All About Baking Bread

Our resident baker shows you how to make terrific homemade bread―and, in the process, knead in fun and creativity.

Buttered Sweet Potato Knot Rolls
Photo: Photography: Randy Mayor

Don't be scared. That seems to be the right place to begin. It never ceases to amaze me the number of cooks I know, advanced and amateur, who blanch at the thought of baking bread. They shake their heads, they wave their hands, they back away slowly, murmuring, "No, no, not good with bread." My reply is that absolutely anyone can make top-quality homemade bread. Really―anyone. All it takes is a little patience and instruction.

When you learned how to ride a bike, you started with training wheels. Think of learning to bake bread in the same way. The first recipe in this story―Rustic White Bread―is a crunchy white free-form bread. It will act as your training wheels by taking you through the entire bread making process, step by step. When you have become familiar with the basics, the training wheels can come off, and you can move on to the next recipe.

Each subsequent recipe builds on the skills taught in those preceding. You'll learn how to shape knot rolls and make fanciful curved breadsticks. Flavor combinations will advance as well. Pretty soon, you'll be wheeling from a white loaf to tangy tomato bread, or cheese-stuffed focaccia infused with roasted garlic, or a tantalizing grand finale bread with stout beer, bittersweet chocolate, and tart cherries.

As you progress through the recipes, you'll come to appreciate how baking with yeast is different from any other form of cooking. Bread is literally alive. The process is miraculous; dry yeast, made of living, single-cell organisms in a state of suspended animation, is brought back to life with moisture and warmth. Then you feed the yeast flour, help the resulting dough grow by kneading it and keeping it warm, mold it into the shape you desire, and bake it. It is more than cooking―it is an act of creation. It's also fun with a delicious outcome.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and ride. And don't be scared.


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