I have nothing against store-bought bread. I have been baking my own for so long, however, that my family and I are used to the taste of the real deal. My kids call store-bought bread “square bread”, and think it’s a little strange.
I started out baking my own bread, because all of my children were living with a dairy allergy. Nearly every brand of bread at the store has some kind of milk in it. The ones that didn’t, I did not consider healthy enough to feed my family, or were just plain expensive. My kids have now all outgrown the allergy (woot!), but I continue to bake our bread.
Our local specialty store has a wonderful bakery,and makes all kinds of artisan breads. A loaf of 10 grain bread, made only with grains, yeast, honey, salt, and water, ran us $5 per loaf. We typically would go through 2 loaves a week. It seemed insane for bread made with so few ingredients to take up 10% of my weekly grocery budget. Surely it was not that hard to make it?
We received a bread-maker for a wedding gift, but it bakes a weird, squat little loaf, and the paddle at the bottom gets stuck in the loaf, making the last few slices unusable for sandwiches. It always overcooks the bread, making the crust too hard. We only really use it on the dough setting, for pizza and focaccia doughs.
At one point, I stumbled upon the Prudent Homemaker‘s blog, and saw her bulk grain storage system, and her homemade french bread, that only costs her 25 cents per loaf. I was able to make her french bread recipe, it was a hit with my family, and I have been baking my own ever since.
After a lot of practice, I wouldn’t call myself a bread making expert, but I am more than a novice. It’s really not as difficult as it looks, and I heartily recommend giving it a try. I now make a version of this Sandwich Bread most often, and I spend between $0.25-0.75 per loaf, depending on the recipe and price of milk.
I thought I would share my process to help demystify it a bit.
Bread at its most basic is made from flour, yeast, salt, and water. The French Bread I linked above is made from those ingredients.
I myself now prefer to make my bread with milk. It really makes the dough easier to knead (important for folks like me who have arthritis), and the crumb tends to be softer.
I use bread flour (higher gluten content, so it rises better), honey (to feed the yeast), salt, olive oil (I’m Sicilian, so I replace the melted butter in the recipe with olive oil), yeast (bought in bulk from Sam’s), and milk.
I throw my salt and all but 1/2 a cup of my flour in my giant stainless steel bowl, and then proof my yeast.
This basically means I dump the yeast, honey, and oil into a cup with the warmed water, give it a quick whirl, and then let it sit there until the yeast looks bubbly and foamy. This tells me my yeast are live, and my bread probably won’t fail to rise. Hint: Do not throw the salt in there too or you will have dead yeast.
Once that happens, I give everything a mix in the bowl with a wooden spoon. It will be pretty sticky still, but shouldn’t be wet.
I then toss everything onto my counter, where I have dumped the last half cup of my flour. I start kneading the dough on the flour, and it will change from a disheveled pile to a cohesive ball.
You should be easily able to stretch and fold this ball. If it’s sticky, add a wee bit of flour, but not too much. Too much flour will make a stiff dough, and a stiff dough will have a hard time rising. The rise comes from the air bubbles made by the yeast, so imagine those air bubbles trying to lift something heavy and awkward. Not going to happen!
Eventually (5ish minutes for me), I am done kneading, and I stretch the dough into a ball and put back in the bowl. Cover with a damp (but not soaking wet!) cloth, and set aside to rise. You don’t want to get it cold, so put it away from drafts. I put mine in my unheated oven and set the timer for 40 minutes. Feel free to run around working on other things- no need to watch it!
When your timer goes off, it’s time for your second rise. I shape mine into a loaf, stretch the sides down and pinch them together at the bottom. This will help stretch the gluten, and therefore help the rise. I put my loaf pan into the microwave to let it stay away from drafts. Technically, you should cover it, but I never really do. After about 50 minutes, I peek and see if it’s puffed up beyond the edge of the pan. If it has (and it usually has), I bake it in the oven with a pan of water on the lower rack. That will help steam your loaf.
Once out of the oven, I cool in the pan until it is touchable, and then plop it out on a towel upside down, to let the moisture dissipate from the bottom. When it’s cool enough to slice, I slice on a plate, so I can scrape the breadcrumbs into my bread crumb freezer bag (don’t waste anything!). Wrap it in plastic and use within a couple days, because homemade bread has no preservatives, and will get stale and mold a lot quicker than store bought bread.
You can always keep a loaf in the freezer and thaw later, or even slice and thaw a couple slices at a time. Frozen bread will taste fresh when thawed.
If your kids are like mine, and refuse to eat end pieces, I grind in the Ninja to make breadcrumbs, and add them to my bread crumb bag in the freezer.