaf, not including electricity for the oven.

    • I calculated the cost of a loaf of wheat sandwich bread that I would make at home, and, including the electricity for the oven, was about $1.50 per loaf. Considering I like my bread to be mostly whole ingredients, this is a considerable savings over the cost of a similar loaf from my local bakery ($4.50).
      However, considering the amount of time making bread can take between kneading and clean-up, I have started going back to buying my bread from the bakery out of convenience.

      • The way I work around the "inconvenience" of bread making is to either make one of the no-knead breads mentioned above, or (since I prefer kneaded bread) I just don't think of it as a chore. Making bread feels incredibly therapeutic to me. The transformation from simple ingredients to a soft dough, working it with my own hands (no bread machine for this gal, ever!), letting it rise, punching it down, forming loaves, filling the house with the aroma of baking bread, tapping the loaves for doneness…..The whole ritual feels very fulfilling. It feels almost like participating in an ancient ritual that links us to our most first civilized ancestors; bread being one of the very earliest prepared foods that humans created. I've seriously considered building a brick, wood-fired outdoor bread oven in our backyard someday.

        I find that baking bread is something I look forward to, a luxury, rather than a chore. If I start the dough first thing in the morning, then I can go about doing other weekend chores in between rises, or I can use it as "me time" to read and drink tea.

        • Making bread isn't necessarily an inconvenience, since it is a rather calming task, and it does make the home smell homey. It's just that currently my work keeps me from home more than I'd like during the week, and on the weekends my husband and I travel.
          Right now I want to focus on some other important things in my life, which mostly take place outside my home. So in that sense, it is more convenient to stop at the local baker on my way than to find 4 hours where I can sit and watch my dough proof.

    • I've never calculated cost on my bread. It would vary a lot based on where you're sourcing your ingredients (farmer's market, supermarket, warehouse store?) but I think it's likely cheaper than buying it. In addition, you avoid any of the unpronounceable chemicals you might want to skip.

      I would also agree with Jamie about the ritual and satisfaction of making one's own bread. Now that I'm into the routine and making good use of my freezer, I really don't find it inconvenient at all.

  12. I make challah almost every week. I use the bread-machine for mixing the ingredients and the first rise. Then I braid, and bake. In the winter, when Shabbat on Friday starts EARLY (as early at 4pm in Seattle) I put the ingredients in on Thursday night and use the timer to have it ready for me to braid before work on Friday. It is so easy!!

    To add to the cost discussion, around here there isn't really good, certified kosher, challah. And the not-so-good challah is about $5 a loaf and up. So making it myself saves a TON of money (especially since we need two loaves every week!)

    I've been experimenting with other breads too, and have a good rosemary-salt bread, pizza dough, and cheesy beer bread all down. I often bake in the oven instead of the machine, as it turns out a little nicer.

  13. Good for you! I like to set aside time on weekends to cook and bake, too. I work full time and have two toddlers, so cooking and baking really is like a luxury for me. I genuinely can't get that feeling of accomplishment any other way, especially when I make something wonderfully delicious and then repurpose leftovers and/or freeze things to use later. Cooking a whole pumpkin and freezing puree to use in all kinds of things for the whole fall and winter may not seem worth it to people with cans of puree so affordable, but it just feels SO GOOD.

  14. I've found that using whole wheat pastry flour (I buy it in the bulk section of my local coop) is cheap and gives the texture of white bread. The coarse wheat hulls in regular whole wheat flour are hard for me to digest, so I use the pastry flour for everything.

  15. I have started making my own bread as well! I use this recipe for sandwich bread (which I veganize):

    http://www.thesimpledollar.com/homemade-bread-cheap-delicious-healthy-and-easier-than-you-think/

    and this recipe for challah that I make on Fridays:

    http://greatideas.people.com/2014/01/28/mayim-bialik-big-bang-theory-vegan-pretzel-challah-bread-recipe/

    To be honest, I don't do the whole "pretzel" thing – I just bake it after I braid it. I have found that getting a decent bread knife (after cutting my bread with just any ol' knife) makes a huge difference; also, turn your loaf upside down when you are cutting it and it is SO MUCH EASIER to cut.

    :bread making solidarity fist bump:

  16. We make all our own bread, and like some others have mentioned, the inconvenience/time factor would totally prevent me from doing this. So we got a breadmaker, and it has been the best investment ever. It takes 5 minutes to throw all the ingredients in, and I set the timer so that it will be ready when I get up in the morning. Getting up to the smell of bread… omg. So good. If we eat a particular loaf too slowly (after a few days in the bread bin), I slice it and put it in the freezer for toast, which is really handy and good! Also, the ends of the bread (which neither of us eat), are grated and dried for breadcrumbs.

    Below is our basic whole-grain bread recipe, and we experiment with using flavoured oils and different seeds and spices in it too. When my husband decided to throw tumeric in, we ended up with bright yellow bread which was interesting!!!

    BREAD-MAKER WHOLEGRAIN BREAD (for a 750g loaf)
    270ml water
    2 tsp oil (I usually use olive, but used to use chilli-infused avocado which was amazing too!)
    1.5tsp salt
    2tsp sugar
    225g white flour
    225g wholegrain bread mix flour
    1tsp yeast

    Set to whole grain programme on bread maker, and 3.45hrs later, voila!

    If you want a nice savoury loaf for spreading hummus or things on as an appetiser when you have people round, I make this recipe and throw all sorts of yummy seeds like fennel, cardamom, cumin, mustard etc in. It's SO FREAKING GOOD.

    • Thanks for sharing your recipe! I have used a similar one, but I'll try yours to see if it makes for a better texture/consistency. Since I still haven't purchased a food scale, I will just hope I did all the conversions correctly!

  17. My son is allergic to sulfites… which are nearly always found in store bought baked goods (and it's not required to be labelled… in Canada or the USA). We've been baking our own everything for a long time. I do it via one crazy baking day, when I make granola, crackers, muffins, dessert, bread or whatever I need to do. It takes 2-3 hours… but I just keep reusing my measuring cups and mixing bowls so the mess is contained. And afterwards I feel exhausted but accomplished. And I know I have another week's worth of sulfite free snacks!

    We also do a lot of sourdough and have really perfected our recipe so that we have beautiful artisan loaves every time! For us it's more about the technique than the recipe: http://www.fermentingforfoodies.com/sourdough

  18. I so want to do this! The first and only time I have made bread from scratch, I ran into a problem with my mixer. When I would use the dough hook on the KitchenAid stand mixer, it kept sucking dough up above where the hook attaches and nearly pulling it into the motor compartment. Anyone else had this problem or know how to fix it? It really discouraged me from making more because I don't want to gunk up the fancy mixer!

    On another note, any bread machine recommendations? I've been wanting one for a while, because homemade=awesome, but am just to lazy to do it every week ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Bean – I haven't had this exact problem, but for some reason whenever I try to make bread with a Kitchenaid stand mixer and dough hook… it sucks. For the longest time I thought I was just bad at making bread until I tried kneading it by hand, and it turns out I'm actually really good at making bread! I always knead an extra two minutes just to make sure, though, lol. I'm wondering if the bread has too much volume, and that's why it's being sucked up?

    • The same thing happens with MY KitchenAid, you're not alone! I don't know of a way to prevent it from happening, but the way I deal with it is to keep an eye on it and when it starts to "climb" up the hook, I just stop the mixer and sort of pull it back down and fold it over itself- basically turn it back into a ball shape.

      • Yeah – I have dough hooks for my hand mixer (I've never seen them for hand mixers in the states, but in Germany they're a standard addition) and I have this problem too so sometimes I'll just slide the dough back down with my finger (I guess you could get fancy and use a spatula) even with the mixer running. Though, of course with a hand mixer, each hook just spins on its own axis.

    • As far as I know, all dough hooks do this from time-to-time.
      I use a vintage Oster mixer and my favorite recipe does this right before it hits the "sweet spot" for mixing. But when I mix up a batch of pizza dough, there are no problems.
      As far as I can tell, it largely depends on your recipe, the oil/fat content and the moisture of the dough. Try greasing your hooks before you start mixing your dough, if the recipe includes a fat. If it's a no-fat recipe, you may just have to resort to punching it down when it climbs.

    • Thank you all for your input, I appreciate it! I'll definitely try my had at making bread again once the weather cools down a bit! Too hot to want to turn the oven on in my house these days ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I had the same problem with my KA! I switched to a cheap Sunbeam breadmaker from Wally's. It was the cheapest on the shelf (under $50) and is still going strong 14 years later! I only use it for the dough cycle (I really don't like the paddle hole all breadmakers leave in the bottom of the loaf from the mixing paddle.) and bake in a regular oven. I've tried fancy named breadmakers from garage sales and goodwill, but my old Sunbeam is still my favorite.

    • My kitchenaid stand mixer does the same, but I think I read somewhere that it can only take small doughs, as in not more than 500 ml of liquid for the dough (and of course, the rest of the ingredients to make the bread). This restriction gives me two small loaves of bread or one big. I mainly use the mixer to combine the ingredients, then knead by hand after letting it rise.

      My favourite recipe is 300 ml water to 650ml of flour and it fits just fine in the mixer.

  19. Just wanted to add that an easy start down the sourdough lane (which I never actually followed) is ciabatta since it uses a starter/"sponge" that only has to stand 12-24 hours. I had fun with the slightly different taste and method without the devotion to a long-term starter for a real sourdough.

    I agree that there's something really fulfilling about baking, but especially yeast doughs. I haven't gotten on a yeast kick for a while, but it may be time to revive that hobby. The hardest part for me is deciding NOT to make cinnamon rolls, ha ha.

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