At the beginning of a new year, most people resolve to eat less food, count calories, or exercise more. In 2013, why not make a decision to eat better food and to make more of your food at home? An easy way to start is with fresh bread.
Many people find bread baking frustrating. Problems arise when dough doesn't rise as expected, when a recipe's shaping instructions are unclear, and when it's time to put the bread in the oven. Typically, first-time bread bakers are nervous and unsure about the whole process. It's time to clear some things up.
First, let's talk about ingredients. Bread is primarily made of flour, water, yeast, and salt.
- Flour: Most bread recipes use either bread flour or all-purpose flour. Choose a brand of flour you like and stick with it. A favorite of many bakers is King Arthur flour, which can be found online or in grocery stores. It doesn't matter if the flour is bleached or unbleached; everyone has their preference.
- Water: Tap water is suitable for bread making. It should be warm, but not hot. Never exceed a water temperature of 135°F, for this kills the yeast cells.
- Yeast: There are three types of yeast: fresh (also called cake), active dry, and instant. Active dry and instant are the most frequently used yeasts. Choose the yeast specified in your recipe, or use this guide to convert to the type of yeast you'd like to use: one ounce fresh yeast = 1/2 ounce active dry = 3/8 ounce instant. Remember, yeast has an expiration date. Throw away any yeast you may have in the refrigerator or pantry unless you've used it recently. Do not buy a jar or vacuum-sealed package of yeast until you plan on baking regularly.
- Salt: Salt slows yeast's fermentation. Without it, the yeast would feed on the sugars in the flour and produce too much alcohol, which would create a sour taste in the finished bread. Salt lends flavor to the dough, so choose a salt you like. Professional bakers avoid iodized salt because they dislike its taste, but it can still be used. Most use kosher or sea salt instead.
The next installment of this series will address baking equipment. Stay tuned!