Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Staff of Life

It's not secret that my very favorite food is bread of any type. As I've been working less hours and spending more time with my granddaughters, I'm taking the time to bake our bread to help keep the costs down.

I get a lot of comments from people that make me laugh. Things like "I didn't know you could do that at home, I thought only bakery's could do it..." and "Doesn't it cost more to make your own?". The answers to both are a resounding NO. (Insert obligatory smiley emoticon here.)

It's been a couple of years since I costed out baking it myself, but the last time I did it was about $1 to $1.25 a loaf depending on what type I make. I think the cost of flour has gone up, but otherwise, it's still pretty close. Considering that a loaf of bread that is of the quality that I want to eat is between $3 and $4, I think I'm coming out ahead even with my labor costs. And that being said, I've never felt like it was work and less so since I've started using my Kitchen Aid Mixer** to knead it instead of doing it myself.

I usually use the method outlined in The Tassajara Bread Book**, by Edward Espe Brown. He utilizes a sponge which consists of water, yeast, a sweetener, dry powdered milk, and about half of the total amount of flour needed for the number of loaves being baked. I use the paddle attachment from my Kitchen Aid mixer to beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes.

I am fortunate in that I have an older oven with a pilot light so it is the perfect proofing environment for my bread. I let it proof for about an hour covered with a sheet of plastic and a kitchen towel. If it goes longer, it will develop the flavor and you will taste more of the fermentation than you would normally.

After it proofs, salt, oil is mixed in and then the rest of the flour. I knead it for about 5-7 minutes with the kneading hook on medium speed. If I knead by hand, I will make a smoother and less sticky dough, but with the kneading hook I can keep it somewhat wet which I prefer. It seems to make a better sandwich bread if I do.

I then turn the dough out into an lightly oiled bowl, turn it to coat all surfaces and cover with plastic sheet and towel as before. The first rising is about 50 minutes, or until doubled. You will then need to punch down, or "de-gas" it. I do this by pushing the ball of dough flat with the heel of my hand, and then folding over the dough, turning it and repeating a few times.

Let rise a second time, this time it will take about 40 minutes. After punching down the second time, divide the dough into the number of loaves you plan on baking, You can roll out with a rolling pin, but honestly, it takes the same amount of time and the same results to just push it out with your hands into a roughly rectangular shape. Roll into a log, pinch the seam to seal and put seam side down in an oiled or greased bread pan.

I use stoneware loaf pans.** I LOVE them. I get an evenly browned crust and they are so easy to clean.

Cover as before and let rest for 20 minutes. Bake them in a preheated oven for about 45-60 minutes depending on your oven. (Mine takes 45.) They are done when the crust is browned and they sound hollow when you thump them on the bottom. (Just tip them out of the pan to check, if they aren't done, tip back into the pan and put back in the oven.)

End to end, it takes about four hours to bake bread, but only about 20 minutes of active time. I usually start it first thing after breakfast and the loaves are done and ready for sampling by lunchtime. I usually bake two loaves at a time, mainly because I have a very small oven and that's all I can fit.

My mother always baked bread when I was younger and I still remember the smells and how wonderful it was to have a slice of fresh bread with butter and honey as an afternoon snack. Bread is the staff of life - it's versatile and comforting. Not many things can fulfill us in the way bread does.

**Affliate Link