Making bread for the first time? Super intimidating. But with a little practice and the right recipe, you can definitely make some of your favorite loaves at home. Presenting our guide to bread baking for beginners, plus 18 recipes—ranging from sandwich bread to pretzel buns—that prove how easy it can be. (Really.)
Flour: Sure, all-purpose flour gets the job done most of the time. But there's no better choice than bread flour when it comes to yeast breads. Bread flour has a higher protein content (about 12 to 14 percent), which leads to lots of gluten production and extra liquid absorption. Extra gluten makes the dough super sturdy and stretchy, a sign that your final product will rise to perfection and have a soft, fluffy texture. If you're making a yeast-free quick bread, go ahead and use all-purpose flour instead.
Yeast: Some bakers prefer live wet yeast for flavor and texture; odds are you can find it near the yogurt at the supermarket. But dry yeast is totally acceptable too. If you don't have instant, substitute an equal amount of active dry yeast instead, says King Arthur Baking.
Salt: In this specific case, table salt is your friend. It'll react with the flour and yeast, as well as give the bread flavor. But flaky salt always looks prettier on top.
Water: Since water is necessary for yeast fermentation, gluten production couldn't happen without it. Some recipes also call for putting hot water in the oven with the bread as it bakes to create steam. Steam helps the crust get just the right color and sheen, plus promotes a more voluminous rise in the dough.
Extras: Butter, eggs, herbs and beyond. Just remember that a short ingredient list doesn't necessarily signify an easy recipe. Some breads, like focaccia, are naturally easy to bake because they don't need a fancy crust or impressive rise (heck, some can even be baked on a baking sheet).
Equipment and Tools
Loaf pan: It's great for standard, rectangular breads. The loaf pan's depth and high walls help shape the bread as it rises.
Dutch oven: Artisanal loaves have never been easier to pull off. The lid on the pot helps create lots of steam, which turns the crust crackly and delicate. Preheating the pot before baking will help create even more steam.
Bread maker: Lazy bakers, rejoice! These machines can mix, knead, rise and bake your dough for you. Bread machines also offer easy cleanup, save time since you won't have to do everything by hand and don't heat up your kitchen like your oven will.
Digital scale: Measuring ingredients by weight instead of volume gives the baker way more control and leaves less room for error. Bread is a sensitive animal, so the more precise, the better chance of success.
Extras: proofing basket (helps round loaves keep their shape), bread lame (for scoring designs on the dough), couche (for covering the dough during proofing), baking stone and peel (creates a great crust, like a pizza stone)
How to Bake Bread
It really depends on what type of bread you're baking, but there are some basic rules of thumb to stick to regardless:
1. If you're not using instant, odds are you'll need to proof the yeast. This means combining it with warm water (if it's too hot, it'll kill the yeast) and a little sugar before using it. In just a few minutes, the yeast will begin to foam as it starts eating the sugar and fermenting. Make sure your yeast isn't expired and hasn't been exposed to moisture before you get started.
2. Take some time to properly knead the dough. It's as simple as picking up the dough at the top, folding it over to the bottom, then pressing it down and forward. Next, rotate the dough and repeat from each side. Knead faster while maintaining your form until the dough can be stretched about 4 inches without breaking.
3. Don't underestimate the importance of proofing the dough. Proofing, that period of time when the dough rests before going in the oven, allows the gluten to relax and leads to an airy, fluffy final product. But over- or under-proofing can also spell disaster. If you poke the loaf with your finger and the dough springs back slowly, it's almost ready to bake. Once the dough is about double its original size, punch it down with your knuckles to release some excess air, then shape it in its pan and send it straight into the oven.
4. Always keep your eye on the oven. Watch it carefully to make sure the bread is browning evenly and if it isn't, rotate it.
5. After all that hard work, you'll want to make sure your homemade bread lasts as long as possible without going stale. Store the bread in a bread box if you're going to finish the loaf in a few days or keep it in the freezer for a few months.
Ready to get your bake on? Here are a few simple recipes you'll have no problem conquering.
1. Miracle No-Knead Bread
Come on, it calls for only four ingredients. It doesn't get easier than that.
2. No-Knead Rosemary Bread
About a billion times better than store-bought.
3. Classic Sandwich Bread
Make a few loaves at a time and store the extras in the freezer. They'll keep for up to three months.
4. Overnight Pull-Apart Brioche Cinnamon Roll Bread
Prep everything the night before and bake it the next day.
5. Buttermilk Skillet Corn Bread with Tomatoes and Green Onions
Quick breads don’t require yeast for leavening, meaning you won’t need to wait for the yeast to bloom or the dough to rest. The cast-iron skillet also pretty much guarantees crispy edges.
6. Scallion and Chive Flatbread
Now you can finally get in on the garden focaccia trend.
7. Easy Dinner Rolls
No Thanksgiving spread is complete without them.
8. Cheater’s Brioche Buns with Fruity Glaze
These buns use way less butter than traditional brioche, so you won't have to make the dough ahead of time and chill it for hours.
9. Easy Pretzel Buns
You can make them like dinner rolls, but the larger size works great for hot sandwiches.
10. ‘Everything Bagel’ Cauliflower Rolls
Looking for a roll your gluten-free relatives can eat this holiday? Cauliflower rice has your back with this yeast-free recipe. The seasoning blend takes 'em to a whole new level.
11. English Muffins
Good things come to those who wait. But the dough only needs an hour to rise.
12. Chocolate Pinecone Rolls
Destined for Christmas morning.
13. Apple Focaccia with Blue Cheese and Herbs
The toughest part about this recipe? Waiting overnight for the dough to rise.
14. Grandma’s Irish Soda Bread
Psst: Wanna know a secret? This St. Patrick's Day staple is a quick bread.
15. Milk Bread (Japanese Shokupan)
So soft. So squishy. So light. We're in carb heaven.
16. Honey Challah
This Hanukkah miracle comes together in the mixer just fine—no kneading required.
17. Sourdough Bread
It all comes down to your sourdough starter. The naturally-occurring bacteria (aka lactobacilli) is what gives it its signature tang.
18. Homemade Bagels
Chewy and soft on the inside, crisp and golden-brown on the outside.