The Economics of Bread

When I first moved in with my brother, money was tight.  I mean really tight.  So tight in fact that one day at the grocery store I decided that paying $5.39 for a loaf of non-sugary-starchy bread was ridiculous.  Instead, I spent $3.99 for a five-pound bag of flour and $1.69 for a 3-pack of yeast.  I had the sugar, butter and water at home.  I pulled out my well-worn copy of The Joy of Cooking and the practice of making weekly bread at home was born.  (Actually, we don’t eat a TON of bread and the recipe makes two loaves so I only make it twice a month.  One loaf goes in the bread basket for eating right away and one goes in the freezer for the following week.)

I’ve discovered that King Arthur Flour really is the best flour to use (everyone was grateful when I made the switch from all purpose flour and we could stop using the three-day old bread as a doorstop) and I use a mixture of white and whole wheat flour.  I’ve also discovered that humidity and temperature play a HUGE role in the consistency of the final product.  The warmer and drier it is, the lighter and fluffier the bread is.  I’ve learned to counteract these factors three ways:  1) allow the yeast to dissolve COMPLETELY before adding the additional ingredients; 2) add the sugar, salt, melted butter and water in that order; and 3) on colder days, allow the bread to rise on the stove while I work in the kitchen. (The additional heat generated helps to warm the room.)  Or turn the oven on a low temperature (about 200 degrees) during the last hour of rising.

Whenever I tell people that we haven’t bought a loaf of bread at the grocery store for almost two years I’m met with a mixture of awe and suspicion.  (AND to top it off – I don’t use a bread machine?)  What kind of person would spend all that time making bread?  Isn’t that a little Amish-like?  Am I planning to join a commune?  Do I really have so much time on my hands?

Actually, I usually enjoy the bread making process.  Aside from the kneading – which really tones the triceps – it isn’t all that time-consuming.  The smell while it’s baking is unprecedented and nothing tastes better on a cold rainy day or a dusky summer evening than a slice of fresh-from-the-oven bread covered in whatever Jackie’s Jams spread we have in the pantry.

And so I give you my slightly modified Joy of Cooking bread recipe:

Combine in a large mixing bowl or int eh bowl of a heavy-duty mixer and let stand until the yeast is dissolved – about 5 minutes:
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
¼ cup warm (105 to 115 degreed F) water

3 cups bread flour
2 cups warm (105 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Mix by hand or on low speed for 1 minute.  Gradually add ½ cup at a time until the dough is moist but not sticky:
3 to 3 ½ cups bread flour (if using whole wheat flour, substitute 1 cup white for wheat)

Knead for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on low to medium spped until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Transfer the dough to a buttered bowl, (I like to use butter and butter my loaf pans – 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch – at the same time) cover (I use a dry dishtowel) and let rise in a warm place (75 to 80 degrees) until doubled in volume 1-1 ½ hours.  (I’ve found that it can take up to 2 hours depending on the temperature and humidity.)

Punch the dough down, divide it in half and from 2 loaves by rolling the dough.  Place seam side down in the pans, cover loosely and allow to rise another 1-2 hours.

When the loaves have doubled in volume, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Bake the loaves for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake 20-30 minutes more.  (The loaves should look hard and sound hollow)  Remove the loaves from the pans and cool on a wire rack before storing.

3 comments on “The Economics of Bread

  1. Susan Weisberger
    November 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Although I love Jackie’s Jams I can’t keep driving to Vista Cal. from Sedona Az. to get a jar. Sooo my next favorite warm bread topping is cold butter (of course I am one of the butter sister) and peanut butter. ymmmm!

  2. Kaci
    November 1, 2010 at 6:35 pm #

    I’m so excited to try your bread recipe 🙂 I love making bread, but I’m with ya on the door-stoppers. I’ll be checking to see if I can find your flour here in Canada.

  3. Liz
    November 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    I tried your recipe today…I messed up the flour amount (my bad) and so my loaves look like quasimodo bread, but my friend swears they taste good…I am going to write this off as my trial run, and next time will be bread perfection!

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