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By Bread Alone: Baking the Perfect Loaf

Martha Stewart Living, January 2008

Making your own bread brings a particular satisfaction, like that of crafting your own pottery or building your own house. A baker falls somewhere between a sculptor and an architect, responsible for the outward form of a loaf as well as its internal structure.

Bread making is a dynamic art, bringing together ingredients that react chemically, and then harnessing the outcome to form a loaf with a crisp crust and a luxurious, chewy crumb. The key process is moistening and working the flour, which creates an elastic network of gluten. Yeast cells in the damp starter produce carbon dioxide. The expanding gas forms chambers as the supple dough rises, inflating it and producing the airy, springy bread we expect. By kneading the dough and then shaping it just so, the baker controls the airiness and chewiness of the resulting loaves.

Bread is a living medium. Flour type, kitchen humidity, and variations in oven temperature all affect the outcome. But a proper loaf doesn't require fancy equipment, only the basic method presented here, which provides a foundation and relieves the baker of having to consider the complex processes at play. More than just science, bread baking is an artisanal craft that anyone can learn with time and a little patience. With practice, you might end up adapting the technique slightly to suit your preferences. Start by mastering these simple steps and you'll find it easy -- and particularly satisfying -- to achieve perfection.

By Bread Alone: Making Dough Photo Gallery
By Bread Alone: Shaping Dough Photo Gallery

French Baguettes
Multigrain Boule
French Rolls

Comments (6)

  • blueneedlegram 7 Jul, 2008

    To the contributor who can't seem to find the recipe - under the very first picture in the photo gallery is a link to go to the article. From there you will find more links for recipes and instructions. Hopefully you found them by now!

  • MayMAMA 23 Feb, 2008

    But where are the ingredients and measurements?How much flour, water, yeast. What goes into the bread? I dont seem to be able to find this info. Please help I can't wait to make these breads:)

  • breadchocolate 12 Jan, 2008

    This is a wonderful set of recipes and I have made all but the ciabatta but will very soon. I have now laminated the prints and put together for easier and cleaner use. Thanks so much. PS: I found that I had to cut down the time on the rolls baking time to about 25 - 30 min with my second batch, has anyone else found this? I would love to see a video placed on the website of the basic procedures, I think this would help new bread bakers to learn the technique.

  • LaurCar 4 Jan, 2008

    Thanks! I was do some research and found that info to be accurate! I can't wait to try this recipe.

  • chick4jesus 3 Jan, 2008

    that is how you make bread dough starter- you let it sit for 12-15 hours.

  • LaurCar 3 Jan, 2008

    In the making dough photo gallery, the 1st step says to let the starter sit for 12 to 15 hours. Is this correct? It's really hours and not minutes?