1) If you want to speed up the rising of your bread make a homemade proofing box. simply place your bread in an oven with a pot of boiling hot water and close the door. The moisture from the water will keep the bread from drying out too much on top and the heat will make it rise faster.

2) Use as little flour as possible when shaping loaves. For most bread you should be able to handle the dough without any flour.

3) If you want a good crust on your rustic artisan bread place a shallow pan of water at the bottom of the oven while you bake.

4) Long slow rises with a small amount of yeast produces a bread with great texture and more depth of flavor.

5) Let hot bread cool at least 15 minutes before slicing. The bread will cut better.

6) If loaves are browning too quickly tent them loosely with aluminum foil.

7) To check if a loaf is done take it out of the pan and tap it on the bottom. It should sound hollow. If you have a food thermometer the temperature should be between 190°F and 205°F.

8) After the first rise to see if the dough has risen enough press into it with your finger. The dough should give way easily and the dough should not spring up.

9) There are 2 ways to develop gluten in bread. You can knead it until it is smooth and elastic (around 10 min) or you can let it rise a long time (up to overnight).

10) Cold slows yeast activity. It does not stop it. You can let dough rise in the refrigerator if you don't need it anytime soon.

11) Hard (alkaline) water weakens gluten so bread will have less volume. If your water is hard you may consider using bottled water.

12) If your dough is too dry sprinkle water on it while you knead it to soften it up.

13) Don't use expired yeast. It is a living organism and if you've had it in the cabinet for years chances are too much of it has died.

14) Always start your bread recipe with warm water (about 100°F-110°F). The warmth gets the yeast working faster.

15) Don't add to much sugar or fat to your sweetbread dough. The extra richness will slow the yeast activity too much.

16) Be gentle with the dough when shaping loaves after the final rise (not pressing it too hard). It will make for lighter bread.

17) The splits in the top of free formed loaves like French bread aren't just for decoration. They stop the bread from splitting on the sides and help it rise to its full potential in the oven. Use a sharp knife or razor blade to score the top of your free form loaves.

Follow these basic tips for successful bread baking.   

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