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Bread making -- total beginner! Where do I start?

Hey guys, so I tried the search for where to begin as a avid cook who has never baked before. I want to start learning how to bake -- specifically bread. Where do I start? I bought James Patterson's "Baking" because I loved his "Cooking" book, but baking doesn't seem as easy to dive in as cooking is. With cooking you can start with something easy like a fried egg and begin from there.

Basically, I have no idea where to start. Do you guys have any suggestions on how to dive in? Thanks in advance!

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  1. Get a simple white bread recipe, and go at it. Baking really isn't that hard. Remember, cooking is art, creativity is rewarded. Baking is science. Precision counts. Follow the recipe, and then once you've made that successfully, find another recipe and make that one. Eventually you'll get an idea of how it works and will be able to get creative, but for now, just pick a recipe and go at it.

    1. I learned to make bread from an inexpensive softcover book (actually more a sturdy pamphlet than a book) from the Fleischmann's yeast company more than 20 years ago. I found it helpful because it not only had recipes but general bread making tips. That book is long since out of print but I did find this link:

      http://www.breadworld.com/

      from the same people. It has a "Beginners" section and video tips on things like how to knead, how to ensure best rise and a discussion on the differences between Rapid Rise Yeast and conventional yeast.

      I agree with tuzurriz's suggestion to start with a simple white bread. You want to get your technique and timing down before expanding your repertoire.

      1. Wow thanks for the quick replies so far! I have another question, do most people do the straight dough method or should i work with a starter? (Or does it not matter?)

        6 Replies
        1. re: darrentran87

          If this is your first try at baking don't bother with starter and use the straight dough method. Pay close attention to your water temperature your kneading and rising times and you'll do fine.

          1. re: Kelli2006

            Hmmm, I thikn i may have messed up with my kneading. I was using a Kitchenaid Mixer. I put the setting to 4 and let it work for about 10 minutes. It still didn't get that stretchy consistency but I was afraid i was overkneading. What do you think coudl have been the problem?

              1. re: magiesmom

                Hmm, I did it on 2 but it was just clinging tot he dough hook... do you think it has something to do with the dough itself?

              2. re: darrentran87

                I wouldn't worry about it. If you did anything you might have under-worked the dough but its close enough. Its almost impossible to overwork dough at home.

                Give the dough plenty of time for the first rise and then for the post-shape proof and you'll be rewarded with a picture perfect loaf.

                1. re: Kelli2006

                  Good advice, as usual.

                  If it's underkneaded, just let it sit for awhile, the longer the better (though if it's hours, put it in the refrigerator). You want the dough to get to the point where you can do the windowpane test. There's a good picture in this blog, page down:

                  http://www.mamaliga.com/bread/kaiser-...

          2. I started with the no knead bread:

            http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/din...

            If you want more hands on, this baguette recipe is easy. It does start w/ a starter but I think for a basic bread w/ few ingredients, a starter is important:

            http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe...

            If you want something faster, adding milk, fat, and/or eggs helps w/ the taste/texture so you don't need the starter. Something like this sandwich bread would be a good place to start:

            http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe...

            4 Replies
            1. re: chowser

              Wow thanks for the links. I think I will try the baguette recipe in the next few days.

              1. re: darrentran87

                I second chowser's rec for the no-knead as a good gateway bread recipe to use.

                  1. re: mariacarmen

                    forthed. (forth'd?) I like the Artisan bread in 5 version, has more flexible timing, but it's very similar.

            2. You only need to do two things to get started.
              First, buy this book and read it cover to cover:
              http://www.amazon.com/Bread-Bakers-Ap...
              Next, spend a lot of time of this web site:
              http://www.thefreshloaf.com/
              It's really that easy .....
              "No Knead" can work well for bread making newcomers, but there are so many versions of the original formula and procedure that you risk starting in the wrong place.
              If you want to begin with the original formula, here's the link:
              http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13Ah9E...

              1 Reply
              1. re: todao

                Yeah, I want do the kneading method just because I'm going to have to learn eventually... might as well learn from the start!

                And thanks for the link to that book! The reviews look great I just went ahead and put in an order!

              2. My suggestion is Sunset Books "Bread". A inexpensive soft cover book (around $5, even less at a used book store) with decent illustrations and steps.

                Once you get a few things down, you can buy the more expensive hardcover bread/baking books.

                1. Buy "The Bread Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. If you are serious about wanting to dive into yeast breads it will be the best $25 dollars you ever spend. Even if you choose not to get too into yeast breads there are a ton of recipes for quick breads, biscuits, scones, etc...

                  It is easily the most used book in my collection.

                  1. You can't go wrong with the "Bread baker's apprentice" book, I lugged it halfway across the world to a third world country and back (I left valuable college books and clothes behind but I had to have my book)

                    I've attempted the french bread, and was very pleased with the results!!
                    Highly recommend this book, or the author's first book. Do check it out.

                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/adventur...
                    This is how my bread turned out!

                    1. Personally, I would skip yeast breads and start with quick breads first as in my opinion, they're the easiest and the hardest to goof up.

                      So, muffins, bananna bread, etc. then work up to yeasts. Just my two cents. Good luck!

                      I just made a yummy batch of apple muffins. Yummmmmm. Perfect for a rainy day!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: natewrites

                        Well, except that the skills don't really transfer. IOW, the skills you need for muffins, biscuits, banana bread are not the skills you need for yeast bread of any kind. So I can make a wicked sourdough boule with one hand tied behind my back, but I cannot make banana bread to save my life.

                        To the OP: I wholeheartedly agree about thefreshloaf.com. I don't think you can go wrong following their basic instructions for beginners. Also, put your kitchenaid away and get your hands in the dough! There's no substitute for having sense memories with baking bread -- your fingers need to know what the dough should feel like, even more than your eyes need to know what it looks like.

                      2. I just started making yeast bread Chinese/Japanese style with lots of butter, egg, and milk. Had pain in my neck/shoulder after. Paid CAD 80 for a Sunbeam breadmaker to do the kneading for 40 mins and first rise. Then take the dough out to shape, proof, and bake in the oven. Very happy with the result.

                        1. One thing that I think is absolutely crucial, so I am going to put it in caps even though I usually don't do that: GET A SCALE if you don't already have one. I use OXO's little one, about $35.

                          And do not start off with recipes that don't offer measures by weight. Part of the beauty of making bread is that it can be very intuitive, but intuition comes with practice--at the beginning, it really helps to have the precise measures that will help you get it right.

                          I am very, very, very strongly in agreement with those posters who recommended bread baker's apprentice, which has a beautifully lucid and thorough explanation of the whole process of making bread. Bakewise is great too, but if I had to pick i'd say apprentice.

                          1. I got started baking bread a number of years ago with "Beard on Bread" by James Beard. Lots of simple, great recipes for a variety of breads. I'd start with a simple white yeast bread, to learn the technique, and branch out from there. I do make no-knead bread occasionally, and agree it is a really simple way to make some good bread, but I still like my kneaded breads best!

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: lawhound05

                              Beard on Bread is the ideal beginner's book as far as I'm concerned - from simple white breads to ones requiring more experience and patience. I learned by working through it as well.
                              The Reinhart and Beranbaum books are a bit advanced for a beginner (I've baked for years and have never gotten all the way through The Bread Baker's Apprentice).

                              1. re: buttertart

                                I am with Buttertart (and others on this thread)...Beard is the best place to start.

                                However, I take issue with those who are advocating learning using a food processor. I really think that investing in a pastry blender and learning to mix the dough by hand/feel provides a better basis for later experimentation.

                                Personally, I have never used a weigh-scale, though my daughter swears by hers. The Beard Book has recipes that are forgiving enough that the miniscule difference in eyeballing the 4 cup line on your measuring cup versus weighing flour out is not an issue.

                            2. I am so glad I found this thread!

                              My aunt passed along one of her hippy-dippy kid activity books from the 70s and my son and I have been working through it. There are a lot of messy hands on recipes/activities and this weekend after a session of homemade hard pretzels, my son announced he wants to bake bread this weekend.

                              Yikes, I have never tried homemade bread before. I did find a basic white bread recipe and bought the ingredients today.

                              I added the recommended sights to my favorite file and put some of the books on my wish list.

                              1. Also, look around your area for yeast bread making classes. If available, they are really helpful. Or even watch someone you know who makes good yeast bread.

                                I had been baking forever, but I had trouble understanding what to look for when making yeast breads until I SAW it being made. I had an "ah-ha" moment when someone finally showed me what "until smooth and elastic" really looks like, etc. From then on, I had much better success.

                                1. Scirocco makes a really good point. Even with Beard on Bread in hand, there really is nothing like seeing, feeling, smelling the process.

                                  My husband and I took a bread-making class offered as an evening thing at a local high schoo when we were first marriedl...one of the smartest things we ever did. That was 30 years ago and we still enjoy making bread together...our skills have advanced to the point that my daughter and her husband asked US to give a home-class to their friends. I think the young couples got a kick out of our co-cooks schtick.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: LJS

                                    For a basic white bread recipe, does the size of the loaf pan matter? I need to buy pans and the recipe does not specify a size. At the store, I saw medium and large.

                                    We made pretzels last weekend and it was interesting to see how the dough developed through the kneeding process. My 5yo loved punching it down after the rise.

                                  2. I find Joy of Cooking has excellent instructions for pretty much any kind of bread.

                                    1. Darren,
                                      I feel your pain. All I wanted was a homemade bread that could come close to my mother-inlaw's bread. I found a recipe that I can actually get consistently good results form. Even my mother-inlaw approves! :) It's very easy. It's on the King Arthur Flour website, here's the link.

                                      http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2...

                                      You have to try this recipe, it's awesome!

                                      Ross