Friday, July 5, 2013

Slow is Good - a Home on the Range Primer on Baking Bread

I'm at work today, earning my daily bread, so I will leave you with a little lesson in making your own.  The tasty variety.  While picking up a loaf of bread the other day at the store, I paid attenton to the price. It has gone up significantly in the last year, as have most other foods.

I use up to a loaf a week, sandwiches for lunch, french toast, a base for stew, toasted and smeared with roasted garlic alongside roasted veggies or pasta.  I tried to do the low carb thing once and was ready to take hostages at a dunkin donuts by day 3.  I'm fine with salads and roastsed veggies with my meat, but I missed toast with my bacon and eggs.

But everything in moderation.  Still, thinking as to the cost, I wondered - ow much does it cost to bake a loaf versus buy. Using the best quality flour (I love King Arthur for breads, White Lily for biscuits, pancakes and waffles) and getting your yeast in bulk you can bake a loaf of bread (baking two at a time in the oven to reduce fuel cost) for a little more than a dollar.   If you buy cheaper an/or bulk flours, you'll save even more. Artisan breads in the store cost up to  $4-5. For myself, baking two loafs (freezing one) rather than buying a loaf of the fancy bread saves me over a couple hundred dollars a year).  That's just one person.  With a family, over time, that adds up!
But if you won't eat it you won't save anything. My bread was good, but Midwest Chick makes the best bread in the world, a sweet white bread that makes up awesome sandwiches and toast. One day, she showed me how to make it and unlike her "I love you but if you share this they will never find the body" brownie cookie recipe, this one I can share. (late day low light didn't make for the best pictures but you get the idea).

Measure out six cups of flour. (King Arthur bread flour was used).  Flours are different, and some brands may require less or more than the recipe calls for, some, for products like biscuits,  give a taller, more tender product (using soft wheats). I am just telling you what I've had good luck with, but you may have excellent luck with another brand that is less expensive. It's something you just learn over time.
In a very big bowl dissolve 2/3 cup white sugar in 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F. or 45 C.).  If you don't have a thermometer, test it on the inside of your wrist like you would baby formula.  If it's too HOT it will kill the yeast and your bread won't rise (door stop anyone?).  If it's too COLD you have the equivalent of yeast "shrinkage".
Stir in 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast and allow to proof until the yeast resembles a creamy foam.  (8 minutes normally)

While the 8 minutes winds down, melt 1 and 1/2 Tablespoon butter in the microwave and set aside.  When the yeast is ready, mix 2 teaspoons salt and that butter into the yeast.

Add flour, a cup at a time,  stirring with a wooden spoon.  When almost all of the flour is added the batter will look stringy like thick elastic, and want to slide off the spoon. Add the rest of the flour (but gradually, so you use only what you need) until it's too thick to stir.

Remove the dough to a clean floured board or surface and knead it by pushing with the palm of clean, dry hands.  After each push, bring the dough back towards you, gather up the sides and push again watching that you don't poke holes in it with your fingers.

 Add flour to the board to keep it from sticking but not too much, or the dough will be dry.

The more you knead, the finer texture your bread will have, but you also don't want to over work it.

Knead it til it's becoming silky smooth and doesn't stick to your hands.  If it's "shaggy" looking, doesn't hold a shape or tears,  it's NOT ready.

Almost there.
If you're not sure, shape it into a ball, and let it sit 15 minutes.  If it holds it's shape without starting to spread out like a pancake it's probably ready.

Place in a well oiled BIG bowl and turn to coat both sidesCover with a clean, damp kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place free from drafts until doubled, about an hour. You want a temperature of about 75 degrees F.  If the house is chilled, I'll turn the oven on for just a few seconds, then turn it off, to get it a little warm and put the bread inside. watching though that it's not too hot or your bread will be course textured.
You can also let it raise in the sun, on the counter. but don't let it get more than 80 degrees. 

Now go find something to do. It's quiet, you've got an hour. Go commune with nature. .
Or check on your emergency supplies. . .
When it is doubled in size, remove dough from its resting place,  perfect
Now, punch down the dough with a fist andshape and place into 2 well oiled loaf pans. We actually got a third, smaller loaf out of these out of this batch , but remember, it will rise during baking so don't overstuff your bread pan. You definitely should get two well sized loaves out of this recipe..
Time for some fun with that third loaf.
We added some crushed red pepper, cracked black pepper and Parmesan and slightly kneaded it in. You also could do fresh or dried herbs or garlic. Then, a little bit more fresh shaved Parmesan was sprinkled on top after we brushed all of the tops with another Tablespoon (or as needed) of melted butter before that final raise.

Allow to rise for 1 hour, until double and about an inch above the pans. (OK, these weren't all exactly the same size, Yeungling may have been involved).
Bake  at 350 degrees  F. (175  C. for my Canadian friends) for 30 minutes.  For the most part, the crust should be dry, very firm, and a deep golden brown. If the crust is  pale, give it a few more minutes.You can also  use a thermometer. Bread is done baking at 190°F. Just stick a cooking thermometer in the bottom of the loaf to gets its temperature.

Remove from oven and remove from the pans as soon as possible.  (Letting it cool in the pan may result in the bottom of the bread being a bit soggy).
The pepper Parmesan bread was perfect  with dinner that night.
The remainder, as I said, world's best sandwich bread and toast (especially with Amish Bacon from Beef Mart)

Thanks Midwest Chick, for the recipe! I hope you all try it, the kneading takes a little practice but it's fun, relaxing, and the bigger your family, the more money you will save over 20 ingredient store bought bread. If the room or the water are too cold or hot and it doesn't rise like expected bake it anyway, it will make great bread pudding or croutons. If it doesn't rise AT ALL, well, there's not much you can do but launch it at a hippie with a trebuchet or bury it.  But with these hints, hopefully that won't happen.

Some other Range tips:  This has no preservatives.  If you're not going to use it in three days, keep it in the fridge.  For small households the bread itself freezes well in a plastic bag sealed tight .  When you remove it to thaw,  let it thaw in the bag without opening. Opening the bag while it thaws adds moisture to the bread you do not want.


  1. Homemade bread is so good! I find that by having only fresh ground whole wheat flour, I get denser loaves, but very tasty. Now, if you do end up with a brick instead of a loaf, you can always slice it and toast it, smear it with honey butter and you won't notice it didn't rise.

  2. I can smell it baking now....

    And that last picture of a *real* breakfast has me drooling!

  3. Ah yes! Homemade bread is the best.

    I have found a white (and whole wheat) flour that I feel is superior to King Arthur, and it is from Wheat Montana in Ennis Montana.

    Website here:

    Now you didn't say it in your article, so I will; If a person has one of those infernal bread machines, they should take it out and use it for target practice. They make a really inferior loaf of bread compared to the ones that you knead, rise, knead. and rise again. Besides, there is something therapeutic about kneading your bread dough.

    Enough of my babble. Have a wonderful weekend!


  4. I seriously wish I had a fridge full of Yuengling. I'm paying folks in Georgia a bunch just to ship me a case every now and again, because they won't sell it in Wisconsin. :(

  5. Yum, homemade bread. No comparison to the store bought stuff. One thing I always do is, when it is hot and fresh out of oven, take a stick of butter and rub it over the top of the loaf. It flavors the top of the crust and makes it a little softer. I am just going to have to make some now. Take care.

  6. Monkeywrangler - now I want toast again.

    drjim - a bowl of corn flakes just doesn't compare.

    idahobob - I will check out their flour, thanks. I gave my bread machine to Amvets, it was OK, but near as good as made by hand.

    Gewehr98 - you can't get it where I live either. You might remember the Hamms Bear? Well, I have the Yeungling Mule, who brings me some from Pennsyvania once or twice a year.

    RichD - I may have to make more this weekend. I'm going to try and come up with a recipe I can back in my French enamal oven.

  7. With store bought bread, the taste disappears with every price increase too.

    Got this bookmarked.

    A problem I have is with thermometers. I can't seem to find one for the oven that's accurate to make sure the oven's temp is correct. And I'm forever searching for an accurate needle thermometer to check food temps with. (I can use 3 different ones in one place and all will give different temps.)

  8. Wow... that looks good... especially with the BACON!

    Dann in Ohio

  9. If you buy your flour in 50# bags your cost will drop to less than half of what Brigid quotes.
    Next time you are by the cafe I'll give you some of my starter.
    folks, I bake for a living. this is a good recipe/process to follow.

  10. No question it's MUCH better than store bought or that 'artesian' stuff from the stores...

  11. Wow. I just woke up and you have my mouth watering. Great pictures. Very nice post. Thanks for the delicious ideas.

  12. Hi, Brigid,

    If you don't give me the Brownie Cookie recipe, I will tell her you DID!

    This only worked once, but I thought I would give it a try!

  13. Hey, if you have a disaster and make a hard lump, don't throw it at a hippie. Instead, break it up into crumbles and feed it to the chickens. They will not complain, and the eggs they make reduce the cost even further.

    If you are into adventure, try to capture a wild yeast, which you can then keep in your fridge, feeding occasionally, for ever. You'll never have to buy Fleishmann's again, a further savings.


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