When you’re a beginner bread maker the process can feel a little daunting, you might have tried a few loaves and they may not have turned out quite as well as you’d planned.
It’s easy to become disheartened, but fear not! I’ve put together this complete guide packed with tips for beginner bread makers.
The best way to start out and properly learn bread making is with a yeast-based dough, so this is the process I’ll be teaching in this guide.
There are easier ways to make bread, but if you’re here reading this guide, then chances are you’re looking to learn how to do things properly, so let’s begin!
1. Learn the terms of bread making
Firstly, to fully understand the basics of bread making, it’s important to know and understand the terms and language you will see in bread recipes and bread-making advice.
Here is a simple table of bread-making terms, to help you understand what I’ll be talking about in the rest of this guide:
|Bread making term
|Strong bread flour/
Very strong bread
|Flour for bread making which is
Higher in protein than plain (all-purpose),
or self-raising glour
|The protein found in bread dough which
helps to create the structure and elasticity in the dough.
|A soft yeast which usually bought
in small blocks and
requires activation before use.
|A dried yeast in granule form which is
added directly to the dough mix and
instantly activates – the fastest and
the easiest way to rise bread.
|The process of making dough
increase in size and volume as bubbles
form inside the dough structure.
|The process used to work and stretch
dough to develop and strengthen the
|The process used to remove air
bubbles from the dough after its risen
for the first time.
|Shaping the dough into it’s intended
shape before rising the dough for a
|Rising the dough for the second time once
the dough has been shaped
|A type of razor which is used to make
patterns and slashes on bread dough
|The type of tin which is used to bake tin
shaped loaves for sandwich bread
|The process where the yeast feeds on the
the carbohydrate in the dough and creates gas
gas bubbles which make the dough rise
|The term used about a rising agent, for
example ‘yeast is used to ‘leaven’ (rise) the
|A flat tool made of plastic or metal which is
used to scrape dough from a surface, out
of a bowl or to cut and divide bread.
|A type of bread where fermented flour and
water is used as a leavening agent for the
dough. Slow fermentation produces
a stronger tasting bread.
|A basket which comes in various shapes and
sizes for proving the dough into shape to
prevent the dough from spreading (mainly
used for sourdough).
|A hook or hooks which is attached to a stand
or hand mixer which kneads the bread instead
of doing it by hand.
|The just warm temperature which is used for
water or milk which is added to other bread
|Four to water ratio
|The amount of liquid which is in the dough
compared to flour, for example, if the recipe
uses 500g of flour and 300ml water, the flour
to water ratio is 5:3.
The ratio is also referred to as a percentage in
You might also find it helpful to read ‘Types of bread – the ultimate guide of bread from around the world’ to find out more about the various processes used to make different types of bread.
2. Keep it simple
The saying ‘don’t run before you can walk’ is key when it comes to bread making. Keep things simple and concentrate on a basic white bread yeast recipe to begin with.
Make that recipe until you feel that you understand the basics and then move on to experimenting with other bread types and flour types.
By trying to make more complicated bread types at the beginning, it’s easy to lose confidence if things go wrong. So forget about the sourdough for now and perfect the white loaf!
TIP: Not sure if you have all the necessary bread baking equipment at home? Check out my recommended picks below (Amazon links):
3. Stick to basic equipment when you’re starting out
If you’re new to bread baking and it’s something you think you might want to take up as a hobby or you want to produce homemade bread on a regular basis, it can be tempting to go out and buy every available gadget.
If you’re a beginner then it’s a good idea to use basic equipment to keep things simple while you decide if bread making is right for you and before spending lots of money equipment you may never use or need.
There bare minimum essential equipment you will need to make homemade bread is:
- A large mixing bowl – big enough to mix the dough and to allow it to double or triple in size without it spilling over the top.
- A bread tin or bread tray (depending on the bread shape you want to make) – to prove and bake the bread dough
- Digital scales – to accurately weigh out the ingredients for the dough
- Measuring jug – to measure out the water
Although not essential, a dough scraper is also very useful when you start making bread.
Find out more about where you can see bread-making tools and equipment here.
4. Get the right ingredients
Having the right ingredients ready for bread making is important to get the best results possible from your dough.
Although white bread flour might all look the same, there can actually be some considerable differences between each brand.
The reason that bread flour varies so much is down to the protein levels in the flour and also the milling process used to create it.
I’ve done a lot of experimenting with different bread flour and there are some supermarket own brands (even organic ones) which just don’t work well. By spending a little bit extra and buying a decent flour you can produce consistently good bread every time.
As bread making has become more popular supermarkets such as Tesco have started stocking much more choice when it comes to bread flour, keep an eye out for brands such as Doves Farm, Matthews and Allinson’s is good too.
The important thing is to make sure the flour is suitable for bread and is ‘strong’ or ‘very strong’ because it’s this high protein content which you need to create the right bread texture.
If you’re based in the UK, you might find the following directory link helpful when choosing a bread flour:
When you’re starting out as a beginner bread maker, the best yeast to use is fast-action dried yeast. There’s nothing wrong with using fresh yeast, but I would recommend getting used to bread making with dried yeast first.
The best yeast to buy is a fast action yeast which is ready measured into 7g sachets, I’ve not found any difference between brands, they all seem to work well.
You can also buy dried yeast in small tins, if you’re doing down this route, store it in a fridge once open and only keep it for the time stated on the tin.
Don’t use yeast which has gone out of date because it may not work and will waste the dough ingredients.
Find out more about the differences between fresh and dried yeast via the link below:
5. Weigh out and prepare the dough ingredients correctly
When it comes to making bread dough, it’s important to make sure the ingredients are measured out correctly especially the dried ingredients. You may find that you need to increase the water in the recipe depending on the bread flour you use.
You will find that some white flour needs more water than other flour and this can be dependent on the protein level. I’ll cover how to tell if the dough is too dry in the next section, but this is something which you come to recognize with practice.
As a beginner, it’s easier to stick to the same bread flour so you know the right amount of water to use each time.
It’s better to have a wetter and slightly lose dough than a dough that is in a tight ball – find out more about this in the following post:
Here are some other steps you need to follow when preparing your dough ingredients:
- Make sure the yeast and the salt are kept separate in the mixing bowl before its mixed – salt can actually slow down or even kill the yeast.
- Make sure the water you use is tepid or just warm – too cold will prevent the yeast from working properly and too warm can make the yeast work too quickly or even kill it completely.
- Make a well in dry ingredients to pour the liquid into.
- If you’re using butter in your dough mix make sure it’s softened before you add it to the mixing bowl
6. Mixing the ingredients and judging whether the dough is too dry
If you’re mixing and kneading the dough by hand, start by bringing the dry ingredients into the wet from the well you made in the middle. Keep mixing with your hand until everything comes together and a dough is formed.
Once everything is incorporated you will get a feel of whether the dough is too dry, if it is it will seem dry, flaky and tightly packed together. If this is the case, add a bit more water to the dough (a bit at a time) until it’s loosened up.
Don’t worry if the dough feels sticky, it will become more manageable as you knead it and the gluten starts to develop.
The mixing process can be messy when you’re using your hands and this does put some people off or leads them to use a machine instead, but using your hands is a really good way to get to know and understand the dough. It’s also a traditional process and a good skill to learn.
If you think the dough is too wet, try not to add too much extra flour and give it a chance to firm up a bit during kneading. Flour can go on absorbing water throughout the kneading process – especially brown flour.
Adding lots of extra flour while you’re kneading can throughout the recipe and lead to heavy and dense dough.
7. Kneading the dough for long enough
Bread dough needs to be kneaded for long enough to make sure the gluten is worked enough in the dough and that it’s built up enough strength to create a structure that’s perfect for rising and to creating the right bread texture.
Kneading the bread by hand takes around 10-15 minutes and around 8-10 minutes on a slow speed if you’re using a dough hook.
The dough has been kneaded enough when it looks smooth, glossy and elastic when stretched.
8. How long should you rise dough for?
Dough should be left to rise for at least an hour or until it’s at least doubled in size.
There is no set right and wrong time for rising because it’s dependent on other factors such as yeast performance, room temperature and hydration levels.
It’s best not to rush the rising process because the longer the bread is allowed to rise, the more flavour it will develop. If you’re having any issues with rising see my post How to Make Bread Dough Rise More Every Time for more help.
9. Knocking back and shaping the dough
The term ‘knocking back’ sounds quite aggressive and it’s a bit misleading really because it’s better to use a gentler approach when it comes to removing bubbles from the bread.
You might be wondering why you spend hours trying to rise dough only to flatten it out again, but the knocking back and proving of the dough is vital to the final outcome of the bread.
The easiest way to knock back the dough once it’s risen for the first time is:
- Lightly oil or flour the work surface
- Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the surface
- Depending on the recipe and the shape of the bread your making, gently flatten out the dough with your fists – not too flat, just enough to remove the large air bubbles
Shaping the dough
How you shape the dough will affect how the dough proves (rises again). If you’re making a cob or bloomer style shaped loaf having a good tight shape will make sure the dough rises up during proving and baking rather than spreading out into a loaf with little height.
There’s a video to follow here, but the best way to shape the bread is by folding the knocked-back dough in on its self until it tightens across the top of the loaf when you turn it over.
Once the dough is shaped, place it either on a prepared baking tray (see below) or into a prepared bread tin to prove.
Preparing baking tins and trays
There is literally nothing worse than spending hours making the perfect bread only for it to stick to the tin leading to a battle and potential damage while you try to extract it or scrape it off a tray.
There are a few simple steps you can take to stop bread from sticking to tins:
- Place a sheet of baking parchment under the shaped dough or rolls when you’re using a baking tray or baking sheets – the bread will simply slide off the paper when baked.
- For bread tins, rub a small amount of oil or softened butter all over the inside of the tin, for extra protection sprinkle some flour into the tin and shake it around so it sticks to the fat and shake out any excess.
It’s best to use tins and trays with a non-stick coating, also try to choose bread tins without an elaborate lip at the top that dough can get stick in as it rises.
10. How to prove bread dough
Once you’ve shaped the dough, it’s time to rise the bread again. The process is called ‘proving’ (also called proofing) because you are giving the chance for the yeast to prove it’s self by being able to rise.
Allowing the bread enough time to prove is important because under-proved bread can be dense and heavy.
Typically, it takes at least an hour for the dough to prove, depending on the yeast and room temperature.
For more information about proving dough, see my post on rising here.
11. Do you need to slash the dough?
You may have seen bread with elaborate patterns, such as the ones in the pictures below. Creating patterns and slashing bread is becoming more popular, although it’s not all about style, there’s a practical reason for slashing too.
You don’t need to start with anything fancy, but slashing come cuts into the dough can help the bread to expand as it cooks.
Below are some tips on dough slashing and how you can give it a try:
- You can buy a razor type blade specifically for this job which is called a ‘lame’, but when you’re starting out, a serrated knife or bread knife works really well.
- If you’re making a white tin loaf, one slash across the top is all you need.
- Slash the dough after the bread is proved.
- Use a quick action so the dough doesn’t drag and deflate
- Don’t go too deep, around 0.5cm is enough.
If you don’t feel confident with this technique, try practising on a small dough to get used to depth and creating a confident cut.
14. How to bake bread in an oven
Most bread recipes require a hot oven (220°C/428°F or over). This heat helps to develop a crispy outer crust while cooking the inside of the bread.
Don’t be afraid when the loaf starts to go dark and golden, a darker crust means more flavour.
Below are some tips on bread baking and how you can tell when the bread is ready:
- Make sure the oven is fully preheated before placing the bread in there.
- Bake the bread until its a rich golden-brown colour – if the bread is still pale, chances are it won’t be baked in the oven.
- Test the bread is cooked by knocking your knuckle on the base and if it sounds hollow it’s ready.
15. Do you need to create steam to bake bread?
You don’t have to have steam in the oven to bake bread, it really depends on the outcome you’re looking for from your recipe. Here are some of the benefits of using steam during the bread baking process:
- The steam inside the oven creates a moist environment instead of a very dry environment.
- This moist environment helps the top of the bread to stay more flexible during the early stages of cooking, meaning it can expand and grow more in the oven.
- Further on in the process, the bread will form a crispy and shiny outer crust.
- Using steam to make bread helps to prevent the dough from burning at high heat while still going golden brown.
How to create steam in the oven
To bake bread with steam, the easiest way is to half fill a deep baking tray with boiling water and then place it in the oven as it heats up.
The water will evaporate considerably throughout the cooking process, so you need to make sure you have enough water in the tray so you don’t need to top it up as the bread bakes.
Take care when opening the oven because the steam can blast you in the face when you open the door.
Some bakers use a water spray over the top of the dough before it’s baked, although this won’t generate much steam, it uses the same principle, in that the dough will be softer when it first starts to bake, allowing more expansion.
For more information on steam and spaying dough, take a look at the articles below:
16. Cooling bread before using it
The smell of freshly baked bread can be overwhelmingly tempting while it’s baking and when it comes out of the oven.
If you’re baking a loaf, then it’s really important to let the dough cool before slicing into it.
Once the bread comes out of the oven, place it on a wire rack to cool, leaving the bread on a flat surface will cause a soggy base because the steam has no way of escaping.
Slicing the loaf while it’s hot and still full of steam will lead to a stodgy dough texture which squashes together when cut. It’s definitely worth waiting until the bread has cooled if you want to keep the rest of the loaf.
17. Storing homemade bread correctly
You’ve put all of this work into creating perfect bread, so keeping it fresh is more important than ever.
The article in the link below explains ways you can keep bread fresher for longer:
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