Baking bread at home is much easier than you think. First, don’t be afraid of making a mess or doing it wrong. Most great bakers have spent years making mistakes and are only great now because they’ve learned what not to do.
Second, start with a no-knead method if you’re unsure of where to begin. No-knead methods are super easy since you just mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, cover it and leave it to rise. It’s messy and sticky, but it works.
Third, to make sure your yeast is alive and active, bloom it first in a separate bowl with a little warm or room temperature water and a touch of sugar or honey. Yeast eats sugar and creates carbon dioxide (bubbles) so you’ll know it’s alive and active when it forms a foamy, slightly tangy smelling head, like a cloudy beer.
Fourth, if you choose not to bloom your yeast in water beforehand and instead add directly to your dry ingredients, remember to keep it separate from the salt when you mix with the rest of your dry ingredients. Salt will kill the yeast if it comes in direct contact, so mix the yeast in to the flour first and then add the salt.
Lastly, to help get a great oven “spring”, the initial rise when your bread hits a hot oven and all of moisture in your dough comes to life by turning into steam, place an oven-proof pan or container of warm water in the bottom of your oven as it heats up. The extra water will help to add steam and create a moist environment for your bread as it bakes.
There has been a lot of buzz about sourdough bread lately but if you’re new to baking, you might try some simple basics first to get your feet wet. Recipes like CIA’s Honey-Wheat Sandwich Loaves, Focaccia or our Multigrain Bread are great ones to get you started.
As far as ingredients, here are a couple more pointers: store nuts and whole wheat flour in the refrigerator and replace baking soda and powder every six months. Toss nuts, berries, or chocolate chips with a tiny bit of flour to help them stay evenly distributed and keep them from sinking in your batter.
Good luck and let us know how it goes!