The Ultimate Guide to Baking Bread

Get tips, recipes and more with our ultimate guide to how to bake bread. We'll teach you how to knead bread, proof yeast and introduce you to classic bakes.

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Bread is one of the most satisfying bakes you can make in your kitchen. The smell alone is worth the effort. For bakers just starting out, easy bread recipes are the way to go, and in particular quick breads are simple to master. After a few goes at these bread recipes, though, you’ll be absolutely hooked on making your own bread and the magic that comes with the process. From mixing to kneading to proofing, we’ve got all the tips and techniques you need to make bakery-quality bread right in your own home

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How to Make Bread

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To start, opt for a simple, straightforward recipe like our top-rated basic homemade bread. You need just a few ingredients to pull it all together, plus it’s super versatile; slice it for sandwiches, serve it up with soup or toast it for breakfast.

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Ingredients

  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 2-1/4 cups warm water (about 110ºF)
  • 2 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 6-1/4 to 6-3/4 cups bread flour

Directions

Step 1: Proof the Yeast

Before you can get to mixing and kneading, it’s important to proof the yeast. This means ensuring the yeast is still alive and ready to create carbon dioxide, the gas that gives bread its lift.

To proof, dissolve the yeast in a dish with half a teaspoon of sugar and warm water. You want the water to be around 110ºF. If you go hotter, you can risk killing the yeast (and then you have to start again). You know the yeast is alive and ready for bread when it starts to bubble and foam

Step 2: Stir Up the Bread Dough

With the proofing taken care of, add canola oil to the yeast mixture.

In another bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: half of the flour, sugar and salt. Add the wet mixture to the dry and work into a sticky dough. When the mix comes together, add in additional flour a half cup at a time until you have a soft bread dough.

Step 3: Knead

Now for the fun part! When your dough is made, turn it out onto a floured surface to knead.

Kneading is the process where you push, pull and stretch the bread. The purpose is to develop gluten. Gluten helps give the bread structure (without it, it would crumble) and gives it that bit of chew we all love.

To knead, take the heel of your hand and push the dough forward and stretch it. Then fold it in on itself, give it a quarter turn and repeat. Knead until your bread dough is stretchy and doesn’t tear when you spread it between your fingers. Kneading times do vary, but for this specific loaf, aim for about ten minutes. Don’t worry about over-kneading by hand—you will be tired long before you overwork the dough.

Step 4: Proof the Dough

Next, let your bread proof. That means setting the dough aside so the yeast can do its work: creating air bubbles.

To proof, coat your bread dough with a touch of oil or cooking spray. Place it in a large container, cover with a damp towel and let it rest until the dough doubles in size. To get the best proof possible, make sure your kitchen is warm (above 75ºF) and humid. If it’s a bit chilly or dry, you can try these proofing tips.

Step 5: Punch Down and Proof Again

When the bread is doubled in size, punch it down. This just means using your knuckles to press out some of the air inside the dough. After punching the bread down, divide it into two equal portions. Shape and place into greased 9×5-inch loaf pans and let proof a second time, until doubled. This should take about 60 to 90 minutes.

Step 6: Bake and Enjoy

When the bread has grown a second time, pop it into a 375ºF oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 200ºF. Remove from the pans, let cool on wire racks. After that slice and enjoy!

Types of Bread

Once you’ve mastered a basic bread, there are so many more delicious bread recipes to explore. Each recipe falls into one of two main camps: quick bread and yeasted bread.

Quick Bread

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Quick breads are bread recipes that don’t call for yeast. They rely on other leavening agents, like baking soda or baking powder, to rise. These recipes are much speedier to make start-to-finish than yeasted breads. You can stir up the dough, pop into a pan and bake all without having to proof. There are many, many quick bread recipes, but a few types that are always big hits:

Yeast Bread

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Yeast breads are just as they sound: breads that require yeast. These require the basic steps of kneading and proofing and sometimes a little extra depending on the complexity of the recipe. So many classic bakes—like pizza dough, monkey bread and breadsticks all require yeast.

  • RollsYeasted dinner rolls are a great next step after baking basic homemade bread. They use the same techniques as a regular loaf but challenge you to portion the dough equally and sometimes even mold it into different shapes like with these fan rolls or crescent rolls.
  • A good cinnamon roll recipe is a treat to be treasured. Once you’ve mastered yeast baking, these are a great bake to try.
  • Braided breadWhen you’re confident with regular loaves of bread, try to braid or twist your dough. These braided breads are always stunning centerpieces for special occasions.
  • Every culture has its own twist on bread. Try your hand at different varieties from across the globe, like German pretzels, French baguettes and Eastern European challah.
  • If you’re looking for something healthy, ezekiel bread is the bread everyone is talking about.

Bread Baking Tips

Baking bread takes a bit of time to truly master, but even the trial and error is fun. Plus, who doesn’t love the smell of bread baking in the oven? There are a few techniques you’ll want to brush up on when you dive into a new recipe—particularly for yeasted bread.

Proofing Yeast

Person pouring an open packet of yeast into sugar and water inside a glass bowlTaste of Home

Proofing yeast is a precaution to take before baking any yeasted bread. This step—just letting the yeast sit in warm water with a touch of sugar—ensures that the yeast you’re using is alive and ready to create carbon dioxide, the gas that gives bread all those air bubbles.

Kneading Dough

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Kneading dough is the fun part of bread making! You can work out some of your frustrations while working to develop the gluten in the bread. This gluten development gives the bread structure and the texture you love. To knead bread dough, push it with the heel of your hand, fold it over and turn. Repeat this process until your bread dough reaches the right texture.

Proofing Dough

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Proofing bread is perhaps the trickiest part of the bread baking process. To properly proof bread, you need a warm, humid environment. This encourages the yeast to create the carbon dioxide that encourages the dough to expand.

Baking & Bread Temperatures

After working so hard to knead and proof your bread, you want to get the perfect bake. For yeasted breads, the best way to tell if the bread is done is to take the internal temperature with a quick-read thermometer ($100). According to our Test Kitchen, yeasted breads are done when they reach 160-185ºF inside.

For quick breads, you can use the toothpick test, much like you would for cakes. When the toothpick comes out clean, the quick bread is done.

Storing Bread

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After spending all the time to make homemade bread, the last thing you want is for it to go stale before you finish it. Storing bread properly is key. Homemade bread lasts between 3-4 days when properly stored. Bread boxes work exceptionally well at keeping your bakes fresh for a few days. And remember, if you can’t finish your bread in a few days’ time, you can always freeze it. Bread lasts for up to 3-6 months in the freezer.

 

Bread Baking Supplies

Fortunately, it doesn’t take a lot of extra gear or gadgets to get into bread baking. A quality stand mixer certainly helps and you’ll definitely need a loaf pan or two, but not much more to get started.

If you catch the bread bug, you can invest in all sorts of bread baking gear to make whipping up your favorite recipe a joy. A great serrated knife ($76), a dough whisk ($13) and even a countertop proofer ($170) can make enjoying homemade bread easier than ever. Bread machines can also be super useful in the kitchen, especially when you’ve got some great bread maker recipes.

Check out Taste of Home’s Test Kitchen-approved bakeware line to give your gear an upgrade.


Troubleshooting Tips

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Your Bread Isn’t Rising

There are lots of reasons your bread might not be proofing the way you envisioned. The most common issue is that your room just isn’t warm enough. Crank up the thermostat or pop your bread in a cold oven with a pan of boiling water. This can help remedy the situation. If that doesn’t help, check our list of common reasons your bread isn’t rising.

Your Bread Is Dry

If you find your bread is dry, chances are that it’s overbaked. This means that it stayed in the oven too long or the temperature inside was too hot. Do your best to keep an eye on the time and calibrate your oven’s temperature every so often. It really helps!

Your Bread Is Raw or Chewy in the Middle

In this case, your bread wasn’t baked long enough. To prevent this from happening, check your bread’s internal temperature before removing it from the oven to ensure it’s baked.

If you’re still having issues, you may have to calibrate your oven. You want to be sure that 350ºF is really 350ºF.

How Do You Know If Bread Is Kneaded Enough?

The easiest way to tell if your bread is kneaded enough is to conduct what bakers call the “windowpane test.” To do this, stretch a bit of dough between your fingers. If the dough rips, keep kneading. If it stretches to form a translucent window, you’ve developed enough gluten and the bread is ready to proof.

How Do You Know If Bread Is Kneaded Too Much?

Overkneaded dough can produce tough, overly chewy bread. The good news is that it’s nearly impossible to over-knead your dough when you knead by hand. You will be tired long before the dough is overworked.

If you’re kneading with a dough hook in your stand mixer, just be sure to pause every few minutes and conduct the windowpane test.

What Happens If You Don’t Let Your Bread Rise Long Enough?

If you don’t allow your bread enough time to rise, it will be dense and chewy when you bake it. Just be sure to give it plenty of time to get the lift it needs. You can tell if the bread has risen enough when you poke a knuckle into the dough and the indentation slowly springs back.

What Happens If Your Bread Is Overproofed?

Your bread is overproofed when it looks stretched across the top and when you press it with your fingertip, it springs back instantly. If you bake your bread like this, it’ll crack and collapse. If you find your bread proofed too long, just punch it down, knead it briefly and let it proof to the correct size. You can reset the process and still end up with a perfect loaf.

Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an associate editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.