Baking a loaf of bread from scratch is exactly what many of us need right now. The coziness of a warm kitchen and the smell of freshly-baked bread are so comforting in times that are strange and uncertain. If you’re new to bread making and a little intimidated by the process, let this beginner's guide help you through the process.
There are a lot of moving parts to contend with in bread making, only some of which you can actually control. The ones you can’t — namely, the temperature and humidity of your kitchen — are so important to the rising process that they’re almost ingredients unto themselves.
Developing your dough instincts just before, or in the final days of summer, when those two conditions are ideal for baking, sets you up for early success rather than crushing defeat. And after a month of practicing on easy mode, you’ll be better equipped to troubleshoot recipes in the Cold Dark Times yet to come.
This goes for any kind of bread you could possibly want to make. Notoriously slow-rising enriched doughs like challah and brioche come to life in a slightly warm kitchen, rather than sitting like buttery rocks in the proofing bowl for hours on end as they do in the dead of winter.
If you’re curious about naturally-leavened breads, those three-day-long folding, shaping, and baking processes will never be more straightforward than they are right now. But I firmly believe that bread making is only as complicated as you want it to be, and for most people, that means it’s gotta be a lot simpler than sourdough, brioche, or even an overnight no-knead bread.
Enter my favourite bread recipe, which is an adaptation of Alexandra Stafford’s mum’s truly excellent Peasant Bread recipe. I will never shut up about it.
This isn’t just no-knead bread — it’s same-day no-knead bread. In a roughly 22 degree kitchen, the dough rises in less than two hours; once that’s done, you scrape it into a buttered pan and let it rise again while your oven preheats. It bakes for 30-40 minutes, after which you’ll have soft, springy bread with a buttery crust — perfect for sandwiches, croutons, dipping in stews, or the last few tomato mayo toasts of the season.
While Stafford’s recipe is basically flawless as written, over time I’ve adjusted my version to use less water, a touch more salt and loaf pans rather than Pyrex bowls. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
A large mixing bowl
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups (275 grams) lukewarm water (30º-35ºC)
1 standard loaf pan (8.5” x 4.5” or 9” x 5”)
Salted or unsalted butter, for greasing
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar until thoroughly combined. Stir in the water with a flexible spatula, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl until you can’t see any dry flour. Cover with plastic or a damp, clean towel and let rise for 1 1/2-2 hours. The dough should be bubbly, jiggly, and more than twice its original size.
Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat it to 220 degrees Celsius. Grease your loaf pan. Using the same nonstick spatula, release the dough from the sides of the bowl, pulling upwards from the bottom as you go to form a very rough ball. (Seriously, don’t sweat the shape — it’s never perfect.)
Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and let rise until it peeks over the edge, another 30-45 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through so it browns evenly, then reduce the heat to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for another 10-15 minutes. Immediately turn out onto a cooling rack and do your best to let it cool before slicing. You just made bread. Look at you go!
I recommend making this as-is at least once or twice to get your bread legs, then messing around with it however you’d like. Sometimes I add a splash of vinegar or a few tablespoons of yogurt to the water for some tang; for pizza dough or focaccia, I’ll add a quarter cup of olive oil and extra salt.
It’s possible that you’ll decide that one bread recipe is all you need, but this could also be your gateway into a bread making obsession. Either way, you’ll have at least one homemade bread recipe down pat by the time winter rolls around.
Fans of sourdough will be acutely aware of its unique flavour. This is all thanks to a starter or which is used to leaven the bread and make it rise. A sourdough starter is a living culture made from a simple recipe of flour and water that is allowed to ferment. They can last forever if they're looked after and fed regularly. If you're just starting out with sourdough baking, here's some tips to keep your starter strong and ready to literally get that bread.
This article has been updated since its original publication.