Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak shut down colleges, businesses, and restaurants, it seems like everyone I know is getting into one of my favorite hobbies: breadmaking. In fact, when I decided to make a rye loaf the other day, I couldn’t find yeast in any grocery stores. It seems like whenever I go on social media, there are a dozen new photos of handmade loaves (like this rye loaf that I made!).

Alaina Mencinger

If you’re interested in showing off homemade bread on Instagram, this is the article for you. Bread making may seem daunting, but it’s actually shockingly easy.

I started making bread regularly my freshman year of college, and over time, I’ve learned some tips for how to make delicious loaves. After two years of serious bread making, here are five tips for the novice bread maker:

1. Start simple.

If you’re just starting out, consider trying a no-knead bread recipe. I personally like kneading (it’s surprisingly therapeutic), but no-knead recipes are the way to go if you’re intimidated by breadmaking or have limited counter space. It also cuts down on prep time.

Another way to simplify bread making is to try a yeast-free recipe, like a soda bread. It takes some of the guesswork out of breadmaking and is an easy place to start for a beginning baker.

Alaina Mencinger

2. Gather your ingredients.

Unlike other forms of baking, bread has a pretty simple ingredient list: flour, water, salt, and yeast. With these four ingredients, you can make a delicious loaf; or, use them as a base for different bread types. Once you get these base ingredients, you can start getting fancy with flavorings, toppings, or even fillings.

3. Don’t kill your yeast!

If you've decide to make a yeasted bread, be careful with your yeast. Yeast is activated by mixing it with warm water. However, because yeast is made up of single-celled microorganisms, overly hot water can kill the yeast and stop your bread from rising. An easy test is this: put your finger in the water for a few seconds. If it’s too hot for your finger, it’s too hot for the yeast.

Some bread recipes will ask you to mix the yeast with water and salt in a separate container before adding it to the flour. This step is unnecessary and just gives you another bowl to wash.

Instead, put the flour in a large bowl. Pour the yeast onto one side of the bowl; on the opposite of the bowl, put the salt or sugar (depending on the recipe). Separating the salt/sugar from the yeast will slow the reaction as you mix the warm water into the flour mixture.

Alaina Mencinger

4. Know your flours.

Not all flours are created equal. Different flours (like all purpose, bread flour, rye, etc.) have different gluten and protein contents, which will affect the texture and rise of the bread.

If the number of flours at the grocery store seems intimidating, I would recommend sticking with all-purpose or bread flour. However, you can experiment with rye flour, or even gluten-free flour after you do a little basic research.

5. Focus on the crust.

Certain baking techniques will result in a thicker and crispier crust. If, like me, you like a loaf with a crunchy crust, try either misting the unbaked loaf with water or filling a shallow pan with water and putting it under your bread in the oven. 

Alaina Mencinger

Lastly, have fun—go forth and make some bread!