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.

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

Recipes
French Baguettes
Multigrain Boule
French Rolls
Ciabatta

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