With a stay-at-home order in effect, Houstonians have had to get creative with indoor activities. Getting in the kitchen is a no-brainer, and bread might just be the best project to keep busy while stuck between four walls.
Photos of people’s starters are circulating on social media, which is nice and all, but for folks who’ve never made bread before, those bubbly doughs may seem intimidating. A starter is not actually required for all breads. If you’re starting out, maybe leave the sourdoughs for another time.
“Yeasted breads, made with active or instant yeast, are typically the easiest to make because they’re easier to control,” says Tasos Katsaounis of Bread Man Baking.
Many breads can be made with very few ingredients — you might even have them already in your pantry — and packets of active dry yeast bought at the grocery store are a fine substitute for fresh yeast. Novice bakers should rise to the challenge, and Houston bakers are ready to share their wisdom (and some recipes).
“Home baking is so much fun, it’s relaxing, and it’s a nice outlet,” says Anita Jaisinghani, chef-owner of Pondicheri and its Bake Lab, a bakery above the restaurant. “I don’t know why people don’t bake more.”
Very few tools are needed. A big, non-porous surface should be used to lay out dough, like a cutting board or just a kitchen countertop. Make sure to have oven-proof dishes of various shapes and sizes, depending on what you’re baking. Sure, a KitchenAid stand mixer is nice to have, but doughs can be mixed and worked by hand.
“Getting a feel for the dough is always a good start for the new baker,” says Rakesh Nayak, executive pastry chef at Common Bond.
Once you’ve got your bare-bones equipment and a recipe you want to attempt, remember the cardinal rules of baking.
“Don’t be afraid of the scale,” says Jaisinghani. Baking is a science, so using exact quantities is critical to the bread coming out well. Do not approximate, she warns. Nayak suggests measuring out all the ingredients in separate bowls before starting any of the steps in the recipe — a technique called “mise en place.” Make sure the bowls are clean and free of moisture, he adds.
The next two words you need to learn are proofing and kneading. The former is the time the dough spends resting before a bake, allowing it to ferment and rise. The latter is the process of working the dough to create gluten, an important component for the texture of the final product.
These two often work in tandem, although you’ll find “no-knead bread” recipes that only require two quick folds, but need a long time to rest and ferment, at least 12 hours. These can be great if you have time on your hands and aren’t feeling confident about the kneading. No matter which path you take, make sure to follow instructions literally and don’t cut corners, as there’s not much room for error.