The day I published How to Bake a Better Cookie
, a review appeared that ended with this: "Now I need one for breads!"
Yesterday, I was standing in front of the whiteboard in my office, jotting ideas for upcoming projects. I jotted: "Bread e-book? Do I have enough to say?"
Nope, I really don't.
I don't bake a lot of varieties of bread. (My one atttempt at rye was memorably leaden.)
I don't use starters.
I don't use a baking stone.
I don't mist my oven to encourage the crust.
I've made Greek bread in the past with reasonable success because Greek bread is really just white bread, pulled into a wreath shape and smothered with sesame seeds.
Mostly – almost exclusively – I make the bread you see at the top of this post. The Serbs in my family call it pogacha. It's a basic white bread but it only raises once, so it's slightly more dense than typical white bread. (The recipe's here.)
And it makes spectacular toast. I mean, it's good as bread, but it's sublime as toast.
A lot of people are scared to attempt bread, but it's not as daunting as people make it out to be.
Just before Christmas, one of my cousins mentioned that they tried making pogacha and it didn't rise. He presumed his yeast was bad.
Nope, probably not, I said.
And that brings me to the first – and possibly – only rule you need to know about baking bread:
Don't kill the yeast.
That's it. So long as you don't kill the yeast, odds are that you and your oven will produce something fairly edible.
See what I mean? It would have been a really short e-book. Even 99 cents would have been too much to charge.
If you proof your yeast in warm water, make sure it's warm. Not hot. Warm. Years ago, my Aunt Chick said, "Think of a baby's bath water."
The water needs to be warm enough to encourage the yeast but not so warm that it dies.
So hold the inside of your wrist under warm water and when it feels plesantly warm but not hot, you're good to go.
Likewise, if you're adding the yeast to an existing hot liquid, let it cool down to a pleasantly warm temperature first.
Don't be impatient. Swirl the bowl around to expose the mixture to more air to hasten the cooling process.
Or, as I often do, stick the bowl in the freezer for a minute or two or three.
Too-cool liquid will always be preferable to too-hot liquid.
Also, you can add a smidgen of sugar to your yeast to give it some food and make it happy from the get-go.
There you have it: the one piece of advice you need to get you started on your bread-baking way.
Baking bread is enormously gratifying.
And your family and friends will think you a genius.
Don't kill the yeast.