The Basic Bread

In this blog I explain how to make the most basic of breads, with three ingredients.

Bread Baking began more than 10,000 years ago. Since then, flour, water and yeast have been the three basic ingredients.

When I first learned about this, I was stunned. How could it be just three ingredients? What about the long list of salts, additives, sugars, preservatives and other chemicals mentioned on those flimsy transparent plastic wrappers of our “neighborhood” breads?

I’m sure most of you would have looked at these and really questioned what your family was eating with your jams, eggs and tea. And most (like myself) would have learned to ignore these questions over time. I mean, it sure does taste good, so how bad could it really be?

For me, this changed once I tasted real, fresh bread. Unfortunately, the differences are hard to describe in words. Fortunately, I’ll be teaching you to bake one today!

Let’s talk about Flour.

Professional bread recipes mention a variety of flours: Bread flour, AP flour (All purpose flour), Rye flour, Spelt flour, Plain flour and so on. In India, most of these are hard to find and are expensive.

FYI, Bread flour, AP flour (USA), Plain flour (UK), Flour type 550, 1050 and 1600 (Germany) are all based on the protein content. It is the type of wheat (i.e. hard or soft), the season of crop (winter or spring) and the milling process, that separates them.

Bread Flour and Flour type 1050 are made from hard wheat. They have the highest protein content (12% to 14%) and are best for breads. The high protein content results in good structure and texture. 

All Purpose (AP) flour and Plain flour have slightly less protein content (10% to 11%) and are good for other bakes like cookies, cakes, breads, pies etc. Some bakers add wheat-gluten to the all purpose flour to make it stronger for breads. These flour types are commonly used in the western countries.

Ideal for cakes and soft bakes is Cake Flour which has even less protein.

The flour we use for breads is important because the texture, structure and flavor of our breads depends on it. We can use a single type of flour or mix several types of wheat flours with different grains such as rye, spelt, even milets, oats (in limited quantity) for our breads. If you’re part of our groups, you must have seen some of these bakes!

Like most home bakers, I too didn’t know about much these flours and have never used them. Since we primarily use wheat flour ‘आटा’ & refined flour ‘मैदा’ these will be the flours we begin with.

Whole Wheat Flour

This is the healthier option, because it has micro nutrients, fibre, vitamins, proteins and minerals that come from the bran and germ in wheat. For my recipes I prefer ‘atta’, the whole wheat flour which we use in our chapatis, because of its several health benefits.

Maida is also made from wheat, but is super-refined by an iterative milling process that removes all the fiber, proteins, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. As the bran and the germ are removed, only the endosperm is left, which has a lot of starch and very few nutrients and fibre. It is made from winter wheat which has high gluten. However, it gets denatured because of heat produced during the milling process. In India, home bakers and most bakeries are using maida because  its high extensibility and stretchability are desirable qualities for a variety of Indian pastries and baked goods.

For the recipe in this post, we will use wholewheat flour, which can be purchased easily. Many brands also sell packed wholewheat flour, multi grain flour, maida and fortified wheat flour.

Water

Baking guides and baking classes talk of dough temperatures, water temperatures, bread temperatures and even room temperatures. Professional bakers often move around with special thermometers for bakers to ensure that the dough temperature is optimal and that of the bakes too is right. There is a whole science and logic as to why water should be at a particular temperature, as after kneading in machines or otherwise, the dough temperature increases which may compromise quality and so on –Phew! True that! 

We must know these facts. However, as the motto is to keep things simply ‘simple’, I and my baking community use lukewarm water during winters or at room temperature during summers. For most bread recipes, water is the best liquid for kneading dough. However, some of my recipes will show that milk, buttermilk or curd has been used, along with water for kneading the dough. This is because we are neither using the standard bread flour or all purpose flour from bread recipes of the western world, nor are we using any improvers, additives, gluten or chemicals to aid gluten formation. Maida is not preferred in my recipes. I have experimented and found that these liquids augment the protein content and also help in leavening of dough for good texture and taste. 

Yeast

The third and magic ingredient, merits a separate blog because new bakers will be initiated to this ingredient and there is always confusion regarding this ingredient. I will cover not only the industrial yeast but ‘the natural yeast’, commonly known as sourdough starter

The Recipe

Yeast, wheat flour, and water.

Standard Ingredients

  • Wheat flour – 3&½ cups (400 gms)
  • Water – 1&¾ cup and some more (450 gms)
  • Yeast – 2&¼ tsp

To make the bread for this blog, I used only three ingredients. For new bakers, I have a slightly modified list:

Ingredients for new bakers

  • Wheat flour – 2&1/2 cups (290 gms)
  • Maida -1 cup (110 gms)
  • Water – 1&¾ cup and some more (440 gms) or water and milk mixture 50:50
  • Yeast – 2&¼ tsp
  • Sugar/jaggery – 2 tsp
  • Salt – 1 tsp
  • Oil – 2 tsp
  • Lemon juice – 1tsp
  • Baking soda – 1 pinch

A note for new bakers.

The dough with the Standard Ingredients might be a bit difficult to handle. Don’t worry though 🙂 It’s all part of the process.
I’ll explain more in a different post, but the extra ingredients will make the dough easier to work with.

Step 1

Mix all the dry ingredients and sift the flour well as aeration helps in baking good structured breads. Do not add salt now, as it interferes with the activity of yeast. We will add it later.

Step 2

Gradually add the water to the dry mix, and knead gently.

Gradually add water and lemon juice and knead the flour gently. Keep it aside for ½ an hour if you are not in a hurry. This process is called autolyse. It helps in breaking down the enzymes and help in gluten formation for well structured and good breads.

We can now add salt to the dough.

Initially the dough will seem messy and chaotic but be patient. The yeast gets actives gradually by feeding on the sugar in the flour or the added sugar/jaggery and starts helping in fermentation.

The dough after adding all the water, over time. It will be sticky; do not be alarmed.

Remember to add water gradually. Keep kneading and folding it on itself (like folding a sheet of paper in half), for about 10 minutes for gluten to develop properly. Add some oil if it’s too sticky

Pull and fold the dough, onto itself.
Over time, the dough will start to become smooth.

Step 3

Roll the dough into a ball and place in a large greased bowl (preferably a glass bowl). Cover and keep the bowl in a dark and warm place. The fermentation process will double the dough in size, so make sure your bowl is large enough. The dough should not over ferment ( ie. the dough should not more than double, else it rises and then sinks).

The dough in the bowl for fermentation. You should have a similar texture after kneading.

To test whether the dough has fermented and risen well, the dough should spring back after a gentle press.

In my experience fermentation time in an Indian kitchen in warm weather would be 45 minutes to 1 hour. In cool weather, it’s about 1&½ to 2 hours.

Dough after fermentation, doubled in size. Notice it has not deflated.

Step 4

Gently take the dough out from the bowl. Because of the oil great it should slide out. Do not pull it out else you disturb the activity of the yeast. 

Again gently deflate the dough with finger tips — I call it dimpling.

Gently deflate the dough with your fingers. The yeast is still alive!

Then neatly shape the dough into a loaf.

Step 5

Place the dough in a loaf tin, seam side down, for proving (second rise). Remember, the dough has yeast which is alive and has to be handled with care, at all times. It should not over-prove (ie. the surface should not flatten and crack) else it does not spring in the oven and you’ll get a flat-top after baking. During the prove, the dough should rise, while maintaining its shape.

Post-proving, just before entering the oven. The dough has not deflated.

Proving time is just half of the fermentation time. With practice, you’ll be able to tell by the look and feel of the dough.

Step 6

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for about 35-40 minutes, till done.

Almost there … 🙂

About the “till done” …

It goes without saying that the right baking time is crucial. But the time does differ from oven-to-oven. So just keep an eye on the texture; 35-40 minutes should be fine.
Of course, if you feel that the bread is still too moist, you can continue baking for another 2-3 mins.

And that’s it!

If done correctly, you’ll have a healthy, delicious but somewhat dense bread loaf. This is because the wholewheat flour has less gluten and is less elastic and stretchable. Remember, we did not add any additives or stabilizers.

The final bread.

Five years ago, I was new to kneading and found it  tough to handle the wholewheat flour dough. I was not sure about yeast fermentation and proving at the time either. Just hang in there, and you’ll get it.

Well begun is half done! The first step is most difficult and then there has to be discipline in whatever you do. I worked on it consistently and practiced kneading, folding etc with the help of some baker friends, information on the internet and regular candid feedback from my family, especially Divyam who egged me to carry on and to keep experimenting. Also, I did not want to take shortcuts by adding gluten, chemicals or stabilizers from the market, so I practiced almost daily and the bread gradually improved. 

Here I am, sharing my experience and tested recipes so that all new bakers just have to walk into the kitchen with a jar of yeast, and can come out with a lovely loaf of bread — with no extra ingredients to complete the process.

Please try this recipe over the weekend and leave comments. I will address common issues people may face, in my Wednesday post.

26 thoughts on “The Basic Bread

  1. MAMTA JAIN

    Wow Ma’am!
    You have explained it in such a way that even a layman can dare to start the bread baking.

  2. Tilottama bhattacharya

    Learning is a never ending process…
    So much to learn from you… I was a baker before I met you and now it seems I know so little about baking… Thankyou Renuji…
    Take care and stay safe

  3. Shubha Narayanan

    I bought small packets of yeast and am not sure how long it could be stored. Also should it be stored in room temperature or in the fridge? Can we add it directly to the flour as powder, is there no need to mix it in lukewarm sugar water?

    1. renuamitabh Post author

      Shubha you can store extra yeast packets in the fridge and it remains good for a long time( 6 months). If using old yeast, mix it with some warm water and sugar and kept aside in warm place for 10 minutes or so. If it is still good and worth using, it will swell and become frothy.
      Instant yeast, liquid yeast and fresh yeast (in brick form) can be added directly. Active dry yeast has to be mixed with some warm water and sugar and kept aside in warm place for 10 minutes before adding to the dough.

  4. Kavita

    Beautifully explained ma’am… when I tried it for the first time believe me it was a mess but by following your guidelines… it’s great and satisfying to bake breads at home. Thanks !

  5. Roopali Bhargava Dhingra

    Beautifully explained with relevant pictures, will surely try it one of these days

  6. SheenAvni

    Thanks for the detailed recipe… inspired to try with my daughter who likes to bake.. which is the yeast she can use? Something available for beginners?

    1. renuamitabh Post author

      New bakers are advised to use ‘Instant Yeast’ as it can be added directly to the flour just like sugar or water. Angel and Royal Lion are the commonly used brands of Instant yeast in my baking community. You may try these or any other brand easily available.

      If the packaging reads ‘Active Instant’ or ‘Active’ do dissolve it in 1 tsp sugar and 3 tbsp water solution for 10 minutes till it becomes frothy and then add.

      1. Sheenavni

        Thanks 🙏 could you also recommend baking tins and rounds? What material preferred

  7. Deepty Bhansali

    Never knew the relevancy of different flours or the magic of right water temperature to baking. Absolutely love how the information is flowing from ingredients to technique with beautiful illustrations all making it look like a simple process. Just like the author said- “simply simple” – it’s encouraging a novice to give a try!

  8. Rupali

    Tried making whole wheat bread today. A lil dense but really nice. Thank you ma’am

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  10. Meenakshi Wason

    Tried this wonderfully and simply explained recipe. I used multigrain atta and maida, equal proportion.
    I increased maids a bit considering the atta was multigrain.
    I am really happy with the outcome, super soft beautiful bread !!
    Thanks a ton for the inspiration and guidance

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  12. Shikha

    Maam which yeast have you used? If we use active dry yeast, how much should we add?

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  15. Shikha

    Renu ma’am thank you for simplifying the bread making process. Ma’am when I tried autolyse, i found it difficult to decide how much water should I add. Can we add more water if needed after autolyse is complete and we start kneading the dough?

    1. renuamitabh Post author

      Yes Shikha. Follow the recipe for liquids but they can be increased, one tbsp at a time, after autolyse, as some flour are coarse and need more water.

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  17. Achla Kakria

    Hi Renu ,
    Thanks to my friend Meenakshi Wason for referring me your amazing recipes . I have been trying the basic breads and other also some concerns are coming , please help me .
    1. The complete atta bread is very dense , heavy and little soggy in the inside core . I am using normal atta -chakki atta which is grounded l coarser than packet atta .
    2. What type of atta to be used .
    3. I tried Tomato and Herb -this bread came very good , but again very dense
    4. I tried buns with complete atta , though the look was hard but to eat it was very soft
    Thanks once again for good recipes

    1. renuamitabh Post author

      Great going Achla. To begin with add some maida as the local ckakki atta or packed atta in India is different from the’bread flour’used abroad and mentioned in several recipes.That one is fortified and is strong flour for breads. Check the ‘basic bread’post for more on átta’. So if we are not adding any chemicals, additives and extra gluten, we may add some maida or AP flour to get smooth fluffy breads. Then there are other things such as eggs, chia, flaxseed, milk, curds etc which help in getting you good breads at home. With practice you will make wonderful breads soon.

  18. Shanan Jain

    Renu Ma’am
    Your perseverance and your determination to get it right is so infectious. I am now determined to learn from your blogs, which are so simple and easy to follow.
    Thank you ma’am for inspiring all of us.

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