We take the guesswork out of baking a loaf of fresh bread. Count on these pointers for success.
Looking for a fruit- or nut-filled quick bread for breakfast? Or perhaps you wish to make a crusty bread to serve with pasta tonight. With our greatest hits, you'll be sure to pick just the right recipe.
Ideally, a loaf pan should help to shape the loaf and encourage even browning, a crispy crust, and a tender interior. Common loaf-pan sizes are 9x5x3 inches and 8x4x2 inches. For additional help, follow these guidelines:
It's important to get the oven temperature just right. If the oven is too hot when the bread goes in, the bread will set up before the dough finishes its final rise, causing a dense loaf. If the oven is too cool, the loaf won't rise to its fullest potential and will become dense.
To avoid errors, preheat your oven to the temperature given in your recipe. Use an oven thermometer to make sure your oven temperature is accurate. If your oven runs higher or lower than the thermostat, adjust the temperature until the oven thermometer shows the desired baking temperature.
Whether using a nonstick pan or not, greasing the pan is recommended to ensure the dough doesn't stick and it bakes evenly. Use a clean pastry brush to lightly spread vegetable shortening over the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of the loaf pan.
Tip: Do not grease all the way up the sides because the batter needs to cling to the ungreased pan sides as it rises.
Take a quick look at your loaf 10 to 15 minutes before the minimum baking time. If it is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. Remove the foil once you have placed the baked loaf on a cooling rack.
Tip: The center is the last part of a quick bread to cook. Insert a wooden toothpick near the center; if it comes out clean, your loaf is done. The very center will firm up while the bread is cooling on a cooling rack.
Let the loaf rest for 10 minutes on a cooling rack in order for the bread to set up and cool slightly before removing it from the pan. Run a spatula or butter knife between the pan sides and the loaf to loosen the loaf. Invert the pan to remove the loaf. Allow quick bread to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or bag.
When using a loaf pan, even if it is a nonstick pan, lightly grease the whole pan. Some breads are instead baked on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal, which helps keep the bread from sticking.
While some loaves go into the oven with no embellishment, others get an egg wash or a butter brush and even a sprinkling of seeds or herbs.
Egg Wash: Whisk an egg or egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush it on the loaf just before baking for a shiny, golden crust.
Butter or Olive Oil Brush: Brush softened butter or olive oil atop the loaf before baking to add flavor and color.
Milk Bath: Brushing a loaf with milk before baking gives it a tender, golden crust. For a sweet bread, sprinkle with sugar, if desired.
Toppers: The egg wash helps toppers adhere to the loaf when added before baking. Seeds such as poppy seeds or caraway seeds, crushed dried herbs, or rolled oats all make tasty and attractive toppers.
When yeast dough is placed in a hot oven, "oven spring" takes place, which is the final burst of expansion or fermentation. Once this occurs, the loaf sets up and starts to brown, creating the crust.
Tip: When baking several loaves on a baking sheet, use one extra-large baking sheet instead of two smaller ones. Or bake one pan at a time, placing the second sheet in the refrigerator until 15 minutes before baking time. If you bake two smaller pans at once, not enough air will circulate around the bread, which causes uneven baking.
To test yeast bread for doneness, tap it lightly with your fingers. It will sound hollow when it is done. If the loaf is browning too fast but doesn't sound hollow, create a tent out of foil, loosely cover the loaf, and continue baking. Yeast breads containing butter and/or sugar often need this step so to prevent overbrowning or burning on the outside.
To get the crisp, chewy-brown crust desired in these old-world-style breads, replicate a wood-fired oven in your own oven. Here's how:
1. Select a recipe for artisanal bread.
2. Adjust 2 oven racks so that one is in the lowest position and the other in the middle of the oven. Place a broiler pan on the bottom rack while the oven preheats. When the pan is hot, carefully pour about 1 cup hot tap water into the pan in the oven.
Tip: The steam helps create a crisp, crackly crust.
3. You can bake the bread on a baking sheet, pizza pan, or directly on a bread stone. If using a bread stone, place the stone on the middle rack and preheat it for 30 minutes. Use parchment paper to transfer the dough to the bread stone (leave it on the parchment). Once the bread is in the oven, if desired, use a spray bottle of water to mist the inside of the oven and the loaves. This also helps to give your bread a nice, crisp crust.
Tip: A bread stone replicates a hearth, especially when used with steam. Artisan breads are usually formed into free-style rounds or loaves so no loaf pan is used.