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Artisan bread baking is all about using natural ingredients to bake crusty bread, generally in oblong or round loaves. A few bread baking tips make the difference between a good and an excellent loaf of homemade bread in a bread machine or bread cloche.
The oven should be preheated to 50 degrees higher than the baking temperature. Bread can bake at any temperature from 350 to 450 degrees. Once the oven reaches the desired preheating temperature, the bread can be put in, misting can be accomplished, and then the temperature should be turned down to the desired baking temperature.
A rule of thumb is that the higher the baking temperature, the harder the crust will be, and the shorter the baking time will be. The temperature and timing listed with a recipe is a recommendation, but home bakers should not be afraid to experiment with both temperature and baking time until they are satisfied with the results.
Misting the Dough
Humidity at the beginning of the baking cycle causes the bread to have a nice, crunchy crust. A pan can be placed on a shelf below the baking pan and allowed to preheat with the oven. After the bread has been put in the oven, a half cup of water can be poured into this preheated pan. As the water hits the hot pan, it will produce steam.
At the same time, water can be sprayed from a clean spray bottle over the top of the bread dough. The door of the oven should be shut as soon as possible to keep the humidity inside. More water can be sprayed after a minute or two, and then again a minute or two later. It is not necessary to repeat this thoughout the entire baking period, only at the beginning.
Recipes that Use a Starter
Recipes or formulas that use starter or a pre-ferment yield results that are worth the extra effort. Recipes that use a pate fermente or a biga, which are easy ways to use a starter that doesn’t have to be fed or stored indefinitely, are a good place to start. This type of recipe yields a loaf that is chewy and more flavorful than regular bread machine recipes.
Shape the Loaf
The shape of the loaf is sometimes dictated by the type of dough or by tradition. When making sandwich and panini bread, bakers often use a loaf pan. Crusty artisan bread usually is not baked in a loaf pan so it has a more organic shape.
For most loaves, whether they will be baked in a loaf pan or not, the best way to form them is to roll the dough out into a rough rectangle and roll it up. For a long loaf, such as French bread, the rolling should be started on the long side. When it is rolled up, the ends and the seam should be pinched and the loaf should be baked with the seam side down.
Practice Makes Perfect
The perfect loaf of home-made bread may not come out of the oven on the first attempt at home bread baking, or even on the second. Experience is a great teacher. Armed with these bread baking techniques, the home baker will produce loaves of increasing quality as time goes on.
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