Tips on How to Make Better Bread.

I know that most of you know how to make bread and I am sure you are perfectly happy with how you make your bread, and I am not trying to pretend I know any better.  I have been making my own bread for as long as I can remember and that is a very long time but I am still striving for that perfect loaf. I think I may have found it. So I thought I would share my findings.

Basic bread is flour, water, yeast and salt. I like to keep things simple.  I have dogged every bread maker I know trying to find out how to get the perfect loaf using just flour, water, yeast and salt.

And finally after years of practice and seeking and bread making and putting on piles of weight taste testing I have discovered a method I feel confident sharing.

( This bread is baked in a cast iron Dutch Oven, if you do not have one, a ceramic bowl with a lid would do. I know of a lady who bakes her bread in enamel tins with lids, though my bread tutor was skeptical. (But her bread is wonderful!).  The Dutch Oven is not terribly expensive, I have two and they are in constant use.)

So let’s get bread making.

Tip One: Autolyse the Dough.

Simply put this means letting the flour absorb some of that water before commencing the bread making.

So – I  roughly mixed together in a large bowl:

1000 grams of flour

720 grams warm water at 95F. (35C)

Then cover with a Tea Towel and set this aside for 30 minutes. This gives the flour a head-start at absorbing all that water and it seems to me it warms the flour up for the yeast too.dsc_0683

Tip Two Introduce the yeast and salt by sprinkling it on top of the dough.yeast and salt2

(Yes I was surprised too.) Sprinkle both  evenly on top of the dough then jump to Tip Three.

salt and yeast on dough

I used 21 grams of salt and 4 grams of yeast. (Hopefully your dough is still warm – it needs to be warm).

Tip three. At no time do we Knead (or God forbid Punch)  the dough: we gently stretch and fold it.

Working around the edges of the bowl, with a floured hand, pull the dough up, bit by bit and fold it over the yeast and salt. You are enclosing the yeast and salt into the dough.  (Now here comes the tricky part without showing you); using your thumb and forefinger, and still working within the bowl, PINCH the dough out into six large pieces, dropping the pieces back into the bowl as you go and then once more go around the edges folding the dough in on itself. Do this four times. Flour your hand. Pinch into pieces.  Then go all around the bowl folding it back into a ball. This is a simple and delicate way of mixing the yeast and salt in with the water and flour. Be gentle – you are also introducing air.

On your last turn the dough might still be quite sticky. But time for a rest.

Now, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for an hour and within that hour gently stretch and fold the dough into thirds – Twice.  (So you stretch, fold and roll, gently patting it in, recreating the ball – two times (still working within your bowl). After the hour it should be looking more like that satiny dough we all strive for.

Then clip your dry T Towel onto the bowl and allow the dough to rise for five hours or until it has trebled.dsc_0690

Once it has risen, gently ease the dough out onto the board and cut in half. Take each half and with the lightest of touches stretch and fold into the thirds and roll over forming two round balls.

risen dough0

Tip Number Four: Seal the loaf. Drag your dough ball firmly across the surface of your bench.drag the dough4

drag the dough

This is a very new move for me and Magic is bringing the shape of  the loaf together. It will lightly catch on the barely floured surface and roll itself into a tight sealed ball.

So: Take each of these balls, lightly place both palms on either side of the ball, tucking your little fingers slightly under and drag the dough along the counter, from one side to the other, they will roll into round tight balls, then turn 180 degrees and drag again so it is a perfect round loaf shape.

Carefully place these two balls into two lightly oiled and floured bowls (or those wicker baskets that I covet) and set aside.

Turn oven onto 500F, put two Dutch Ovens into the oven to heat for 45 minutes, they have to be very hot.  (IF you only have one Dutch Oven place one of the bowls of dough into the fridge when you put the other dough in the oven and cook one after the other). Your dough needs these 45 minutes to conclude its rising.

 Tip Number Five: How to tell if your dough is ready to cook.

Gently press the dough with a finger tip and watch it return to normal, if it slowly rises back into shape it is perfect. If it does not rise back up it needs more time. If it rises fast cook straight away – it is past ready.

When the oven and the dough are ready, gently tip the ball of dough out onto your board again, lift it up into the palms of your hands by scooping your little fingers under the dough so the dough rests into your two palms and then smartly lower into the hot cast iron.  Place the Lid on straight away. (NO strafing with knives).

Now cook with the lid on for 30 minutes, then the lid off for 20 more.loaves of bread

Tip Number Six: Listen for the crackle.

Take the bread out of the oven and listen carefully. If you can hear it crackling it is ready. If not pop it back into the oven for a few more minutes.

Don’t let anyone except me see you with your ear to the bread listening for voices. It looks kind of weird!

There now.   I know it feels like a little more work but it is SO worth it.  Let me know if you incorporate any of these tips into your bread making – or maybe you do this already!

My next woofer comes tomorrow (I got the weeks wrong I guess) and his English is very limited so I hope we can navigate him to the right train station. More balloons with strings!bread

I will teach him how to make bread! I hope you have a lovely day





43 Comments on “Tips on How to Make Better Bread.

  1. Must try this. I’ve never made bread (shame on me), only tsoureki which is a kind of Greek brioche, and which sometimes comes out great and sometimes is dismal😝

  2. It definitely looks like lovely bread. I can remember reading Jeffrey Steingarten’s bread making endeavors and he concluded that that the type of water and flour also play a big part in tasty bread.

  3. When we went Paleo I had to learn to bake bread with almond flour. I have found a recipe I can live with, but nut flours make a very dense bread and since we don’t use yeast, all of the recipes are for “quick” breads. I found myself salivating looking at your photos! I do miss real yeast bread.

  4. Thank you for the bread making tips, I’m going to share them with my sister. I have never heard of listening to the bread, it does sound like a funny thing to do. I will have to invest in a cast iron Dutch oven, I do love cooking in iron skillets.

  5. Oh, I so wish I could still eat bread…. I can almost smell how delicious it is, and I can still vividly remember the taste of good bread, slathered with fresh butter. 😦

  6. Could you look on Youtube and see if there is a video for the folding and sealing parts that match what you do? Or could you do a short video?

  7. How I would love to see a video tutorial with you making these beautiful loaves C. I love baking bread in a Dutch Oven.
    Have a beautiful day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  8. Celia in OZ has an excellent site showing folding routine on video, will post with your agreement. She uses mostly sourdough for her bread. Your loaves look fabulous, I’m going to add the dragging to my routine, and have been thinking for a while that the strafing might just reduce the rise a bit. I bought stainless steel double roasting pan and it works fine. Laura

  9. Thank you for sharing your bread making tips. I’m definitely going to try this week. It is all about the Crackle-the bread sings! Looks mouth watering delicious. I’m excited to try.

  10. i’ve never made bread but would love to try it. this helps and i would love to see a video of it so that i can be sure i’m doing it right )

  11. Fresh bread?! Did you hear that thud? That was me passing out over the beauty of that bread. I can almost taste it in my piggy mouth. YUMMO! XOXO – Bacon

  12. You’ve reminded me how much I used to love making this kind of no-knead bread in my cast iron casserole. Must start again. Your loaf looks stunning.

  13. I make bread every weekend, using my sourdough starter. It has taken me years to get to a place where I like what I am baking, but I anticipate another span of years before I reach perfection. It’s never the same process twice!
    I can recommend Josey Baker Bread, his book helps a lot with either commercial yeast or wild yeast.
    I’ve also found that if I boil my tap water and let come to room temp with the lid off, it boils off the chlorine and it helps with the fermenting process.
    And I grind my own wheat, so it’s a whole grain recipe. It behaves very differently. I never get the rise you got with the above bread, too dense.
    I think baking bread is a great mystery and also great fun.

  14. Thank you for the beautiful tips – looking forward to try them out one day! – My Mom used to listen to her pots closely when making our Bavarian “Dampfnudeln” – kind of yeast dumplings, cooked or steamed in a cast iron pot in a mix of milk, butter and sugar. It was strictly forbidden to lift the lid while cooking. They just would shrink down to a inedible mass. When she heard that distinctive sizzling and her face cleared up and had that very content expression, the dumplings were ready to the point and did have their so beloved juicy sweet brown bottom crust. – A few minutes later they would have been burnt. So listening to the “singing of the dumplings” has been a very important step in making them then.
    I was trying to get an idea about the timing of the process when making your bread – it’s nearly seven and a half hours all together of sitting and cooking time plus the work out by stretching, drawing and dragging. Plus the time it has to sit after baking. Could you give us an idea of your time schedule – when do you have to start when you want to have the bread ready to a certain moment (e.g. dinner or so)? – I bet you start at once when you are up in your early mornings – I could make my bread on Sundays only when I do not have to leave for work. So my bread would be ready to eat maybe by midnight (long after dinner) when getting up late… 😉 What a pity.

  15. Thank you for the bread tips, these autumn days are just the time to try it. I need to check my flour box and pantry to check I have all the ingredients needed.

  16. We HST got back from our three week European holiday and one of the things I purchased was a banneton. I wanted two but settled on one, they are rather expensive, €25 for a small oval one. I baked a bread last night at the cottage and am rather pleased with the results. I shall try your recipe and method next when I get home. I wish you’d make a video showing the stretching and pulling snd folding technique, it would be so helpful.

  17. Thank you Celi. I use Celia’s method with the covered roaster for my sourdough spelt bread and it works very well. I have seen the stretching method for working the dough both on Celia’s site and also from an Italian artisan baker on Instagram: ca_mia_breadlab

  18. I was a slow starter to bread baking, there seemed to be such a mystique about it but Celia from FJ&LC persisted in her encouragement… so now I bake sourdough bread using a no kead just stretch & fold process & [clay] Romertopf for a softer steamed bread with a gentle crust, which the G.O. prefers. But I do have a cast iron dutch over, and plans for a lidded enamel roaster. It seems once you begin you can’t stop 🍞

    • Yes, celia is a fantastic breadmaker – and a wonderful teacher – she has been doing the folding technique for years – there is something in the air out here that turns my sourdough culture very fast – it is fine in the winter but in the summer it turns to sludge within a day or two – your clay pot sounds wonderful.

  19. Pingback: Tips on How to Make Better Bread. – hedgecraft

  20. Hello Celi,
    Reporting from Northern Ireland (your daily postings reach even here, and I keep them usually for a quiet moment to savour your lovely stories) that I tried your bread recipe and the best bread I’ve ever made was born! I’m chuffed to bits…thank you so very much for sharing this, it would’ve never occured to me that one can make bread without kneading. Goes to show, all the theories about kneading develops the gluten etc. A bit of a myth, because in this folding, dragging way the end result is far superior. Can’t wait to bake the next one 🙂
    Hugs! Gabi

  21. I make a similar bread. I have a super easy bread that requires no kneading. I have used it to make dinner rolls for Thanksgiving, small buns for Italian beef and big loafs in my cast iron pan. Everyone loves it!! I am sure yours is awesome!! It looks good. And that crust looks great, that is usually my favorite part.

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