Crusty, chewy, and fragrant freshly baked bread fills your kitchen with homey aromas and transforms everyday meals into something special. But for those who haven't got a lot of experience, bread making can seem complicated and time-consuming. Here are some helpful hints to speed the process along and remove the fear factor. Once you've mastered the technique, you'll want to make your own bread all the time— and you may just have to. Homemade loaves will disappear faster than anything you can buy at the store. Here are a few to try: Spelt Olive Loaf, Classic Rye Bread and Whole-Wheat Honey-Walnut Bread.
Why bread flour?
Bread flour is high in gluten (the wheat protein that gives dough its elasticity and structure) and contains other rising agents that help breads bake up light and crusty. All-purpose flour will work in bread recipes, but bread flour guarantees the best results. To make your own bread flour, simply add 1 Tbs. vital wheat gluten to every cup of all-purpose flour used.
If your hands get covered in glops of dough while kneading, rub them with a little flour. The dough will come right off and can be reworked into the main ball.
Time It Right
No need to clear half a day of kitchen time to bake a loaf or two. Bread dough is very forgiving—an extra half hour of rising time here or a shortened baking time there (simply make the loaves smaller) will yield equally delicious results. And use the fridge. Chilling the dough slows down the rising process, so you can let it rise overnight in the refrigerator rather than for an hour on the kitchen counter. (This is true for all but the final rising step.)
The First Cut
Choose a serrated knife to slice bread. The saw-like edge will cut through the crust without mashing the soft insides.