Homemade Bread: Delicious, Quick, Easy, and Cheap

Over the years, I have typed in and emailed many recipes to friends, so I thought I’d paste them into the blog, since I got nothin else goin on up in heyah!

When I was a kid, once in a blue moon Mom would pull out the bread cookbook, and make homemade, from-scratch, cinnamon bread. Now fresh homemade bread is always good, but this stuff was like crack (except apparently I survived the withdrawals). I was thinking I’d set aside a weekend, borrow the book, and give it a try myself, you know, give my family the same rare treat I got.

Then one of the daily recommendation emails from Amazon caught my eye, with a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The user reviews were glowing. A little searching, and I found this article online where the fundamental recipe and all necessary techniques are just out there for the taking! (Talk about giving the milk for free!) I read it carefully, tried it out, and voila! As promised, Delicous, Easy, Quick and Cheap! Then I found a YouTube video, which showed me I was still working too hard (getting water to approximately 100 degrees, carefully adding yeast and flour little bits at a time in a desperate attempt to avoid clumping). And finally, I found the author’s website, which gave me even more tips and tricks (links below)!

So I would recommend to print out the article, read it carefully (through the master recipe), and then give it a try. If you like it (and you want more recipes than plain white round bread) buy a book! In the meantime, here is the wisdom I have gleaned:

  • Ingredients
    • Buy yeast and flour at Costco (or Sam’s or whatever). I started with a three-packet strip of yeast for a couple bucks at the grocery store, and that made two batches (8 loaves). Then I bought a little glass bottle on sale for $7.something, and that lasted a few more batches. Then I checked at Costco, and a giant vacuum-packed brick of yeast (was it two pounds?) cost about 5 bucks. That’s enough for probably 100 batches, probably more. It will keep indefinitely in the freezer, and probably last a year or two.
    • Similarly for flour. I think it was 3-4 bucks for a 5lb bag of flour (2 batches=8 loaves). At Costco, it’s maybe 7-8 bucks for 25lb, and I think I saw $12.99 for 50lb. The thing is that flour has bug eggs in it, and will hatch bugs if you don’t use it quick enough. UNLESS you can freeze it for a couple days. We have plastic containers we can divide the big flour bag into, fit in the freezer (taking turns if necessary), and then it should be good to sit and wait indefinitely until we get around to baking and eating it.
    • The recipe calls for unbleached, all-purpose flour (or slightly less bread flour). Costco only sells bleached, but it hasn’t given us any trouble.
    • At the prices above, I have calculated that the ingredient cost comes out at under 20 cents per loaf.
  • Equipment
    • You need a pizza stone. The website warns against Pampered Chef pizza stones, they apparently break a lot.
    • They also say you need a pizza peel (wooden megaspatula) and cornmeal to slide the dough onto the preheated stone and scoop it back out, but we have found that we can use just flour to prevent sticking, and carefully place the dough onto the hot stone.
    • You also need a bucket with a lid (with holes). If the bucket and/or holes are too small such that the risen dough plugs the air holes, the yeast exhaust isn’t able to vent properly, and the bread  takes on a bitter, beery flavor. We started with a mixing bowl with a plate on top for a while, but it was pretty messy and crusty. So here’s what you do: you go to Ralph’s and buy a 5-qt bucket of ice cream (not Albertson’s or Vons, they only sell 4-qt). If you have any trouble disposing of the ice cream inside the bucket, contact me immediately! Poke (or for a neater look, drill) some holes in the plastic lid. I made five quarter-inch holes.
    • For measuring salt and yeast, I have a 2Tbsp metal coffee scoop. The recipe calls for only 1 1/2 Tbsp of each, so I carefully measured 1 1/2 Tbsp into the scoop, and marked the level with a sharpie for easy future reference.
  • There is considerable room for slop in the recipe.
    • Salt: I found my first try of the recipe to be a little salty. Salt can be reduced to taste, without concern for any other adjustments.
    • Yeast: can also be reduced, if you account for it properly with time. Read here.
    • Flour: as they recommend, I level the six cups of flour with the back of a knife. But the last 1/2 cup I simply eyeball.
    • Water: I just take whatever warm/hot water comes out of the faucet.
    • As the recipe indicates, the initial counter rise time is not important. 2-5 hours. Or even overnight.
  • Method:
    • First I measure the water into the bucket.
    • I used to measure the salt & yeast into a separate cup and then sprinkle it in to try to avoid clumping, but after watching the YouTube video, apparently you can just dump it in and not work too hard to break up the yeast clumps.
    • I still measure the 6 1/2 cups of flour into a separate bowl, so if I lose count I can start over. I pour in half the flour, whip it into a slop for about 30sec, and then pour in the rest, and mix until all the flour is wet.
    • Sometimes when I have trouble getting some pocket or corner of flour wet, I’ll expose the dry part, and slosh a little bit more water in. It’s ok.
    • The recipe is not kidding when it says that bread can be made right after the counter-rising, but it’s easier if the bread is refrigerated. Plan ahead so you have time to refrigerate the dough overnight before you need bread, so you can avoid a sticky, sloppy mess.
    • Don’t be afraid to liberally coat with flour in order to get a lump of dough which you can shape without sticking to your hands. To form a loaf, use your (flour-coated, serrated) bread knife to cut a quarter of a batch apart from the rest of the bucket, use the knife to pull/stretch the dough out (it won’t cut completely separate) and plop it into your flour container and flip it over.
  • Ideas
    • A couple teaspoons of rosemary mixed into the dough is real good. Maybe chop it a littler smaller than whole leaves, or whiz it quick in a spice grinder.
    • For our family (5 people), we can take the regular 4-loaf batch, and make 5 slightly smaller loaves, hollow them out, and Bam! Soup in bread bowls! (Bear Creek Broccoli&Cheese soup mix is great: just add water, or “soup” it up with extra broccoli and cheese!)
  • Cost
    • King Arthur says a cup of flour is typically 4.25 oz. So a 50lb bag of flour has 188 cups, which makes about 31 batches (6c each).
    • 50lb of baker’s (bread) flour is about $15 (I think it’s $14 and change), so that’s under 48c per batch (batch=four round loaves or two bread loaves)
    • Yeast is even cheaper ($4 something for yeast that lasts through at least 100lb of flour?), and salt is even cheaper than that, and water is even cheaper than that. And gas or electricity for the oven doesn’t cost much either. So I’ll round less-than-48c-per-batch to 50c per batch.
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2 Responses

  1. Based on this post from the authors’ blog, I am now making white bread pan-loaves for school lunch sandwiches. Here are the differences from the “master recipe”:

    Bought “baker’s flour” (apparently aka “bread flour”) from Costco. Authors recommend 6.25c bread flour instead of 6.5c all-purpose flour in the master recipe.

    I have 9×5 bread pans instead of recommended 8×4, so I needed more dough.

    I scaled up the master recipe by a factor of 4/3 to these convenient measurements: 2T salt, 2T yeast, 4c water, 8 1/3c bread/baker’s flour. Mix and refrigerate dough as in master recipe. This batch of dough makes two 9×5 pan loaves.

    On baking day (i.e. after refrigerating), grease pans (Pam), shape each half of the dough into approximate pan-sized oblong and dump into a pan, cover loosely with plastic (I just lay an empty breadbag on top), and let it set on the counter to rise, much longer than the master recipe’s 40min. Try 1-2hr, you want maximum rise here to get “puffier” (less dense) sandwich bread, and try to fill that big ol’ bread pan.

    Last 20min of rising, preheat oven to only 375. Bake 1hr, no pizza stone, no water for steam.

    After baking, take out of pan and cool on rack.

    The only downsides of this for me are:

    (a) the bread is denser than I prefer for sandwiches, and
    (b) the scaled-up recipe now doesn’t quite fit in our 5qt bucket. Don’t know of any place in town that sells ice cream in 1.5gal buckets…

  2. For high-protein flour (like bread flour), you want to use less flour in the recipe. For the past few months we’ve been working off a 50lb bag of Minnesota Girl Baker’s Flour (from Costco), and I’ve had a hard time getting all of 6 1/2 or even 6 1/4 cups of wet with just the 3c water. In the end, I’m down to just 6c of flour in the regular recipe (3c water, 1.5 Tbsp ea salt, yeast), and it works fine. (Or the 1.5 recipe for two bread loaves: 8c flour, 4c water, 2T salt, 2T yeast)

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