4 Simple Tips to Improve Homemade Bread

One of my fondest memories from my childhood is the time I spent helping my grandmother bake challah . The woman is still an artist in the kitchen and her recipe is the basis that my aunts, cousins and I all use. If you haven’t had challah before, it’s a sweet braided bread, although not so sweet as to be a dessert. This is a fairly simple challah recipe. I started baking my own in college — after I found out that, at least in the Midwest, the few bakeries which made challah managed to charge almost double than it would cost me to pick up the ingredients.

But my grandmother’s recipe is full of things that aren’t actually written down. My bread regularly fails to turn out just like my grandmother’s — it’s good, but not quite as good as hers. Every time I call her, I manage to wiggle a kitchen tip or two out of her, and I’ve managed to collect quite a few regarding baking my own bread. These tips might give you a leg up in your baking as well. They're good all-around tips for those of us who bake at home.

  • Try filtered water if your dough isn’t rising properly. If you live somewhere with fairly chlorinated water, your yeast just won’t be able to do the job. While my grandmother doesn’t think too well of suggestions to use bottled water, a filter doesn’t seem like a waste, especially if you like the taste of filtered water.
  • A little egg wash (1 egg, 1 tablespoon milk, mixed together and painted on to the unbaked dough) makes everything look better. Poppy seeds or sesame seeds can even boost a so-so loaf into something a bit more noticeable.
  • Put the dough in the oven to rise. It’s dark, out of the way, and you can make it warm and humid without turning it on. Place a deep dish below your rising dough, and pour hot water into the dish. An added note from my own experience: put tape on the handle or leave some other sign that something is in the oven — especially if you use plastic mixing bowls.
  • Never throw out stale bread. Just a little bit of staleness can actually make a slice better for French toast or bread pudding. If your bread’s gone too stale for even that, feed the birds.

Of course, my grandmother has a secret that I only recently found out: if she needs to make several loaves at a time, she sometimes buys frozen dough from the grocery store. Don’t tell her I told!

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Guest's picture

Never feed the birds with stale bread!

Put it in a paper bag in a cool dry place. Let it sit for a few weeks, then grind it up in a blender for breadcrumbs.

My husband, who was exposed to this method growing up, thought the bread would get moldy. This happens only if the place you leave it is damp and warm.


Thursday Bram's picture

I'm ashamed to say that I never even thought of that! I generally skip recipes that call for bread crumbs because I never have them on hand, but I guess I don't have that excuse anymore.

Guest's picture

Yeah, I"m gonna disagree with the bird-feeding advice. Birds need to find real bird food, not be allowed to become dependent on human hand outs. It's bad for their well-being, and bad for people that don't like to get pooped on to boot!

Maybe if you don't live in a major urban area this doesn't compute the same way, but there are laws against it in NYC for a reason...

I second the bread crumbs idea!!!

Guest's picture

We have a rule in our house for homemade bread. The first day we eat the bread fresh, the second day we have toast, the third day it gets turned into breadcrumbs or into croutons for my salad. It works out well, but rarely do we ever make it to the third day. Who can resist that yummy homemade bread :)