How to Make Bread at Any Skill Level

How to Make Bread at Any Skill Level

SOURDOUGHS Maybe you’ve looked at some of the more intricate sourdough recipes, and felt intimidated. I hear you, but don’t be: Think of them not as instruction manuals, but as generous guides who just want you to thrive. In all honesty, this is the stage of bread baking where things can get especially tricky. You may get some gummy loaves, you may get big holes, or blowouts, in your crumb: It’s all OK! Your loaves are still edible, and mistakes are part of the process. They make the successes all the sweeter (all the more savory?).

Many bakers — myself included — have relied heavily on Tartine Bakery’s country bread. Developed by Chad Robertson, a well-known baker, it’s an excellent introduction to those bakery-level loaves, and if you already have an active, well-fed starter (no yeast necessary!), you’re already a significant part of the way there. Just skip to Step 3.

But if you’re someone who benefits deeply from visual instruction and maybe a little hand-holding, Claire Saffitz’s guide is for you. Her step-by-step guidance, complete with animated GIFs, not only explains the hows, but the whys, of getting that deep-brown exterior and perfectly pocked crumb.

The key? Look for a bubbly, aerated dough that feels like whipped cream. You’ll know it when it when you see it — at this point, baking bread is as much about observing your dough and looking for its cues, as it is following instructions. (Full disclosure: I was the editor on this guide, and it has totally changed how I bake bread. I’m not just the president, I’m also a client!)

You’ll want to set aside three days for the process, but only one day is a heavy lift. And a tip: If you don’t have bannetons, the baskets used for bread proofing, don’t worry. You can always use mixing bowls.

Baking off a beautiful naturally leavened loaf from just flour, water and salt never gets old. And mastering the showstopping loaf doesn’t mean your journey is over. There’s so much more to learn and observe: You’ll be able to talk about alternative flours and hydration, dough temperature and scoring techniques. Is it nerdy? It is, but there are worse ways to pass the time.

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