How to Make Savings.. I mean... Bread!
This is for my pal DM who is kinda in a pickle right now. Being a smart and capable gal I know she is going to be just fine...and a little bread baking could be just the thing to help her out.
And you too – read about the farm-o-nomics of making bread here. You'll see that making bread yourself is a great way to make savings. Hang in there, DM, and... go bake some bread and have yourself an egg salad sandwich...you'll love it!
I learned how to bake bread from the Farm Master...a lurker here known only as Bourbon Red. His instructions came in kind of a loose format so I'm documenting “how to” here with pix of the loaves I made a couple days ago. If you want to learn from folks who can explain all the science and nuances of 'how to' you can check out The Bread Bible, or A Year Of Bread Baking, or a thousand other foodie blogs.
As for me, I tend to glaze over when they start talking about glutens and autolyse … so I just do what works for me. And frankly I don't really care to take the magic out of it so no technical explanations here. If you really want to find out how its done, run don't walk, to get a copy of Marcella Hazan's exceptional cookbook: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Marcella knows how to get 'er done...and she does it old school with no apologies. Its also a great book for folks who garden as she emphasizes fresh ingredients that can stand alone.
But first, a word on yeast. I used to buy those little three-envelop packages of yeast from the store. They usually cost a little over $2 each..and this would only be good for 3 batches of bread. Then the local bulk foods shopkeeper changed my life with... Saf-Instant yeast. It comes vacuumed packed and for $3.95 I have more yeast than I could use in a year! Just store it in the fridge and let the baking begin. I found it online here but check around. Seriously, it worth the effort to find it.
Buttermilk, flour (whole wheat and/or all purpose), water
4 cups of flour (whole wheat and/or all purpose or bread flour)
1 teaspoon yeast
2 teaspoons salt
a bit more water as needed
The basic steps are easy:
Make the starter
Mix the dough, knead it
Shape, proof, then bake
But for really great bread you need more of an explanation. So here goes..
The thing about making bread in this way is that you have to plan ahead. The longer the rise time and the longer you futz with it, the better it will be. First you have to make a 'sponge' ..or a starter. I know, I know, who has time for that? Well, you do. So march in there the afternoon or night before your baking day (say tonight or how about right now) and mix together in a medium sized bowl:
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup warmish water
Cover and put in a warmish place..say the counter top. Now go and sit down, watch some TV, do whatever.. just leave it be. I've left my starter for up to 18 hours but over night is best. How hard was that? Just mix it up before you go to bed. Easy peasy.
The next morning, check it out... ahh.. the magic is starting to happen. See that its all fermenting and stuff? Very cool.
Ok now do this:
Go and get the biggest bowl you have and a big spoon. I like stainless for both. See that nowhere in these instructions are the words “turn on your food processor.” Nope, we're doing it old school with a big bowl and a spoon just like great-grandma's used to. However, to see a compelling argument for using that $300 paperweight, go check out my pal at “A Dork and His Pork” here. Otherwise, man up and do it the way Marcella does it.
Pour the starter into the biggest bowl you have and mix in a little warmish water (maybe ½ cup?) to loosen it up, then add 1 teaspoon of yeast and stir. At this point I add about a half cup of flour and then 2 teaspoons of salt. Note that you don't just dump the yeast and the salt together. If you have bread that doesn't rise.. this could be the problem. Apparently the salt can kill the yeast – so thats what you keep it separate. Who knew?
Next, mix in the rest of the flour... about 4 cups total.. but do it a little at a time. Scoop, mix, scoop, mix. When it starts to get difficult to stir you can just dump it out on your work surface. Use a pastry scraper to fold in the rest of the flour. If the dough won't take any more just stop adding flour and start kneading. You don't want the dough to be too dry or too sticky.
A note about flour: The original recipe calls for mostly white flour. But I like to use almost half whole wheat and half white flour. However, if you use this much whole wheat you need some extra umph to get that bread to rise.. or it will be kinda brick like. The folks who came up with the bread in 5 minutes a day method solved this problem by adding more wheat gluten. More magic! Who cares how – but it works. The bulk foods shop provided a bag of wheat gluten for about $1. I add about a big teaspoon of extra gluten when I do more than a cup of whole wheat flour for this process.
Back to the work surface. I'm lucky enough to have a marble topped table for my baking. I LOVE it. But you can just use your counter top. At this point you'll have to start kneading the dough. Just roll up your sleeves and get down to business. But first, Marcella says to take your dough and slap it down on the counter – how great is that? Who needs therapy when you can just knead your dough? Slap that bread! Whoot!
Kneading is really just stretching the dough out with the heel of your hand and then folding it over on itself toward yourself. Stretch, fold, stretch, fold. Its OK to add a bit of flour while you are doing this to keep it from sticking.
Part of the magic of bread making is that just about as your arms feel like they are going to fall off.. miraculously the dough takes on an elastic, shiny quality. And that is when you are done kneading. It usually takes less than 10 minutes. But if you're not sure, you're not done.
Sprinkle a bit of flour on your work surface, plop the dough on it, then turn the biggest bowl you have upside down over it. Then go and do whatever. The dough should just sit there quietly rising for most of the day. You can even put it in the fridge and then bake it in the next day. A cool place like the fridge allows for a longer rise.
Every couple of hours come back and sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough, and with your hands push down and kind of spread it out a bit. You want to deflate it, then fold it over on itself a time or two. Like this:
See how it is folded in half, turned, then in half again. Put the biggest bowl you have over it and then go and do whatever. Do this 3 – 5 times during the day. The more you futz with it, the better it will be.
About an hour before you begin baking put a pizza stone in your oven and a shallow pan underneath. Turn on the oven to about 450* and let it heat up for a full hour. You need the oven extremely hot and the heat extremely even. It if grates on you to have the oven on for so long.... use it to make something. Or season your cast iron pans.
While the oven is heating up finish your loaves by completing these steps. I really like these instructions about how to make baguettes... beautiful instructions.
1. Cut your dough into 2 equal pieces (for two batards) or 3 equal pieces for 3 baguettes.. And then cover them up with a kitchen towel and walk away for 10 or 15 minutes. Or just leave as one big ol' loaf and go directly to Step 2
2. Shape into loaves by using your hands to press the sections into a rectangle, then folding over on itself (the long way), press the ends together to seal, press out into a rectangle again, then fold over on itself again. (see the here for the best instructions and pix I've seen)
3. Roll into a loaf shape and let rest, seam side down on your baking sheets. I use the heaviest baking sheets I have and put parchment paper down first. I love the idea of using a couchette..but who has time for that? And you just get flour all over your kitchen towels. If I had the time or money I'd get the fancy willow baskets but until then... whatever. Cover with a kitchen towel and walk way for about 35 or 40 minutes while the oven finishes heating. I use this time to make dinner, load/unload the dishwasher, chase chickens around the yard, or whatever.
4.Now its time to 'slash and splash.' The only real way to get artisan bread at home is to spend $12,000 on a professional baker's oven. Instead we can fake it with our good ol' home ovens by adding steam. The 'slash' is for making 2 or 3 slashes on the top of your loaves with a SHARP knife so it cuts the loaves not pulls or tears them. The you 'splash' by (quickly and carefully) putting the loaves (on the sheets) on top of the pizza stone then adding about a half a cup of water in the shallow pan under the stone. It should be noted that if you get over zealous and throw the water ON the pizza stone it could break and stare at you accusingly.
5. Now set your timer for about 20 minutes and leave it alone. No peaking.
6. The crazy thing is.. you'll know when its done by using a food thermometer and making sure the internal temp is at least 200*! No thumping, no looking at it, nada. Just check the temperature. I just stick the cooking thermometer in one end to get a "middle of the loaf" temp.
When done remove the loaves to a cooling rack immediately. Resist all temptation and let the loaves cool before you dig in – cooling completes the baking process.
Voila – your daily/weekly bread:
How could this possibly save you any money? It saves tons of money. I'm estimating that my cost of goods is under $1 for two nice loaves that will last us the week. I use the bread for breakfast, for snacks, to make sandwiches, etc. And I just cut up the ends or if I have any left and add to a baggie in the freezer designated for savory bread puddings or dressing.
As for how to make egg salad.. go check out my pal, Drew.. he knows how Grandma used to make egg salad.