I consider bread to be it’s own food group. I know it’s not, but that’s just how much I adore bread (as long as it’s not sourdough or rye). Once I figured out how to ratio bake bread, the only thing that’s ever stopped me is the weather. See, bread needs warmth to rise properly, which shouldn’t be a problem in Southern California, but it’s managed to thwart me an insane number of times over the past year.
Nevertheless, I have persisted, even it means I have to crank up the heat or turn on the oven to the lowest temperature setting possible. I’ve perfected the bread my family enjoys, both with a crusty crust and a soft, pliant crust. And now I’d like to say making bread from scratch is really easy! As long as you remember you have bread rising somewhere.
The Ratio: 5:3, Flour to Water
The ratio for bread is 5:3, flour to water, plus yeast plus salt and sometimes plus sugar. The ratio made my head spin for a while because I’m not math inclined, but, when working with the 1 teaspoon of yeast per pound, or 16 ounces, of flour, it was a lot easier.
I don’t like working with decimals or fractions or, really, anything that doesn’t have nice round numbers, so I decided 15 ounces of flour was close enough to 16 ounces. I could easily divide 15 into 5 equal groups of 3 and then multiply that 3 by the 3 in the ratio to get 9 ounces of water. Then it’s just an addition of a teaspoon of yeast, about 0.3 ounces of salt, and sugar (if you’re proofing the yeast, otherwise it’s not necessary unless you’re going for a bread with some sweetness).
No matter what amount you choose, the rules hold. The ratio is 5:3. If you’re similarly befuddled by math, just tack on an invisible 1, select an amount for that 1, multiple that amount by 3 and then 5, and you should get the amount of flour and water you need. Then it’s just 2% of the weight of the flour in salt and 1 teaspoon of yeast per 16 ounces/1 pound of flour.
The Ingredients: A Bare Minimum
Bread requires a bare minimum of ingredients. Flour, water, yeast, and salt.
For more than a basic bread, you can, of course, add things. For brioche, you’ll need butter and eggs, and sometimes sugar if you want a sweeter bread. For an herbed bread, you’ll need the herbs, of course.
I haven’t tried bread with other flours, but I believe the ratio should hold up, so just about any kind of bread can be made with this ratio. I’m sorry, but, if you’re looking for sourdough help, I won’t be able to help as it’s one of two breads I really do not like.
Water is not strictly necessary, but you do need a liquid. I’ve used milk and evaporated milk to make brioche and haven’t had any problems. Yeast packages will say to mix the yeast with some sugar and warm water, but, as long as you’re reasonably sure your yeast is active, just water will do. I usually use cold water and haven’t had any problems. But don’t use hot water as that might actually kill the yeast.
As I mentioned, you’ll need a teaspoon of yeast per pound of flour. It does not need to be proofed, but, if you’re not sure if it’s still active, you might want to proof it. About 5-10 minutes should tell you if it’s still usable.
It’s really simple: just flour, water, yeast, and salt.
Mixing Method: Easy, And Easy to Forget It’s Rising Somewhere
Making bread is time consuming because it requires a decent amount of time to rise. Mixing the ingredients is quite easy and kneading is just as easy if you have a mixer and a dough hook.
You can do this one of two ways. I’ve noticed subtle differences, but it’s not so great that you should absolutely use one over the other. I have two little kids, so I try to be as quick as I can in the kitchen and limit the number of things I have to clean.
The first method I use is just dumping the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl and letting the dough hook mix it together before adding the water, letting it mix, and then go right into kneading 5-7 minutes. The bread tends to be a bit denser, but it’s still delicious.
The second method involves dumping the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl, mixing it not with the dough hook, then adding the water and mixing it without the dough hook until I get a sticky dough. Then I’ll let the dough hook do the kneading for me for about 5 minutes. The bread tends to be springier and lighter.
After kneading, the dough needs to rest in a warm place until it’s risen to about twice the original amount. I usually lightly coat my mixing bowl with olive oil and cover the top with plastic wrap.
After rising, punch it down. Now you can shape the dough and prepare the oven to somewhere between 350 and 475 degrees, depending on what kind of crust you want. Or you can let the dough rise again. My husband really likes the air pockets, so I usually let it rise another hour or so.
Baking: Depends on the Crust You Want
If you want a crusty crust, go with a baking temperature of 450 or 475. The inside will be soft and the crust will be hard. Bake for about 30-45 minutes. One way to check if it’s done is by tapping the bottom and listening for a hollow sound, but it’s not always easy to tell if the sound is hollow enough, and turning out a hot loaf in a hot pan to check the bottom is just plain hot. You can also look for an interior temperature of 190 degrees.
If you want a softer, thinner crust, go with a baking temperature of 350 or 375 for about 30 or so minutes. You’ll also want a lower baking temperature if you’re baking a richer bread or one with lots of sugar. Again, listen for the hollow sound when tapping the bottom or check for an interior temperature of 190 degrees.
Let the bread sit in the pan for a few minutes and then turn it out on a cooling rack. My kids are impatient, so we always eat hot bread, but it’s easier to slice when it’s cooled. Which is why I usually make small rolls.
And that’s it! I hope this makes ratio baking bread easier. For more guidance or just to laugh at my first attempts at making bread, check out my Adventures in Ratio Baking: Bread post.