Bread: Step-by-Step

When you're making bread, it's important to know what the different stages look like. If you understand the look and feel, you can create your own bread recipes without without worrying much about measurements and timers.

Even if you're working with a recipe, bread doughs behave differently depending on the flour, the ingredient temperatures and the room temperature, among other things. It's better to know what a fully-kneaded or fully-risen dough looks like rather than relying on a recipe that tells you to how long to knead or how long the bread should rise.

So here we go.

Unless you're using an instant yeast that can be added to dry ingredients, you need to proof it. Even with an instant yeast, I usually introduce it to the liquid and some sugar before I add flour.You can see the bubbles around the edges of the bowl. Sometimes I'll put the first cup of flour on top, like this, and wait for the bubbles before I mix in.

Quite often, I'll mix in a cup or so of flour and let that sit until it's bubbling happily like this, before I continue.

Here's the dough as it comes together in the bowl of the Kitchenaid mixer. It's becoming a dough, but it's still very shaggy and rough.

Here, the dough is starting to get nice and smooth. Much different than the previous photo.

Here, you can see how elastic the dough has become. It's pulling without tearing.

Here's the dough in the bottom of the bowl, ready to rise.

Here it is, nicely risen and fluffy.

Deflated. At this point, it can be formed into a loaf, or it can be reshaped into a ball and left for another rise. The second rise is just like the first, but usually it takes less time.

Here's the dough formed into a long loaf. That's cornmeal on the baking sheet.

Here's the loaf, risen.

Most breads need to be slashed so he loaf can expand as much as it needs to during baking. Some days I get creative with patterns. The way the bread is slashed affects the way it rises in the oven.

Here it is, just coming out of the oven.

And that's it.
Cool the loaf completely before cutting, and enjoy.