Bread baking 101

So you want to make bread? Creating a loaf of your favorite bread—soft on the inside, crunchy on the exterior—can be a rewarding, and delicious, experience. But even the best bakers occasionally struggle with turning out that perfect loaf of bread.

Here are the top five most common problems and the possible reasons why your bread baking experience didn’t rise to your expectations:

  1. The dough didn’t rise. Nothing is sadder than a flat as a pancake loaf of bread. The most common reason your bread didn’t rise is you used the wrong flour. Most people use all-purpose flour at home for baking cakes, cookies, pies, etc. However, with bread you need high protein bread flour. The general rule is if the product has yeast, then use bread flour. If not, all-purpose is fine. The other two reasons for flat loaves are either there was not enough water in the dough and/or not enough kneading. People are not used to baking doughs that stick, and your bread dough should be sticky as the dough only gets drier as time goes on in proofing and baking. Lastly, the dough should be kneaded long enough to get that “good” dough feel. When in doubt, knead longer and add more liquid.
  2. The bread isn’t brown on the sides. No one wants a pale loaf of bread. If your sides aren’t coming out golden brown, it may be because your oven was over-crowded or the temperature of the oven was too low. Another reason could be your pans were too bright and reflected the heat away.
  3. The top of the loaf cracks. A crack along the top of your bread loaf is most likely the result of the bread being cooled too quickly or even in a draft. It also may happen because the dough wasn’t mixed well or was too stiff.
  4. A doughy bottom. If the bottom of your bread loaf is doughy, you need to remove it from the pan to cool completely on a rack after taking it out of the oven.
  5. The bread is too dense or heavy. This can happen when you use too much flour in your bread or if you don’t allow the dough to rise enough during proofing. Also, different types of flour will change the density and texture of your bread.

Baking bread shouldn’t be scary, but it does require some practice. But even loaves that don’t turn out so great are delicious because they contain your love and effort. And worse case scenario, you’ll have some great breadcrumbs for homemade stuffing!