There are few aromas as irresistible as freshly baked bread. Tearing into a warm loaf of scratch-made goodness is one of life’s greatest pleasures. If you’ve ever thought about making your own bread from scratch but have been dissuaded by overly complicated recipes that make you feel as though your chances of success are slim, it’s time to re-think homemade bread; blogger and bread expert Donna Currie’s new cookbook, Make Ahead Bread: 100 Recipes for Melt-In-Your-Mouth Fresh Bread Every Day, makes it easy for everyone to make their own bread from scratch. Her two-step method allows you to do the hard part (mixing and kneading) when you have some extra time and bake the bread the next day — imagine waking up to freshly baked Cinnamon Swirl Bread in the morning with virtually no effort!
Whether you’re an expert when it comes to making bread or are ready to try for the first time, we have some tips for “make-ahead bread,” straight from the expert herself.
Can you talk a little bit about your two-step method? How does it work?
Basically, the idea is that you do the biggest part of the work the day before you bake it. That way, when you’re ready to bake your bread you don’t have much work to do; the dough is ready, the mess is cleaned, and the dishes are put away.
Traditional bread recipes call for a second rise. The recipes in my book eliminate that step; the bread dough rises in the cold of the refrigerator overnight. On baking day, you literally just throw the bread into the oven.
What are some of the benefits of making the bread dough in advance?
Aside from the convenience, it also tastes better. Dough that has a long, slow, cold rise tastes better than bread dough that has been rushed through the process. You can make bread in an hour by rushing everything, but you won’t get the same flavor. It’s the same concept as saving a sourdough starter; you get a much better development of flavor from having the dough rest for a long time.
What are the challenges of making bread dough in advance?
Remembering to bake it the next day! There’s some leeway in the timeline (some doughs can sit in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours) but, in general, you should bake the bread dough 24 hours after you mix it.
You will also want to make sure you have enough space available in the refrigerator. It’s not an issue if you’re making 1 or 2 loaves, but if you want freshly baked bread for Thanksgiving, for example, you’ll have to determine whether you have space 4 pans of dough in there.
What are your top tips for making bread from scratch?
Don’t kill the yeast. When first-time bread-bakers read that the water in the recipe should be lukewarm they often use hot, thinking it’s better. But water that is too hot will actually kill the yeast. My recipes scale it back a bit and call for room temperature or lukewarm water. Because you have plenty of time with a slow, cold rise, you don’t need very warm water to activate the yeast.
And, always consider how the dough feels; don’t rely on the clock. Recipes give you a general timeframe to refer to, but noticing how your bread dough feels is very important; the temperature of individual houses will vary, water temperatures will vary, flours will vary, and people will mis-measure so the amount of time it takes to prepare your bread dough will vary as well. All of my recipes talk about what the dough should feel like. If you’re mixing your dough and you think it needs more water, it probably does — add a little more water; it won’t hurt anything. Bread dough isn’t as formulaic as other types of recipes. If you add a little more flour or a little more water, you will still make bread.
Anything else we should know about making bread from scratch?
Relax and have fun with it. The good thing about learning to make bread is that the basic ingredients are so cheap. Even if you buy a really expensive bag of flour it’s, like, five dollars and will give you 5 to 6 loaves of bread. If you make a loaf of bread and it’s a disaster, you’ve only lost a dollar. So don’t be afraid to experiment with bread dough.
Also, read the recipe at least once before you start baking. Some recipes are simpler and better for beginners; others are more complicated. My book has a range of recipes; some are great for first-time bakers and others are challenging enough for someone who really wants to learn about baking bread. Reading through the recipe will help you determine which bread recipe is best to try first.
For more bread-making tips from Donna, buy a copy of her book, Make Ahead Bread: 100 Recipes for Melt-In-Your-Mouth Fresh Bread Every Day, or visit her blog, Cookistry.
Kristie Collado is The Daily Meal’s Cook Editor. Follow her on Twitter @KColladoCook.