This past month I was deep in the early learning phases of making yeasted bread and I came across this great book, Bread Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen. After looking through dozens of cookbooks, it was exactly what I was looking for.
I was struggling to understand the timing of everything: When making a bread, why wait for an hour, what am I waiting for, can I move to the next step? Bread Illustrated has step-by-step instructions with photos at each step. It includes useful tips for common issues like under-kneading or sticky dough. For a beginner, it does a great job of laying out the basic transferable concepts in breadmaking, which are often lost in other books because of their focus on individual recipes and glossy photos.
Here’s a bit of the basics that I learned from the book: The basic steps of breadmaking are mixing, kneading, first rise, shaping, second rise, baking, and cooling. The steps are, in order:
- Mixing brings the ingredients together (3 minutes)
- Kneading develops stretchy gluten and brings the dough into a ball (10 minutes, by hand)
- First rise is waiting for the bread to double in size (about an hour)
- Shaping is when you roll or ball the dough into a shape to fit its baking pan (a few minutes)
- Second rise is an hour or so where the dough rises again to nearly fill its pan (about 45 minutes)
- Baking creates the final loaf with its crust and fluffy, risen texture (from 25-45 minutes, depending on the recipe)
- Cooling allows the bread to finish baking and release steam (about 3 hours)
Bread Illustrated is available online and as a NYPL ebook.