Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Monday, March 15, 2010

How to Make Savings.. I mean.. Bread

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

The starter
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
Let rise
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:

2 cups whole wheat flour OR 1 cup whole wheat plus 1 cup bread or all purpose flour
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.


Chai Chai said...

I'm sure you think this is easy, I may have to read this a few times to get a better idea of the process.

I laughed out loud when you finished with the cost analysis. I was sure this was a huge money loser yet you proved me wrong.

A side bonus is that I'm sure it makes your house smell wonderful.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

The 'how to make baguette' guy estimates his cost of goods is $0.43!!! And we're lucky if the local grocery store sells them 2 for $3! Honestly, once you get the process down it just becomes part of your day. And the house smells like heaven....

basicliving@backtobasicliving.com said...

Thanks for that King Arther link - I'm going to get the starter going tonight and make those stuffed baguettes for lunch tomorrow! They look yummy! Because we don't usually eat a whole lot of bread, I typically freeze half the dough to bake later after I've kneaded the first time.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

hey B2B! great idea about freezing it.. I keep thinking I should do this with pizza dough.. but then I end up making a 'breakfast pizza' the next day. Oh hey - I'm heading over to your blog to see if you have pix of your new goaties..

basicliving@backtobasicliving.com said...

I freeze the pizza dough as well - works great. No goat pics ....... yet...... but (crossing fingers, toes, legs, and eyes) ..... despite the fact that it's rained the past 3 days, I *should* be getting the goats Saturday morning... quick! Knock on wood!!!!

Mimi said...

Bread baking is wonderful. I love it.

Don't forget the other cheapie benefits of homemade bread. Free breadcrumbs and croutons made from day old bread. You can use it as the base for things like stratas or bread puddings. But the very best thing...the dough can be flattened out and made into pizza saving you tons of money!

Bread is super frugal once you start looking at all of the possibilities.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

B2B - hope its this Saturday! You'll love them. BTW, you deck looks incredible!

Mimi - you said it... home made pizza is a breeze and really cheap. Thanks for the reminder about the bread crumbs..home made are so much better. I got a bucket of crumbs from the store and they are like cardboard. Ick.

Sally said...

There is absolutely nothing better than fresh baked bread covered in butter! YUM!

Anonymous said...

LOL, slap that dough! :)

I have Marcella's book too. I love her gorgonzola sauce.

You reminded me that I DO need to start making baguettes, instead of just boule. We love to eat bruschetta, so we usually cheat and buy the baguettes.


Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

I really should start doing this for my everyday bread, not just special occasions.

And by the way, I just noticed you've got some new goats. So how long until you start making goat cheese?

Ohiofarmgirl said...

hi Drew! Yep, once you get into the swing of it, the bread baking is just one more thing that becomes part of your day.

Thanks for asking about the goaties. Here's the details:

But the short answer is - I'll need her to be up to full milking speed... so at least 6 weeks out.

PJisaMom said...

Yeah.... so I've been reading this particular instructional guide for the better part of the last six months... you know, gearing up the courage to try it. And since I'm accused of being a bit "farmy" lately, I told the husby and kidlets that it was time. Milk and eggs being in the works... time to tackle the fear of the rising bread. Um... buttermilk? Yeah, bought the cultured stuff at the store... added my 1 cup bm (er.... buttermilk), 1 cup warmish water, 1 cup King Arthur organic white flour and 1 cup King Arthur white whole wheat flour. (Side note: If you've never set foot in THE King Arthur store front in NH, totally worth the pilgrimage to the mecca of all things bakey... yes, BAKEY.)

Point is... my "starter" at precisely 13 hours, 45 minutes and 16 (uh... 17... 18...) seconds looks nothing like yours.

I did throw a paper towel loosely over the top...

Steer me right OFG... for I am deflated... or about to be!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Hey PJisaMom.. is it bubbly at all? I'd go ahead and try it but add a bit more yeast. See if it rises, at this point you don't have anything to loose.

I'm guessing it got cold during the night. I use plastic wrap pulled tightly. Or you could use a plate to cover the bowl.

You're doing great! Give it a whirl and let me know.

PJisaMom said...

Dearest OFG,

No bubbles. At all. So I forged ahead anyway. Added a bit extra yeast. It's now hiding under a bowl. My arms have fallen off, so I'm typing this with my nose. Will keep you abreast of the final results.


PJisaMom said...

And the moment we've all been waiting for... drumroll, please.... WE HAVE BREAD, PEOPLE!

Well... I *think* that's what it is, anyway...

I split the massive blob into two smaller blobs and sort of shaped them. Set for 10 mins, then shaped better... or so I thought. They aren't very pretty, and are very dense, but rose well and seems to be cooked through. I did *not*, however, achieve a 200* interior reading... I got about 180, max, but the outside was screaming to be let out of the oven, so out they came.

The only question I have is about the water bath thingy. I don't have a straight metal low-edge pan... I have a round, dark nonstick one... which smells something awful when left in the oven for an hour heating up... so I switched and used a round small edged stone filled with 2 cups of hot water... but I also have sort of a "convection" oven (it's got a blower in it, so not a "true" convection, but that's what it wants to be called...)... so I'm a bit lost as what to do with all that jazz.

I also didn't have any parchment paper, so the floured underside went directly on the stone.

The verdict: husby and kidlets were happy with it and kidlet #1 wants some for toast in the morning...

So... with a little refinement, I think we have a winner!

Thanks OFG!

Ohiofarmgirl said...

GREAT WORK! See? Its not so bad. Once you get used to the process you'll be loafin' with the best! Whooot! And nope - you dont want to use that nonstick pan for the water, it will just ruin the surface. Some folks use a cast iron skillet.


PJisaMom said...

Ok, ok... I know I keep going back and resurrecting this "old" post, but seriously... *have* to tell you the details... I've made this bread no less than 5 billion times, and my dh *loves* it... LOVES it! They aren't very pretty and I usually forget to slash the top, but *oh well*! I have also found a "white" bread recipe that the kid will eat. I've even made sage fontina foccacia and I'm a regular make-your-own-bread convert!

Just wanted to say "Thanks" for the tips and the step by step... totally worth it!!!

PS... Chickens in place, have one actually giving me eggs... can't wait till they all start laying! The garden is in and goat is going to have babies soon... The dog is just keeping tabs on it all...

Ohiofarmgirl said...

Just wait until you make your first meal - ENTIRELY - from your yard! Yay you!!!! And excellent work on the bread - doesn't it just change your life? Do you walk by the bakery aisle now and snicker to yourself!?!? Thats the way to get 'er done baby! YAY!!!!!

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