Bread is something many people can’t live without. It is versatile, nutritious, gives you energy for the day and is widely accessible. Sliced sandwich bread available in supermarkets is the go-to option for many of us, but nothing comes as close (and as inexpensive) as homemade bread.
Whether it is a humble white loaf or a sourdough made with exotic grains and wild yeast that has been passed down through the years like a precious family heirloom, the flavour difference between homemade bread and store-bought options is dramatic.
After making and tasting their first homemade loaf, many people ditch store-bought bread forever. It smells so good and can taste amazing with just butter. Home bakers take some time off for bread making on the weekends, making sure their families have sufficient bread for the week.
Furthermore, many store-bought bread brands have added milk and sugar for a richer taste and softer texture – not good things to eat if you are vegan or are trying to avoid added sugars.
But it can be daunting for absolute beginners to make their first loaf. They are surrounded by conflicting information and have no idea where to start. Some recipes are geared towards experienced bakers, while others try to run before learning to walk, failing at making more complex bread such as ciabatta and baguettes. They get discouraged and decide to give up their homemade bread goals.
The key is to learn the basics, then work up to more adventurous recipes as you get more familiar with the bread-making process. That is the most important lesson I have learned as a home baker of two years. Beginners need to get used to handling bread dough and not give up on their first failure.
Let’s get started on your bread-making journey with a recipe you can’t go wrong with: the basic white bread.
What you need to make your first loaf of bread
First, go to the supermarket or a bakers’ supply shop to get the following equipment. Don’t scrimp on these items – they will make your life so much easier.
- Large mixing bowl
- Dough scraper
- A kitchen scale (I use a digital scale as it is more accurate and portable)
- A sharp knife
After you have bought the above items, it’s time to buy the dry ingredients. A basic bread requires just three ingredients: bread or high protein flour, salt, water and instant yeast. You can use active dry yeast too, but note that the methods of preparation are different for active dry yeast and instant yeast.
Don’t use all-purpose flour or plain flour to make your first loaf of bread. They have lower protein and gluten levels. Higher levels of protein and gluten are what gives bread its soft, airy crumb and its shape.
Use bread flour only. You can use plain flour for flatbreads, but this recipe requires bread flour. You can use any brand of bread flour. I like Bob’s Red Mill as it yields great results every time.
The following recipe is one that I have fine-tuned after a few attempts. I used instant yeast in this recipe.
*Makes 1 loaf of bread or 10 slices
Practice making this bread a few times before moving onto other recipes. You can try using whole wheat flours such as wholemeal flour, rye or spelt to give your bread extra fibre and a nutty flavour.
Just remember to use 50 per cent normal bread flour in the recipe, as whole-grain flours lack gluten and tend to produce a very dense loaf.
Cleanup tips for first-timers
Washing the equipment is another adventure in itself. I made the mistake of using a kitchen sponge to wash my baking equipment. The dough is extremely sticky and ends up sticking to the bristles of sponge. It is next to impossible to remove the bits of dough, so I ended up throwing the sponge out. The dough may also clog the sink over time.
Here are some tips for easier cleanup and to avoid throwing out your sponges.
- Place your spatula and dough scraper in the mixing bowl. Fill the bowl with water. Wait about 30 minutes to let any dry bits of dough soften.
- Line a large sieve with a paper towel. Using your dough scraper, scrape off any leftover dough from the spatula. Use your fingers to rub the dough off the scraper.
- Empty the water from the bowl into the sieve. Use the dough scraper to scrape as much dough as you can from the bowl into the sieve. Do this one more time or until the bowl is clean.
- The paper towel will catch the leftover dough. Dispose of the paper towel. Wash your baking equipment as per normal.
Baking bread is supposed to be a fun discovery process. Don’t get discouraged if your bread turns out imperfect, or if there are small cracks on the sides. Just be patient, keep practising and soon, you’ll be wowing your guests with your bread-making skills.