These tips were written for my bread students who have had the benefit of hands-on instruction. If you have trouble making good rustic bread, take a bread making class to learn proper dough handling techniques.

Make dough in a stand mixer:
Use the beater paddle (not the hook) to combine ingredients and mix the dough. The machine is very efficient and will accomplish this task much faster than you can by hand. Fortunately, using the machine will not detract from the quality of your finished product but may even enhance it by developing the gluten better than you might have by hand.

Use warm ingredients and equipment:
Chances are your pantry or cupboard is cooler than your kitchen. If you plan on baking the next day, set out your flour container and mixing bowl on the counter the night before so they are at least at room temperature when you go to use them.

Rise in a warm oven:
While rising too fast is not the goal, sometimes you need a little help, especially when making yeast breads in the winter. Turn on your oven for just a minute or two and bring it up to 100˚F and then turn it off. An additional benefit of rising in the oven is that it prevents cold drafts from affecting your rising dough. Another technique is to place a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven which will gently take the chill off the interior. Some high-end ovens even have a “proof cycle” built right into the controls that hold the oven at the proper temperature for rising yeast breads. Look for this feature the next time you shop for a new range or oven.

Rise on a heating pad:
You can use this trick if your oven is already too hot from another task. Set the heating pad on the counter and turn it on to a low setting. Place your ceramic mixing bowl (covered with a layer of plastic wrap) on the pad and then drape a towel over the top to keep in the warmth. Check the temperature of the bowl; it should be just barely warm and not hot to the touch. If the bowl is too warm, put a towel under it so it is not directly on the heating pad.


Rise overnight:
This is perhaps one of the best ways to save time on baking day. Get started the night before, and let the dough rise in the refrigerator overnight. This process is often used by artisan bakers to improve the complexity and flavors of their breads. A long gentle rise is generally preferred to a fast or forced rise. If using this tip with a dough containing milk, be sure to scald or use UHT (ultra-high temperature) milk for best results.

Try making dough in a food processor:
Just understand that the food processor is so efficient, the mixing and kneading process is accomplished in a matter of seconds instead of minutes. You can over-knead using this trick, so start by reading the manual that came with your machine for guidance. There are also several books that focus on this technique; check your library. This is not recommended for light-duty or belt-driven machines; if the manual covers making dough you can give this a try. A food processor can actually generate enough friction that the dough is warmed during processing so pay attention to the recommended temperatures in the manual or book.

Choose a better recipe:
When you find yourself in need of bread for a meal and are short on time, it is usually better to choose a bread designed for speed than to artificially force one into compliance. That’s why this book contains recipes for corn bread, banana bread, skillet bread, and biscuits.


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