[Updated 23 May 2021]
Every wanted to try and make your own bread home? There's never been a more perfect time to do it than right now! Even if you haven't thought about it before, the current circumstances might tempt you to try your hand at producing a loaf or two for your own consumption.
And the thing is, bread-making doesn't have to be super difficult! The bread-making world is super vast, and while a lot of it can get very technical, there are also everyday breads that are totally doable for the average home cook, which don't even require a breadmaker. So if you're interested to get your house smelling with the scent of fresh bread, read on to find out easy recipes that will be perfect for you to do.
A few tips on bread-making for beginners
If you're completely new to baking bread, it's worth noting a few things:
- Most recipes for bread require instant yeast (also called rapid-rise yeast) or active dry yeast (though I did include a recipe for soda bread below that doesn't!). You can find this in the supermarket where the shelf-stable baking items are - they are usually sold in pre-measured single sachets, a box of sachets, or sometimes can also be found in a jar (you'll have to measure out your yeast as you use it). Recipes usually call for one sachet of yeast at a time. Instant yeast and active dry yeast aren't the exact same thing - while instant yeast can be added directly to your ingredients, active dry yeast requires being proofed (i.e. mixed with water and letting it stand for a while) to be activated. You can, however, substitute one for the other in your recipe, however, you'll need to adjust the yeast measurements slightly. This article by The Spruce Eats goes into detail on making substitutions.
- A lot of recipes also call for kneading the dough, which is meant to form gluten strands within the dough that will help create the airy texture of your loaf. Having a standing mixer is usually helpful for this (most mixers come with a dough hook that you can now put to good use!), though even if you haven't, it's not a deal-breaker - humans have been mixing up and kneading dough by hand for centuries, and it's a nice workout! Just mix up your dough ingredients as best as you can with a whisk or spatula, and when it comes together you can then turn it out onto your (clean!) surface and knead your dough by hand - you can watch this video by King Arthur Flour to see how it's done.
- You'll often find that bread recipes call for bread flour, which is different from regular all-purpose flour in that is has a higher protein content that's better for gluten development. However, if you can't get your hands on bread dough, you can still use all-purpose flour, though there might be some differences in texture (e.g. your bread might not be as nicely chewy).
- Working with bread dough also usually requires proofing, where the dough is laid to rest to allow it to rise (i.e. the yeast works its magic, creating air bubbles that will literally cause your dough to grow bigger, hence 'rise'), usually in a warm place. The warmth helps the yeast along and is necessary for it to do its thing well (dough left in a cold place tends to rise more slowly). Given the tropical conditions in Southeast Asia, I've never had issues with the general temperature being warm enough to be conducive for the yeast, though if your air-conditioning is on it might be good to put the dough somewhere where it's insulated from the cool air (for example, in an oven that's turned off). A recipe may call for 1-2 proofing sessions, for anywhere between half an hour to an hour or longer, or alternatively until the dough has doubled in size. While this may be more time-consuming, it usually doesn't require much effort from you at all, and your patience will be rewarded!
1. No-knead bread
This is a great bread recipe that my husband Faizal swears by and loves making as it's super easy to do. The dough comes together easily and doesn't require any kneading (!) but you get rewarded with an impressive-looking round loaf that has a great crust and really yummy taste - I can vouch for this, having eaten many slices of his bread simply toasted and slathered with butter. It does take longer to put together - the dough has to rest overnight, but this longer fermentation process is what allows the delicious flavour to develop.
This method of making bread was popularised thanks to a recipe shared with the New York Times by Jim Lahey, the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. Faizal likes to follow a variation of the recipe done by the popular cooking YouTube channel Bingeing with Babish - the video helps to show how it's done, and measurements for the ingredients are provided by weight, which he finds preferable to measuring by volume (i.e. with measuring cups).
You'll note that the recipe calls for a dutch oven (a deep cast iron pot that comes with a lid) - we don't have one, so Faizal usually uses a cast iron skillet covered with aluminium foil instead. Even if you don't have a cast iron pan, you can still do the recipe with whatever oven-proof dish you have, just note that you may not get as crispy a crust as you would with a cast iron pan. You can follow another recipe variation of no-knead bread by Sally's Baking Addiction - the recipe uses the same methodology, but the dough is shaped into long free-form rolls (for that artisanal-looking flair) and doesn't specifically call for a dutch oven. Instead, you can bake the bread on regular sheet pans or your oven tray. Her recipe just pulls together everything in a bowl too - no mixer needed!
2. Easy dinner rolls
Between Faizal and I, Faizal is the more experienced bread-maker, but I've made these dinner rolls enough times to know that it's easy and completely doable for those who are beginners. It's also quick as you don't have to proof the dough overnight, and they're so good - who doesn't love a good bread roll? This recipe calls for all-purpose flour (so you don't have to get your hands on bread flour!) which provides a softer roll and is finished with a brushing of melted butter on top ?
I use this recipe on AllRecipes, though you'll find plenty other similar recipes online if you search for it (like this one from Enquiring Chef). I think this recipe is a great and easy introduction to some of the basics of bread-making - you'll have to knead the dough only for about 10 minutes by hand (enough to give a good workout, but no so much that it scares you off!), and you'll also have let the dough rise twice, but only for short amounts of time. You also don't have to shape the dough in any complicated shape - all you need to do is cut it into 12 even-sized pieces and roll each piece into a ball.
#HHWT Tip: Lots of bread recipes that involve yeast like this one call for warm water to activate the yeast (usually around 110 Fahrenheit or about 43 degrees celsius. The water can't be too hot or boiling, as that can kill the yeast! If you don't have a thermometer at home, err on the side of cooler water than hotter - it should still be tolerable to touch.
3. Basic bread loaf
Looking for a rectangular loaf of bread that's closer to what you're used to getting at the supermarket? No problem! This recipe for a basic homemade loaf of bread is here to save the day. As you'll see in the recipe, this type of bread retains the same principles as the dinner rolls (the dough is kneaded, left to rise, shaped and then left to rise again before baking). The only difference is that it's left to rise for a longer period of time, and the dough is shaped and baked in a loaf pan to give it that classic bread loaf shape.
#HHWT Tip: For more traditional bread recipes like this one where the dough is left for longer periods to rise, you'll often find that after the first rise, you'll have to 'punch down' or 'knock back' the dough. This refers to gently pressing down the dough so you expel some of the air. This article by Epicurious explains the interesting science behind this, or if you'd like a demonstration to refer to, watch this video by Make Good.
4. Basic bread (variations)
Just because you don't have a loaf pan doesn't mean you can't make a nice loaf of basic bread! As you make more bread for yourself, you'll come to realise that the fundamentals of a lot of yeast bread recipes are all pretty much the same, and there's plenty of leeway for variations in terms of ingredients, how you shape your dough and what you use to bake it in. Check out recipes like this one from Gather For Bread which uses all-purpose flour, with the dough simply shaped into longer french loaves. Or this recipe from BBC Good Food that only uses 5 ingredients and pulls together everything in one bowl.
5. Irish soda bread
Want an easy recipe that also lets you try some unique cuisine from around the world? Cue Irish soda bread. This bread that originates from (you guessed it!) Ireland can be pulled together in under an hour - it doesn't require yeast (relying on baking soda instead), proofing or complicated shaping. Now, a quick disclaimer: Irish soda bread isn't your conventional form of bread - think of it more like a scone or a biscuit in terms of texture and taste. In addition, most recipes call for buttermilk, which gives it a slight tanginess. It's best eaten slathered with butter and/or jam.
There are many recipes out there for Irish soda bread, some calling for additional mix-ins like nuts or caraway seeds. For a straightforward basic recipe, try this one from BBC Food or this one from AllRecipes. If you don't have wholemeal flour as called for by a lot of recipes, just use regular flour!
#HHWT Tip: Don't have buttermilk? Make your own by adding lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk and letting it sit for is few minutes! In a pinch, you can just use milk in your recipe too, it'll just lack the tanginess.
6. Japanese milk bread
You know those fluffy, slightly sweet bread loaves you can usually find in local or Asian bakeries? Usually called Japanese milk bread or Hokkaido milk bread, this airy bread that's popular particularly in Asia could be just what you need to break the monotony of staying home. And luckily, they're still quite easy to do! They just require an extra step at the beginning, where you have to cook a tangzhong - this refers to a paste of flour, water and/or milk that's cooked in a pan and then used as the base for making your dough, along with the yeast, dough and the rest of your ingredients. Don't be intimidated by the idea of making the tangzhong! It takes less than 10 minutes to cook up on the stove and is super easy.
Check this recipe by King Arthur Flour on how to make Japanese milk bread (they also have a separate article that delves more into tangzhong and how it's different from more conventional western bread methods). You can shape your dough into rolls that are baked in a cake pan, or you can shape it into a loaf form, depending on what you'd like. Either way, it'll be a delicious treat you can't get enough of.
We now turn our attention to the Italian spectrum of easy bread-making with the deliciousness that is focaccia! This bread is baked flat in a pan and is known for its dimpled surface made by lightly pressing your fingers into the dough. It's also usually topped with olive oil, salt, and often includes yummy additions like garlic and fresh herbs. It's the perfect savoury bread treat!
The video I shared from Bingeing with Babish for no-knead bread earlier actually also includes a recipe for focaccia which Faizal also enjoys making, though you can also check out other recipes like this one from Gimme Some Oven or this video from Food Wishes on YouTube. If you don't have fresh herbs like rosemary on hand, you can always use dried herbs, but even just a coating of salt and the olive oil is enough to make this bread taste delicious!
8. Korean cream cheese garlic bread
If you want to travel with your taste buds, how about making Korean cream cheese garlic bread at home? Just the name itself is enough to make our mouths water, so we’re pretty sure that a bite out of it will be nothing short of amazing! It's pretty easy to source the ingredients from your local supermarkets, and you can refer to this easy Korean cream cheese garlic bread recipe to get started.
Bread-making can be a fulfilling activity that not gives you yummy bread to munch on but is good for someone who's staying home given the current situation. It employs the mind and working with your hands through kneading and shaping your dough can be a really great stress-reliever! You'll also feel super accomplished once you have the smell of fresh bread wafting through your kitchen. So if you were thinking of making your own bread at home, it's time to get started with these easy recipes!
P.S. Looking to pick-up cooking while you're at home? Check out this list of easy tips to know for beginner cooks!