baking bread 101 crusty baguette insides

If you’re nervous about baking your first loaf, or you’ve had a few bread mishaps in the past, this post is for you. We are going to explore every aspect of making a loaf so you know what is happening and why.

Why would you ever want to know this much about baking bread as a casual baker? If you’re not just naturally curious and find this stuff cool, you can come back to this post every time something didn’t work out quite right and figure out how to make it better next time.

Key Ingredients

There are only 4 main ingredients in every bread. Yes, just 4. You can make amazing bakery-style loves in your own kitchen with an hour and a half and less than $20 in ingredients (if you have to buy flour, salt, and yeast at the same time, I’m scared to ask how you stock your pantry…)

Baking bread flour and other ingredients


The flour is the start of it all and will most likely be the largest portion of ingredient in your recipe. Dough hydration is something talked about by people who know what they are doing, so when you start off, work with low hydration dough until you get your needing and shaping down.

The types of flour that you use not only impact the flavour of the bread but the overall hydration and crumb as well. The higher the gluten or protein in the flour, the tougher it will be to work. So if you like pumpernickel or sprouted buckwheat, start with 3:1 all-purpose to specialty flour and gradually even out the ratio.

Some dough will have you mix your salt right in the flour, and this is okay for sandwich loaves, flatbread, and pizza. But, if you are trying to make anything very fluffy, give it some time to autolyze (absorb water without salt interfering).


you are just starting to get into baking bread, there are two main types of yeast you will see on grocery shelves. Instant yeast does not need to be activated (proofed) before it is added to the dry ingredients, as it contains extra enzymes to help the process along.

The more sugar you give your yeast during the proofing process, the faster your bread will rise and the airier (and sweeter) it will be.

If you decide to venture into the very passionate world of sourdough, the yeast you use in your bread-making is naturally occurring. This means that if you were to move across the country and start a second starter, they could have different activity levels and flavours. (Isn’t food so cool?)


Water added to your recipe will sometimes have specific temperatures. The water temp will determine how active your yeast is, and can also affect absorption into the flour. Don’t worry about fancy water, just go ahead and add whatever you normally drink (we use tap water here).

Most bread recipes will ask you to add water that is about 43C, (110F). Don’t add anything hotter than 60C (140F) or your yeast will die.


Any old table salt will do here. If you want more bread flavour, take it easy on the salt.

Other Common Additions


This is a common additive to dinner rolls or anything ‘super soft’. The proteins in milk actually degrade some of the gluten structures during the bake, making a softer crumb and crust. If you want to add milk for volume but don’t want to achieve a cotton texture, heat it past 90C (194F) and allow it to cool again before adding to your dough, or use powdered milk.

The fats present in milk are also stabilizing for the bread, increasing its shelf life.

Sugar or Honey

The most common use of sugar in bread is for its sweetening, but adding sugar to bread dough causes a few different reactions.

The first effect is caramelization. This means you will have a more golden crust with sugar than without. It also makes a more tender bread, as it delays gluten development. (Think about cookies spreading on the sheet vs a boule in a dutch oven)

Sugar also helps prevent crystallization (improving perceived texture) forming from lactose, and jump-starts your yeast when added to water in the yeast proofing.


This common additive to bread has a wide range of uses due to its composition. The egg whites have the ability to create their own protein network, so adding it to a heavy dough will help with leavening.

It can also be used as a binding agent and provides some moisture to your dough. This improves texture, grain, and creates a golden crust colour.

Sometimes, even if there isn’t an egg in the dough itself, you will find that a bread recipe asks for an egg wash. this helps create a moist and crunchy crust. And the fats in egg yolks help increase the shelf life of a loaf.


This common fat can change the texture of bread vastly depending on how it is added. when added in small quantities, it works as a lubricant that allows the gluten networks to expand further.

But, when butter is added in large quantities like in brioche, it changes the elasticity of your dough, decreasing the after-bake volume, and shortening how big the air bubbles in the bread can develop.

Using cold chopped or shredded butter will create butter pockets that melt during the bake. Creaming your butter and sugar together before mixing everything else allows for extra air and fat networks to develop throughout the bread. Finally, melting the butter down and adding it to the bread means it’s more easily absorbed by the flour, making a small rise and lower hydration.

Just like milk, the fat in the butter helps extend the shelf life of your bread marginally.


This is mainly added to change the elasticity of your dough. It makes it easier to work overall. Think pizza dough and flat breads. shortened gluten networks and stops it from drying out post-bake.

The Process

Making bread is a lot of fun but a messy experience. Weigh out your ingredients before you start to help you remember if you added the salt or not.

Proofing the Yeast

If you are using instant or rapid rise yeast, this step is not necessary. If you are using active dry yeast, mix it in your water (and add the sugar if there is any). Allow it to sit for 5 minutes, or until it starts ‘blooming’.


Gluten is the key to leavened bread. This protein structure is created when flour and water mix, and ultimately traps the carbon dioxide released by yeast to get your air pockets and flavour. When you knead the dough, you can see long sticks start to form in the dough, and most of the time you are trying to work that out.

If you are working with high hydration dough, you will want a good clean counter or table without creases to work on and a bench scraper. I love working with dough like this but work up to it.

Proofing the Dough

Carbon dioxide starts really being released from yeast once the dough reaches 27C (80F), so if you have radiators or sunny corners in your place, put them to use in your proof.

Shaping the Dough

Usually after your punch down or shaping you will need a second rise. if you’re working with a high hydration dough, shape it in the pan you plan to bake in. This will give you an undisturbed rise.

I’ll include scoring under this subheading. Scoring is when a sharp razor is taken to the crust to make small or intricate cuts that change the steam release and overall crumb of the dough.

Baking your Bread

Most bread is baked between 220C (430F) and 230C (450F). If there is a lot of fat or sugar in the dough, consider cooking at the lower end of that spectrum so those components don’t burn. A lot of time, temperatures drop part way through the bake. No matter what you do, you’re looking for a final internal temp to be about 88C (190F).

If you want a nice and crunchy crust, add pan of water to your oven on the rack below your baking bread to increase oven steam.

During your bake, there are 3 different temperatures to keep in mind.

60C (140F) – Starch granules gelatinize creating a network that traps carbon dioxide released by the yeast.

71C (160F) – Gluten strands solidify and curl. Bread structure is mostly formed, you might not get much more rise after this point.

88C (190F) – Sugars bind to the protein structures, creating that rich flavour we all love. This is where the doughy flavour present in under-cooked breads disappear.

Troubleshooting your Bread Baking

I’m not actually going to go over this here, because there is an amazing article by Tiffany at Don’t Waste The Crumbs.

But, no matter what you do, make sure you measure carefully and write down modifications you make. Every oven is going to heat differently, so experiment with yours a little, and get yourself a good instant thermometer.

Let me know if you’ve learned any special tricks in the comments below and happy baking!