Baking Bread for Beginners

I’ve been invited to a potluck style Thanksgiving dinner on the weekend. Since I was the last person to email back to the hosts, I have been assigned the boring task of bringing bread and butter.

I was thinking it would be cool to make bread myself to make it more special and interesting - I mean, someone else is bringing a turkey, for crying out loud! I can’t just bring a loaf of Wonderbread. But, problem, I’ve never made bread before, although I am not a bad cook.

So - is it possible for me to make passable bread or buns on my first try? I don’t have a breadmaker or anything. Or is this a disastrously stupid idea? Anyone have good recipes?


This is an awesome place to start. I showed a couple of friends this recipe a year and a half back, and they are both still going at it. One of them bakes several loaves a week.

If you have sourdough starter, you can also do the same recipe as above, just substitute 1/4 cup sourdough starter for the 1/4 teaspoon yeast.

And here is a speedier version of the no-knead bread recipe.

These are dead simple. Anybody can make these breads, and they produce well above-average results for little effort and practically no skill. The secret is an unusually wet dough and cooking it in a small, enclosed space (dutch oven, Pyrex casserole) which helps provide the humidity for a crispy crust. The no-knead recipe is also very forgiving. I don’t even both with exact measurements. I just throw in enough flour and water until the dough reaches a consistency that is quite wet, but just holds together. I’ve done tests with various hydration levels, and even changing the hydration by up to 1/2 cup water did not adversely effect the final product (so long as the dough held together). I find that I actually use a tiny bit less water than the recipe suggests (1 1/2 cups rather than 1 5/8) to make the dough a little more manageable.

My first thought was the same as pulykamell’s. The linked recipe is incredibly easy and produces bread that looks & tastes like you’ve been baking for years.

Yes I third that recipe. I have made it three times and all three times it was fantastic. What didn’t get eaten at dinner got eaten with a little honey as breakfast. Fantastic recipe. They will think you are some sort of baker-god.

Fourthed. I’ve made bread other, much more labor-intensive ways, and it has turned out OK, but no-knead bread is always, always fantastic and the easiest thing in the world. I keep a bag of the dough in the fridge and make pizza crusts and individual buns out of it–both of these cook up beautifully and quickly on the grill.

Cool, thanks you guys! I have one question - Renee, you mention baking buns - how did you do that? If you were to do it in the oven would you use some kind of individual container or what? I’m not sure that I have Pyrex dish the right size so I’m wondering about making buns, but I’m having trouble picturing how they would bake in the oven.

Sorry, wasn’t clear on that. Perhaps “buns” isn’t the right word, anyway. More like individual crusty bread lumps. So here is the basic procedure, modified from a couple of recipes. It’s not at all picky, you can’t really screw it up.

Take 6 cups all purpose flour, about 3tsp salt and ½ tsp quick rise yeast. Mix together in a really big bowl. You can add a big dollop of olive oil if you’re so inclined.

Add water, mixing with a spoon, until all the flour is incorporated. This should be about 2 ½ to 3 cups of water. I don’t make it quite as wet as the original recipe, but you can. No kneading is necessary, just get all the flour dampish.

Cover and let sit for about 20 hours, after which you’ll have a big bowl of bubbly wet dough.

Dump a bunch of flour onto your counter, and grab a handful of dough (maybe ¾ cup) out of the bowl. Drop the dough into the flour, and form a rough roundish shape out of it, flipping it a couple of times to incorporate some of the flour so that it can be handled. (If you want to make pizza dough out of it at this point, just roll it out into a thin pizza shape with a rolling pin.) Repeat with the rest of the dough.

If you’re baking it in the oven, put the rounds on a cookie sheet and stick them in a very hot oven, 450-500 degrees, until they’re brown on top. If you’re using a barbeque grill, get the grill as hot as possible and throw them on, flipping them after about 2 minutes. Keep the grill lid down. (I always use the grill, and this makes awesome grilled pizza.) Everybody goes nuts over this bread.

That’s it.

The best baker that I know is my Aunt Jewell, and she makes Parker House Rolls just like my Grandma taught her to make. Now, I’ve never met my Granny, because she died before I knew her, but I’ve eaten my Aunt’s rolls, and I know she loved her family by the mark and legacy of those glorious bread rolls she passed down and the obvious love that went into them. I don’t have the exact recipe, but the basic recipe is ubiquitous…I know my Grandma didn’t use a mixer, she used an old stove, and a cookie tray. But I think the secret is time and buttery love, my man… buttery love.

You mention that you’ve never made bread but are a good cook. Something I found very handy to remember is that cooking can be art but baking is, whatever else, chemistry. The recipe is as it is for a reason, and improvisation is not a good idea.

What I’m gettin at is, that if you follow any of those recipes that I linked to for Parker House Rolls, you can’t go off the tracks. Baking is not some scary and unattainable technique. Every decent cook is a baker, and the basic parker house recipe is tried and true by millions upon millions of permutations and cooks. Make it your own.

I don’t necessarily agree that there is no latitude to baking, as 3trew contends in his bondage to bakery.

I still suggest you make it at least once now. I would want a practice round before having to bring it to the Thanksgiving meal. Fresh bread for the weekend sounds good don’t it?

Since the OP is posting from Eastern Canada, this weekend is Thanksgiving. Not much time to practise.

No location in their profile, so no I didn’t know that. I still would bake at least once before that day or have a back up.

Even easier, if time is of the essence, is frozen loaves of bread dough that you just thaw and bake. I’ve also bought frozen indiviual lumps to make rolls.

Thirded or fourthed or whatever it is.

With one small caveat: The folks at Cook’s Illustrated took a look at the NYTimes recipe, confirmed that it worked as advertised, and then spent some time tweaking it to make it work even better. You can find the details here, among other places. The differences in approach are fairly slight, but they do represent an improvement.

I would mostly agree with you on most baking being chemistry & science, requiring exacting measurements, except for bread.

Bread, using so much flour (it’s really THE ingredient), is highly variable in the amount of water it will require on a given day, for a given output. Everything else you add to bread is really more or less flavoring.

Once you learn how different breads should “feel,” you’re 90% of the way there. The other 10% is cooking technique & equipment. The last 100% is time and experience. :smiley:

Cakes, pastries, chocolate, and sugar work are all much more exacting, and I’d say pretty much in that order, more or less. Bread is the most forgiving of the baking techniques, and the easiest to start with, though mastery takes a long time… of course, I could be a harsh critic of my own productions.

As a subscriber to Cook’s Illustrated I just wanted to point out what a fantastic publication it is. Not only do they feature great recipes, but they look at the underlying science in what makes a recipe good. They will send you a free sample and allow you to decide.

Thanks for all the replies everyone. I wish I had known about this earlier so I could have tried it out once first, but no dice. Thanksgiving is indeed this weekend for us crazy Canadians. Good news is that my grocery store is still open on Sunday (when dinner is scheduled), so if it’s a big disaster I can still swing by and get the store-made stuff!

Absolutely. It is one of the very few things that gets read immediately after appearing in my mailbox.