Baking bread can be intimidating—especially when many of us believe it’s beyond our culinary expertise. But here’s the truth—it’s not. And take just one whiff of a freshly baked loaf rising away in the oven and you will be glad you went through the trouble. Below is a short overview on bread basics followed by a couple of our favorite mouthwateringly delicious homemade recipes—a sourdough studded with olives and sun-dried tomatoes plus a yummy garlicky “pull-apart” bread.
Understanding the Yeast Beast: Yeast is the active ingredient that makes bread rise and take fluffy shape. The most common variety is regular active dry yeast, although I recommend trying either rapid rise or instant in its place. With these varieties you won’t need to proof the yeast (dissolving it in warm water with sugar before using) or have the dough rise twice.
Giving Your Bread the Love it Kneads: Kneading takes place before letting the dough rise and is what makes the makes the mixture hold together properly. Start by turning the dough over multiple times on a smooth and floured surface to collect all stray pieces. Next, fold half of the dough towards you then push it away with the heels of your hands. Continue doing this while rotating the bread until the dough is elastic, smooth (and no longer sticking to your hands).
Making Your Loaf Look Good: Before baking, you will need to decide how you want your bread to be shaped. Most recipes will give you instruction on this, but if the shaping is up to you, try forming a loaf by punching out the risen dough until flat; then roll the dough into a cylinder, tuck in the ends and place it in your bread pan. For a shinier loaf, brush a light patina of egg white glaze (egg whites plus water) over the top before popping the loaf into the oven.
—By Emily Arno