Whether you’re attempting to make bread for the first time and want to be sure you get it right, or are haunted by past bread baking failures, these are some of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to homemade bread. Plus, what to do if your loaf still doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.
Few projects are more satisfying than making homemade bread, and few more disappointing than watching those efforts fall, er, flat. Much of bread baking is trial and error but avoiding these mistakes can improve your baking and raise your spirits (and loaves) to new heights.
1. You’re Measuring Incorrectly
You don’t have to be a professional baker to be serious about accurate measurements, and when baking bread, accuracy is everything. So invest (just a little bit!) in a kitchen scale and learn how to talk in grams. It’s not only more accurate, it’s much easier to scale up or down from other recipes. Once you make this change, you’ll never want to measure in cups or teaspoons again.
OXO Digital Kitchen Scale with Pull-Out Display, $30 from Sur La Table
If you don’t have a scale, make sure you fluff up your flour and level off each cup for an accurate measurement.
Related Reading: 10 Bread Baking Tools You Need—And One You Really Don’t
2. Your Yeast Is Old
Most packets of yeast have an expiration date on them. When purchasing yeast, look for ones with a date farthest in the future. If you have packets stashed at home and you’re not sure when you bought them, you can check to see if it’s still active by dissolving a pinch of yeast with a pinch of sugar in a half-cup of warm water. If it’s viable, it will begin to bubble in just a few minutes. If not, don’t bother using it.
Related Reading: 9 Bread Books to Make You a Better Baker
3. You’re Using Low-Protein Flour
Use bread flour or add vital wheat gluten to your all-purpose or whole-grain flour. Bread flour has a higher percentage of protein, and that helps in creating and strengthening the gluten in your bread. Gluten gives dough, and the bread that comes from that dough, the ability to hold in air bubbles, creating light and fluffy loaves. Less gluten, less air, more dense bread.
If you are using a low-protein flour (such as whole-wheat, rye, or spelt), you can use ¼ cup (32 grams) of vital wheat gluten for every 4-5 cups (480-600 grams) of all-purpose flour to raise the protein content.
Related Reading: The Best Flour Substitutes
4. You’re Using Too Much Flour (Or Water)
Once your bread is initially mixed, give the flour plenty of time to hydrate before making adjustments. Chances are, it just needs a few more minutes to soak up the liquid. If you’re noticing that it’s still too dry (or wet), begin by adding small quantities of flour (or water) during the kneading process—only a teaspoon or so at a time.
You can always add more, but you can’t remove it, so be patient.
5. Your Oven Isn’t Hot Enough
Pre-heat your oven well before baking. On most non-commercial stoves, it will register that it’s come up to temperature long before the whole oven is hot. Give it an extra 10-15 minutes to ensure it is thoroughly heated. Some estimates say that internal oven thermostats are off by as much as 50 degrees because they only measure the temperature in the spot where the actual thermometer is located. Install an inexpensive oven thermometer to double-check if the times of your bakes are really far off from the recipes you follow, or just to be safe.
What to Do If You Botch It
Even less-than-perfect bread is still pretty terrific, and those loaves that don’t make the cut can always be used as croutons, blitzed into breadcrumbs, or tuned into bread pudding. See more ways to use bad bread, old bread, and stale bread.
The art of bread comes with lots of practice, but with a few simple steps, your loaves will be Instagram #humblebreadbrag worthy in no time.
Related Video: How to Make No-Knead Bread
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