How to make great bread
HOW to make amazing bread and how to work with sticky dough? According to the award-winning author of In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey, Samuel Fromartz, most breads share the same simple elements – flour, water, yeast – so what distinguishes a good loaf from a great one is often technique.
First tip is to weigh your ingredients. For the most accuracy in baking, skip the volume measurements and use a scale. According to Fromartz, “If I measure a cup of flour and you do the same thing, the amounts we get will be different.” Some people scoop with the cup, compacting the flour, others spoon and level it. “By weighing your ingredients you will be more consistent and you can control the variables.”
Second tip is to knead with one hand. Keep one hand on the rim of the bowl, where it can stay clean. Use the other to knead the dough. “Fold over with your fingers. Do not get the palm in,” instructs Fromartz. “Press down with your fingertips so the dough gets combined.” With the clean hand you can turn the bowl, add ingredients and cover the dough with a towel.
Third tips is to wet your hand. “The main problem when making a wet dough is that it sticks to your hand,” says Fromartz. “If you dip your other (clean) hand in water and use it to scrape off the dough, you can keep things from getting to be a total mess.” (Wetting your hands also works when shaping meatballs and meatloaf.)
Fourth tip is to dust lightly. “The key mistake people make is using too much flour on their work surface,” says Fromartz. “That is why I flick the flour from the side rather than sprinkle from above.” The
flour will not stick to the surface – or to the bread in clumps. If you do end up with a lot of flour on the outside of your loaf, “use a pastry brush to brush the flour off the cooked loaf.”
Fifth tip is to note that a dough scraper is good for more than scraping. “A scraper comes in handy when you want to loosen dough from the bowl. Or cut up a loaf into rolls. It’s good for cleaning up the counter. I also use it to mix dough, and then to get all the dough out of the bowl so nothing goes to waste,” Fromartz enthuses. “If you want to clean stuck-on dough from a bowl, wet the bowl and scrape it in the sink with a scraper. Then scrape the dough off your fingers. It’s a great tool.”
Another tip is to transfer your loaves on parchment. Setting the loaves on parchment for their final rise lets you move them without undue stickiness. “Just make sure you cut a piece that is the same size as your baking stone,” says Fromartz. When he is ready to put his stirato in the oven, he places an upside-down baking sheet against the counter and pulls the parchment paper and loaves onto it. At the oven, he uses the same technique to slide the loaves onto his heated baking stone. «I always reuse my parchment until it falls apart. It will color a little, but that›s fine.»
Last but not the least, let the bread rest. As tempting as it may be to tear into a hot loaf fresh out of the oven, “it needs to rest and have time for the crumb to set,” says Fromartz. This can range from 20 minutes for long loaves to 1 hour for large round ones. You can use a cooling rack, he says, “but I like to just put the bread on the stovetop.” Now that you’re armed with these tips, it’s time to try your hand at homemade bread. (