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Tips & Tricks

Beginner's Guide to Bread Baking

By: Lodge Cast Iron / August 22, 2023

If you’re new to bread baking, it can feel intimidating to get started! From getting the right tools to proofing your dough, we’ve got you covered with all the tips and tricks you need to start making bakery-quality loaves in your own kitchen—with special guest appearances by American-made cast iron. 

Chocolate Babka Loaves Recipe

Get the right tools 

First, you need to figure out what you’ll bake in. If you’re making sourdough, reach for a dutch oven. If you’re making a classic loaf like banana bread, you’ll need a loaf pan. If you’re prepping sandwich bread for the week, turn to the large loaf pan. And if biscuits or rolls are on the menu, the baker’s skillet will get the job done. Still not sure which pan you need? We’ve got a whole guide to help you find the right one for your home-baking adventures.  

After choosing the right vessel, bread baking is all about precision. But don’t be intimidated, with the right tools, you’ll take your baking to the next level. Have a scale ready! Measuring by weight, rather than volume, gives you better control and consistency. Your thermometer will come in handy to check the temperature of the dough as it proofs. With these tools in hand, you may feel like more of a scientist than a bread baker. But you’ll thank yourself for this precision later! 

Prep your baking space 

Review your recipe and get everything together so you’re ready for action. And we mean everything: ingredients, baking tools, something to wipe your hands on, and, of course, your bread-making playlist. This process takes patience and focus, so you don’t want to be searching for ingredients in your cabinet after you’re elbows-deep in flour and dough. 

Chef Kris’ favorite tip? When you start making your dough, add your dry ingredients to a large mixing bowl in individual piles. That way you can keep track of what you’ve added and double check that you’ve added everything the recipe calls for before adding your wet ingredients. Staying organized is the name of the game! 

Braided Challah Loaves Recipe
Pumpkin Bread with Spiced-Streusel Topping

The proof is in the patience 

This is the most hands-off part of the baking process—all you need is a little patience. When it comes to proofing, the temperature of your kitchen is the most important factor. A happy-medium 72˚F usually does the trick! If your kitchen is colder, it may take longer for your dough to rise. And if your kitchen is warmer, it won’t take as long for the dough to rise, and if it’s left for too long, it may collapse. Using a temperature-controlled proofing box is a foolproof way to create the right environment. But don’t worry, if you’re not ready to make that investment, you can simply adjust your proof time to work for your kitchen. 

Once you get the environment right, you’ve just got to give it time. For most doughs, that involves two rises. The first in a bowl and the second directly in the vessel you’ll bake in. There are a few visual and physical signs that your dough is ready. You’ve probably heard to wait until your dough has doubled in size for the first rise: that’s a good rule of thumb. For the second rise, wait to put it in the oven until the dough has risen an inch above the lip of the pan. 

Everything you need to know about kneading 

Kneading is easy! Just use the heel of your hand to push the dough away from you, then pull it back toward you, repeat the process again, and get in the kneading groove. This process forms a gluten network by bringing the flour and water in your dough together. That sounds technical, but all it means is that with proper kneading, your dough will capture the bubbles created by the yeast and yield fluffy, tender, and perfectly chewy pieces of bread.

The hard part? Knowing when to stop. Most doughs start on the wet and lumpy side. As you knead, it will become smooth and springy—that’s the sweet spot. And that’ll help you get a great rise! 

Honey Oat Loaf
White Sandwich Bread Recipe

Watch over the oven

When it comes to the bake time, your recipe isn’t law. Different ovens and pans can result in a range of ideal bake times for a single recipe—so can mix-ins like chocolate chips and fruit. Start with the shortest bake time, then check your bread. 

When your timer buzzes for the first time, hit your bread with a thermometer to check your progress. For yeast bread, that’s around 190˚F. For sweet breads—hello, banana and pumpkin—check your bread with a toothpick as it bakes. When it comes out clean, you know it’s time to take it out of the oven. If you haven’t quite hit the right temp, pop it back in the oven in small increments of time, checking until you reach the ideal temp for your recipe. If the top of your loaf is getting too brown but your bread hasn’t cooked all the way through, simply tent the top with aluminum foil. 

Hold up! 

Your bread has been baked. Now what? While tempting, don’t slice your loaf as soon as it leaves the oven. Our Test Kitchen Manager Shannon Van Dusen’s favorite tip: put butter on the bread right when it comes out of the oven to give the crust a glossy shine and then: wait! 

If your bake is a yeast bread, you can leave it in the pan for 5 minutes to cool, then use a knife around the edges to release the bread from the pan onto a wire rack. Sweet breads, like banana, can be left for a little bit longer—about 10 to 15 minutes. You might notice the edges of the loaf separating from the sidewalls, and that’s a good sign that it’s ready to come out of the pan. 

If you’re making sandwich bread for the week, you can keep it fresh by storing it in plastic film wrap or a bread bag. But if you know you want to save some for a rainy day, we recommend freezing that portion immediately after the bread has cooled for optimal freshness. 

Orange Pistachio Loaf
Large Loaf Jalapeno Popper
Contributed By: Lodge Cast Iron

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