Saturday, May 23, 2015

Homemade Bread - The Total Package

I've always said that some of my goals with my blog are to promote family traditions, to show how vintage can play an important role in telling your family story, and how frugal living can actually improve your quality of life.  Nothing accomplishes all three of those goals at once like baking bread.

It's the total package, frugal, soulful, and delicious!

Bread Baking a Rewarding Tradition - Feeding the Soul

I can't say it any better than Meg Cox, a traditions expert states, "There is a great difference between routine and ritual. Routines are obligatory activities that require little or no thought. Rituals encompass spirit, magic, and that overused word, empowerment, to transform you to new levels of accomplishment and being."  She goes on to outline how rituals benefit children.  

Ten Good Things Rituals Do for Children

1. Impart a sense of identity
2. Provide comfort and security
3. Help to navigate change
4. Teach values
5. Pass on ethnic or religious heritage
6. Teach practical skills
7. Solve problems
8. Keep alive a sense of departed family members
9. Help heal from loss or trauma
10. Generate wonderful memories

Baking with your children or grandchildren does or can actualize all of the above.  Your children or grandchildren will take pride in saying our family makes our own bread.  Cooking and baking are a great way to use reading and math skills in everyday life.  The importance of learning and taking tasks one at a time leading to a great outcome.  It affords you time for small talk and sharing things that have happened during the week.  It's also a great time to share things you did with your parents or grandparents passing along your family story.  These are the things which unite us as families. They build and strengthen family bonds and help to create a strong sense of identity.

Another lovely thing about using bread baking as a ritual is the variety of bread recipes which are seasonal.  As everyone's skill level increases, your weekly bread recipe can change as an outward expression of the seasons, holidays and family celebrations.  Even combative siblings can find common ground in the kitchen and learn to work together.  Instill your family values, bread baking will help to create a positive family culture and build strong memories.

We love and feed each other metaphorically and literally.
It doesn't get any better than that!

Frugal Can Be Fabulous - Homemade Bread Financials

It is also affordable!  No excuses.  A good small loaf of artisan bread in my area runs about $4.00 a loaf.  So let's do the math.

I purchase store brand unbleached all purpose flour for this recipe which costs about $1.80 one bag will make about three recipes or six loaves of bread.  The other significant cost in making your own bread is yeast.  I purchase store brand yeast in a 4 ounce glass jar, each recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of yeast and each jar will make about 9.5 recipes.  The cost of the other ingredients (sugar, salt, corn meal and olive oil) is negligible but I've added five cents for sugar and salt just to keep it fair.  I've outlined the costs below.

Cost per Recipe - Makes Two Loaves

Wow!  For about $1.05 you'll get two loaves of warm crusty, chewy goodness!  That's about .53 cents a loaf!  Yes, that's a whopping $6.95 in saving every week!  Which totals over $360.00 dollars (what are you going to do with that money?) in savings a year!  Yes my friends, bread baking is frugality at it's best!

The Best Beginners Bread Recipe

This recipe is not only great for beginners, it's the closest thing to sourdough you can make without the too much tang or the sourdough fuss.  I have adapted this recipe from Jesuit Brother Rick Curry's book The Secrets of Jesuit Bread Baking.  It's the easiest, fastest (only one rise), "bestest" (ha) recipe I know.  So here we go!

Fresh from the oven.

Peasant Bread

1 Tablespoon Active Dry Yeast
2 1/4 Cups Warm Water (110 to 115 degrees)
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt
6 to 7 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour

Heat the water to about 120 degrees and pour into the bowl of your KitchenAid standing mixer with the dough hook in place.  When you pour it in the metal it usually reduces the temperature to right in the 110 to 115 degree range, but make sure it's not too hot by using an instant-read thermometer.  Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir until dissolved.  Stir in the sugar and salt until dissolved.  Wait 5 to 10 minutes to proof the yeast.  You should see a foam form on the top of the water.

Beat for 5 to 6 minutes on Speed 2 adding the flour around the edges a heaping tablespoon at a time.  Because I use the KitchenAid to kneed the bread I usually only use between 6 1/2 to 6 3/4's cups of flour (depending on the humidity).  It will begin to form a dough, but I warn you it'll look like a shaggy mess before it looks like dough.  You'll know when you've added enough flour when the dough has pulled away from the sides and has formed into ball without too much sticking to the bottom of the bowl.

Continuing to use your KitchenAid mixer on Speed 2, knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes (I usually go for the full 10) until the dough is smooth and elastic.  It will be sticky, if your hands run hot like mine, rub a little olive oil on them prior to handling the dough.

My "new" vintage crockery bowl.
Here's the vintage part!

Lightly oil the inside of a vintage crockery bowl with olive oil.  A glass bowl works, but I think nothing beats an old vintage bowl to keep the warmth surrounding the dough to give you a fine rise.

Shape the dough into a ball and place the dough in the bowl, then turn the dough over to ensure the surface is lightly oiled and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel.  You do this to keep the dough from drying and forming a skin (as Martha would say that's not a good thing).  Place in a warm, draft free place for 1 1/2 hours.

I heat a 4 cup measuring cup of water in the microwave, move it to the corner and place the dough in the microwave to rise.

The dough is ready to rise.

Once the dough has doubled in size punch it down and divide in half.  I use a plate on my shipping scale and weigh each half to make sure they are as close as they can be in size.  This will ensure you have two equal loaves which bake evenly and will be done at the same time.

After 90 minutes resting and rising the dough has doubled in size.
Shape into two round loaves and place on a baking sheet covered with corn meal.  Carve an X or make 3 horizontal slits across each loaf.  While you are shaping your dough bring the four cups of water back to boiling and once the dough is shaped and cut, pour the water in a 9 x 11 pan on a rack under the center rack of your oven.  This will make the crust at little crustier.  Make sure your are using a cold oven!  Turn the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 45 minutes or until the bread is 190 degrees with an instant-read thermometer.  Transfer the loaves to cool on a rack and let them sit for about 30 minutes before cutting.  If you cut the loaves too soon the bread will dry out.

The end result - two beautiful chewy, crusty loaves of rustic bread!

If you don't have a KitchenAid mixer all this can be accomplished by hand.  Just Google how to make bread without a mixer.  You'll find several excellent articles.  It actually looks like it's a lot of fun too!

I hope you'll consider incorporating bread baking into your family rituals.  There's an opportunity for a high return on a little investment of love and time.  Cheers!