Monday, December 23, 2013

Bread Dough by Hand

I am the first to admit that I am not an artisanal bread baker, I simply don't have the interest. What does interest me though is having my meager effort result in successful bread. My number one goof in the past had been leaving out either the yeast or the salt, (both of which must be present to create tasty bread) so I came up a sort of mnemonic to help me remember both the recipe and as an aid to keep me from forgetting a vital ingredient; my hand.

The picture above is the recipe for my Basic 5-cup Bread:

  • 5 cups of flour, 5 fingers = 5 cups, that is easy enough (and all my mixer will hold.)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons yeast, or the same as 1 packet.
  • Salt, 1/2 tablespoon (I know how much that looks like in the palm of my hand, my normal method of measure) but that also measures out to 1 1/2 teaspoons.
  • Sugar, up to 1/4 cup, (the size of the scoop left in my sugar bucket.) Sugar, according to taste, can either be left out completely, substituted for any other form of sweetener and/or reduced for a more savory dough. 
  • Oil, 1 tablespoon, is designated to the pinky finger because I rarely even add it, however it does enhance the crumb and adds moisture, so just eyeball about a tablespoon into the bowl. Bread is forgiving.
  • The palm of the hand represents the water 1 1/2 to 2 cups, which holds all the other ingredients together.

The flour, salt, and yeast represent the trinity of necessity in bread baking, without them the bread will be flat, both without lift or flavor. As I assemble the ingredients in the bowl, I tick these three off as if the names were actually written on each finger, knowing if I have remembered these, (assuming the yeast is active) the bread will be a success.

NOTE ABOUT YEAST: If your yeast is old, mix 1/2 cup of the warm water into it. If it bubbles and gets 'lively' after about 7-10 minutes in the water, it is working and active. If not, either you killed it with too hot of water, or it was dead to begin with; get new yeast. If your yeast is newly purchased and kept in the fridge it will keep up to a year or longer without worry.

Dough with Stand Mixer:

Measure the ingredients excluding the water into the bowl of a stand mixer, but be careful to not add the yeast directly on top of the salt (it can kill it.) Turn the mixer on low to mix the ingredients together and then slowly pour in water. **see note below

**  Water amounts vary due to air humidity and exactness of flour measurements, so as the dough mixes, wait to see if the last 1/2 cup is needed by giving the dough enough time to form and lift away from the bottom of the bowl. Add water when the dough looks too dry to fully incorporate the flour. If it gets too wet and leaves a 'foot' attached to the bowl, simply add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough no longer sticks to the bottom. Actually though...a small 'foot' of dough stuck to the bottom is perfectly acceptable; it will be a tad bit stickier to work with (but that can be a good thing when stuffing, rolling, stretching it.) This pictures shows the dough with no foot, but it is not yet smooth enough, the dough should mix until it has a smooth appearance.
Dough without Mixer:

Alternatively, if mixing the dough by hand, put all the ingredients together in a large bowl and make a well in the middle to pour in the water. With your hand, incorporate the flour 'walls' of the well into the water, working around the edges until all the flour absorbs the water. When the mass becomes unworkable in the bowl, turn it out onto a tabletop and knead it all together until it is smooth.

Once the dough has mixed in the bowl for 3-5 minutes (or kneaded by hand) it is time to let it rise. Oil the bowl, cooking spray works great for this, turn the dough over in the oil so that both sides are covered, this keep the bread from drying out. Mark a cross into the top, this will help determine how the bread is rising. 

Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place until double in size, approximately 1 1/2 hours. An alternative to plastic wrap is to cover the bowl with a damp towel or use a large dinner plate. 

Compare how the cross has been stretched and the dough is obviously at least double in size. If you think you might forget, set a timer starting at 45 minutes to check the bread and every 20 minutes thereafter until the dough appears doubled and then punch it down. 

The dough is now ready to be shaped into loaves or used in any number of recipes. This is a terrific all purpose dough. Watch upcoming PiX FiZ recipes for ways to use this dough for both savory and sweet treats.

As a rule of thumb, I typically find that most recipes using this amount of dough take about 20-25 minutes to bake at 375-degrees.

Feel free to print the picture above and add it to the inside of your cupboard door as a quick reference.


  1. Very clear (and novel!) instructions. Will have a go! Thank you.

    1. Thanks, I've been using this image in my head for years. My friends have adopted this method and say it works for them too. :)

  2. A good hand mixer should have a minimum of 6 speeds. The slowest speed is essential for the mixing of dry ingredients as it does not raise dust. best hand mixer