So you’ve carefully mixed and kneaded your dough, left it long enough to prove well and shaped it into your chosen loaf. Now the only thing left to do is to bake your loaf! Here are my top five tips on how to get a great bake on your loaf.
1. Know your oven
Stating the obvious, all ovens are different! Know if your oven has hotspots and work around them. This may mean that you turn your loaf around or switch it between shelves halfway through baking. Don’t worry, your loaf won’t sink in the middle if you open the oven during the bake.
2. Bake your bread at a high temperature
Bread is generally baked at high temperatures, 220C and above. You can even turn your oven up to maximum, put your loaf in and then turn it down after five minutes. High temperatures will caramelise the natural sugars in the dough giving a deep-brown, great tasting crust, plus ensure your bread is baked through.
3. Use steam to help your bread dough rise
Steam will condense on the coldest spot in your oven – the top of your loaf. This will temporarily stop a crust forming, allowing the dough to rise as much as possible in the oven.
You can create steam in your oven in a couple of ways. Put a baking tray at the bottom of the oven when you turn it on, then pour a cup of water into it when you put your dough in to bake. Alternatively, spray the tops of you loaves with water just before you bake them.
4. Use a baking stone
The direct heat of a baking stone will help your dough rise even more in the oven. Ceramic pizza or baking stones are now fairly widely available. Stones need to be pre-heated in the oven for at least an hour before baking. Use them when baking a free-form loaf (not in a tin), and carefully slide the dough onto the stone in the oven – I keep my dough on the baking paper to make the transfer a little easier. The stone retains heat very well, baking your dough more evenly and improving the crust.
5. Test your bread with a tap on the bottom
How do you know when bread is baked? It should have a deep-brown crust and the base, when tapped, should feel thin and taut. The loaf should sound hollow when tapped on the base, though if you have included lots of nuts, seeds or fruits, this may not be the case even if baked. If the loaf looks pale and underdone, it probably is. If using a tin, the loaf may look undercooked or ‘clammy’ when you take it out of the tin. Pop the loaf back in the oven, without the tin, for 5 minutes to firm up the crust.
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, or have any further breadmaking questions, do let me know in the comments! Or why not check out more breadmaking recipes, hints and tips on the blog.
You can also join my supportive community of home bread bakers over on Facebook. From sharing great bakes and recipes to asking and answering key breadmaking questions, there’s plenty to learn and join in with.