How to make better bread

Dear Sarah,
Whenever I bake bread, it never comes out right. Usually the bread comes out too dry or too flat. Can you help? --jweiser


Dear jweiser,
Here are eight steps to baking better bread. Happy baking!

1. Dissolve the yeast in 110- to 115-degree water (I always use an instant-read thermometer).

2. The bread is done when a thermometer inserted in the middle of each roll or bread reads 200 degrees F (again, I always use an instant-read thermometer).

3. Always add the flour and dry ingredients to the water (not the other way around as the recipe may state). This prevents you from adding too much flour to the water and having to fool around with a dry dough. (I do this step in a large mixer, starting with a flat paddle and switching to a dough hook after I have blended in almost 1/2 of the flour.)

When you have 1 cup of flour left, add it in 1-2 tablespoons at a time and thoroughly blend it in before deciding whether to add more flour. The dough should feel like a baby's bottom.

Depending on the weather and flour, you may end up adding in a few cups more or less flour -- do not panic. (I have a bread recipe that calls for 4 cups flour -- on one day, I only needed 3 cups; on another day, I added nearly 6 cups of flour.)

If the dough is too dry, add water a few drops at a time, and again, thoroughly mix it until you determine whether you need any more.

4. Knead the dough 8-10 times (more if not using a large mixer). You should only have a light dusting of flour on the countertop, which you may have to replenish during the kneading process.

5. Form the dough into a ball and place in a well-greased bowl -- larger than the dough. Let sit in a warm place; I put it in my laundry room, because with four kids the washer and dryer are always on. Spray the side of the plastic wrap that will eventually touch the dough, and tightly seal the bowl.

6. When deflating dough, do it gently. Do not knead again. Flatten out and then shape to the desired shape.

7. Let the bread rise loosely covered with plastic wrap. When it has reached the top of the pan or almost doubled, brush it with egg wash and sprinkle seeds on, or "slash" it.

8. Place in a very hot oven. When done, let the bread sit in the pan for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Let thoroughly cool on a wire rack before eating, if you can -- I never can.

Sarah Phillips is the author of Healthy Oven Baking Book.

If you have any bread baking questions, you can talk with other iVillagers at the Bread Machines board.

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