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Tips for better bread

Learn how tomake biscotti.

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Bread Basics

Nothing beats the smell of fresh baked bread. Making your own is a great weekend pastime or any day you have a stretch of time to allow for the bread dough to rise and then bake. Plus, bread is part of the foundation of the Food Pyramid. Along with grains, rice and pasta, we should eat six to 11 servings a day. It's a good source of complex carbohydrates with virtually no fat, and less than 100 calories per serving.

Don't be intimidated by bread baking lingo. And you don't have to be a body builder to knead dough. Warm up the oven for our recipes for onion focaccia, rosemary focaccia and French baguette.

Bread Needs

  • mixing bowl
  • baking sheet or bread pan
  • wooden spoon
  • instant-read thermometer
  • stand mixer with a dough hook to help knead
  • pastry board for your counter to make clean-up go faster

Eight Easy Steps to Home-Baked Bread

 Check to make sure the yeast is active by combining it with a pinch of sugar and warm water. Make sure the yeast is room temperature before you start. Stir well, and then let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. A thick foam should form on the surface. This step is called proofing.
 Add flour and salt to the water, and stir until the dough comes together and looks like a shaggy mass. This can also be done in a sturdy stand mixer.
 Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured pastry board, and let it rest for five minutes. Start kneading. The motion is pull, fold, push, turn. The far side of the dough is pulled up and over, folded back on itself, pushed with the heels of the hands using your full upper body strength, and then turned 90 degrees. Do this for 8 to 10 minutes. The dough should then be smooth and elastic. It should feel bouncy and spring back if poked with a finger.
 Spray the inside of a mixing bowl with vegetable oil spray. Place the dough in the bowl and spray the surface so it won't dry out. Cover with plastic wrap, and place it in a warm (75 to 85F) draft-free area. When you can poke it about one inch deep and the indentation remains, it's ready. This will take one hour to one and half hours, depending on the yeast used. Don't rush it. This is when the bread develops its flavor.
 Deflate the bread by punching it down in a few places, then fold it over and punch it again. Follow your recipe. Some breads are now ready to shape. Others need to be kneaded again and set to rise again.
 Sprinkle the inside of the pan or the center of a baking sheet with cornmeal or semolina flour. Shape the dough by hand and lay it in the pan or on a baking sheet.
 Cover the bread with a clean towel and allow it to double in size. This is called bench proofing. It will rise even more when it's baking. Consult your recipe to see if the dough should be sliced before baking to allow steam to escape.
 It's time to bake. Place a pan with 1 cup of boiling water on the lower oven rack. The steam will give the bread a crispy crust. To tell if the bread is done, hold it with a towel and thump the bottom. When it sounds hollow, it's done. Or poke the loaf in the center with an instant-read thermometer. It should be 195 to 200F.

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  • Most bread recipes will give you a range in the amount of flour to use. Start with the lower amount and add more as needed to make the dough less sticky.
  • If the bread dough resists shaping, let it rest for five to 10 minutes.
  • If your kitchen is cooler than 65F, try these tricks to get dough to rise rapidly—put the bowl (uncovered) in a gas oven to get the pilot light's warmth or turn on an electric oven for just two minutes and then place the bowl in the slightly warmed oven.
  • Rub a little oil on your hands when kneading hard to handle dough like pumpernickel and whole wheat, it'll make it easier.


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