… There is something about the term “homemade” that always conjured images in my mind of loving labor in preparing food for the family (or others).  For a while I was content to offer someone “homemade bread” fresh from my bread machine.  Somehow, though, it just didn’t seem to suite the description.  Sure, it was made at home, but the love and labor part of it were definitely missing.  Thus I sought to learn more about true home-made, hand-made bread.

Recently, I have been asked several times in person and via blog for details regarding true homemade bread.  Mind you, I am no expert, and any professional breadmaker may even get a good laugh at this post (if you want to offer tips, feel free!)  Nonetheless, here is my pictorial:

Mix wet ingredients in medium to large mixing bowl.

Mix wet ingredients in mixing bowl sized to allow the recipe to double when rising. Recipe will work best if the main wet ingredient (water or milk) is very warm. The other ingredients and mixing process will cool it a bit before you add the yeast, but the remaining warmth will activate the yeast much faster.

 I am learning to like aprons!  Doesn’t it look flatteringly feminine?!  LOL

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To wet ingredients, add half of flour, and any other dry ingredients except yeast.

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Mix ingredients thoroughly, then add all but 1/2 cup of remaining flour and yeast. Knead into dough. Once all flour and yeast has been mixed in, continue to knead until desired texture.

Up to this point, making bread is really a lot like making anything else for baking.  You combine ingredients and mix it together.  Simple, right.  The mixing process is where things begin to get complicated though.  This is where the true labor of love would come in.  Before I got my KitchenAid, I did this by hand with a wooden spoon.  My arms would ache by the time I got everything mixed together.  I decided I would add the love labor in other areas, and use the KitchenAid for this part.  Even a 6 qt. KitchenAid, however, cannot do more than a double batch of wheat bread, so if you do more than that, you will have to do the mixing by hand.   The first stage of mixing results in more of a thick batter than a dough, so it is relatively easy and quick to mix by hand or mixer.  Once the remainder of flour and yeast are added however, it begins to get very thick and hard to mix by hand.  This is when you actually begin to knead. A mixer should be used only a low speed to prevent burning the motor out.  You may have to scrape the sides of the bowl a couple of times as you knead it. 

If you are doing the kneading by hand, it is akin to giving a really hard massage, I think.  You just churn, pull, stretch, push, squeeze, etc. the dough, working it all over.  The longer you work it, the better you break up the gluten, which improves the texture of the finished product.  Be sure to keep your hands and the counter surface floured with that extra 1/2 cup to prevent it from sticking too much.  Expect your hand-kneading to take a good 20 minutes minimum! 

Depending on your recipe, you may or may not get an actual “dough-ball.”  A bit too moist is better than too dry!  It will continue to thicken up through the remainder of the process.

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Use a spatula, scraping around the edges, and down to the bottom of the bowl to confirm all the flour has been mixed into the dough.

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Cover bowl if desired, and place in warm area to rise. (Notice this photo was taken at the end of the rise cycle, so my dough has doubled in size).

You may or may not have to cover the bowl.  I have found it is really a matter of preference and circumstance.  For example, if you live in a humid area, you may not need to cover at all, whereas a dry, desert area you will definitely need to cover with at least to towel to prevent drying the dough out.  Also, if your dough is too moist, don’t cover, but if it is on the dry side, use plastic wrap to prevent any moisture loss. 

Another issue I had was learning patience during the rise!  Many factors will affect your rise time, and you will find the rise time for same recipe may change each time.  It is all a matter of moisture content in the batter, in the flour, and in the air around it, as well as the temperature where you are allowing it to rise.  Just be patient.  During your first rise, the yeast has to activate, and the gas just begins to form.  This first rise will take the longest.  Mine take anywhere from 30-90 minutes, based on the above factors.   The encouraging part is that it is no exact science.  When you see the batter has basically doubled, it is time for the 2nd knead.

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After dough has doubled in size, punch down and knead again.

Punching down is just that.  You squeeze most of the gas out of the dough, then knead the dough to squeaze out the rest.  This 2nd knead further breaks down the gluten and really improves the texture!  If you are doing it by hand, again, use plenty of flour, just use caution to prevent making your dough too dry.  I have found a sticky dough has greater success overall than a dry dough.

Cover if desired, and rise again until about double.  Knead as directed above.

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Grease your loaf pans and thoroughly flour your work surface with that 1/2 cup flour you saved.

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Scrape dough from bowl onto floured surface.

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I like to throw a bit of flour on top of the dough to keep it from sticking to my hands.

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If you are doing multiple batches, use a sharp knife to cut them into portions. In this case, I am making 2 loaves. If you are making rolls out of your dough, you would consider that at this point too.

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Roll dough ball into a roughly 9x13 rectangle. If you are making rolls, you would roll to a desired thickness and use a biscuit cutter, or pinch off sections and roll sections as desired.

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Shape loaf as desired. For a standard loaf, you would start at the "9" end of the 9x13 rectangle, and snugly (not tight, but there should be no space) roll across the surface until you have a jelly-roll type loaf.

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Now grab both ends of your jelly roll and firmly "pinch" the ends closed (so you can't see the spiral inside), then roll/tuck the ends under the loaf, in the direction of the seam.

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Gently lay roll into loaf pan, and ensure the seam is on the bottom, and the ends are neatly tucked under. It should look like a nice, smooth, raw bread loaf!If you have dough leftover, you would repeat the steps at this point until all dough is shaped an put into pans. Place pans in safe location to rise for a 3rd time. I prefer to put them in my oven, with a temp of about 100 degrees. In the past I have jostled them when moving them into the oven and caused the loaf to collapse too much.

This is a critical point, as if you let the dough rise to double this time, it will likely over-rise while baking, possibly causing a collapse later, or large air pockets in the finished bread.  I generally rise this stage about 30 minutes, or until just before double (does that make any sense?).

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Bake as recipe directs. I have found most recipes bake about 350 for 20-40 minutes. Enjoy!

I have definitely learned that breadmaking is an art that requires some skill.  The good news is that the skills can be learned with a bit of dedication.  My favorite recipe took me 10 loaves to figure out!  Once I got it down to no-fail for me, I posted it.  You can find it here.

I also discovered a website that got me through those failed loaves, as it helped me pin-point where I had gone wrong.  You can find it here.

I wish you all the best, and remember that homemade bread is a labor of love that requires skills learned only through practice!  Don’t forget to have fun with it!

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