I’ve been thinking a lot about bread lately. As a child, I use to pester my neighbor Mrs. Swanson for bread and butter. Somehow, hers always tasted better than my mom’s. She coated each piece with a thick layer of butter. It was heaven to me.
My love affair with bread never ended. No matter how many loaves I bake, there’s still an excitement when I take a loaf out of the oven. I can almost hear the steam that escapes when it’s sliced. The long, cold nights in the Berkshires where I live might be one reason I have bread on my mind. Is there anything better than dunking a piece of chunky buttered bread into the bowl of soup? It’s so much better than using a spoon to get the last of the liquid.
When I owned my small 2Beans Cafe, I baked bread for the kids on a regular basis. It was something I enjoyed doing and it gave me an excuse to keep the oven on during long winter nights. Our apartment above the Cafe was frequently cold. That seemed less indulgent than using the oven to take the chill off the apartment. It was a win-win all around
Making Bread by Hand
A lot of people are intimidated by baking bread. While it may seem complicated, honestly it’s not. And it’s so much better than the stuff you buy in the store. There are dozens of ingredients even in the healthiest brands. I have to wonder if the cost reflects all the additional ingredients? Is there a need for three types of sugar in a loaf of bread?
If you’ve ever wanted to make bread but were afraid to try, I’ve discovered some easy ways to make it on a regular basis. The first way is to use a “bread bucket.” The idea is to mix up a large batch of dough and once it’s prepared, you have bread dough for the week. There are many bread bucket recipes but the one I use has only four ingredients and no added sugar. With only flour, water, salt, and yeast, you can create beautiful, artisan-style loaves. It makes enough dough for four loaves so I have it on hand when I need it. At less than thirty cents a loaf, it’s extremely affordable and so delicious.
Another way to make bread at home is with a bread machine. I know many of you might have one collecting dust. I tend to use mine more in the summer when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen. If you don’t own one, they’re easy to find. Expect to pay less than ten dollars at a thrift store or Craigslist. The recipe I use has a few more ingredients but it’s also basic and the bread machine does all the work.
Old School Bread-Tech
Last but not least, is the very best and most efficient way to make bread that I’ve found. If you can locate a No. 4 Universal Bread Maker, snatch it up. This gadget dates back to the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. It’s quite ingenious. The whole contraption is a pail with a crank on top that makes kneading dough a breeze. I’ve seen them for sale on eBay for between $20–$80. I inherited mine from my late Aunt but I found another one covered with grime at an antique store in my area. I snatched it up because it was only a dollar. I know this device is hard to come by but trust me, it is worth the effort and expense if you can find one.
To make bread dough with this device, you place the ingredients in the pail and knead them with the hand crank. Once you’re done, you place the lid on the pail so the dough can rise. When it does, you use the crank to knead the dough a second time. Then it’s ready to go. You can make more than four loaves at a time or bake one and save the remaining dough in the fridge. That’s what I tend to do.
To store my dough, I have a large Sterilite container with a lid. It can hold a whopping 7.7 liters, so there’s plenty of room for the dough to sit in my fridge until I’m ready to use it. There are dozens of recipes that can be used with this nifty device. I’ve placed a link to some recipes below if you’d like to give it a whirl.
What inspires me to make my own bread is knowing what’s in it. I want to know what I’m eating and what I’m feeding my family. It’s not quite as convenient as picking up a loaf at the grocery store. But it’s healthier, cheaper and a whole lot tastier.
No Knead Artisan Bread
- 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ tablespoons salt Any kind will do. I use Kosher salt.
- ½ tablespoon yeast Regular or rapid rise will do
- 1½ cups hot tap water NOT BOILING
- Place flour and salt into a large mixing bowl and whisk all the ingredients together.
- Put yeast in a separate mixing bowl and add hot water to activate the yeast. (Not boiling water as it will kill the yeast. Hot tap water will do.)
- Mix the flour mixture into the water and yeast.
- The dough will be a little sticky. If it’s too sticky, add a little extra flour. If it’s not sticky enough, add a little more water.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let it rise for 2-3 hours. (Make sure there is plenty of room in the bowl for the dough to rise.) It should double in size and have tiny air bubbles on the surface of the dough.
- When the dough has risen, turn it onto a well-floured surface using a dough scraper or spatula. Flip the dough over several times to form a loose ball. (You can either make one big loaf or cut the dough in half and make two smaller loaves.)
- Pick the dough up and using your hands, fold the dough underneath to form a ball until it is shaped into a round loaf with smooth edges.
- Place onto a lightly greased cookie sheet or a pizza stone. (Some people cook this dough in a cast iron Dutch oven lined with parchment paper. If find it easier to use the cookie sheet.)
- Using a sharp knife, make an X in the middle of the uncooked dough. (You can also make three or four lines.) You just want to allow the steam to escape while baking so the bread doesn’t crack.
- Place a metal baking pan into the bottom rack of your oven. (When you bake your bread, this will hold water so your dough will steam and form a thick crust.) Make sure you have one rack in the middle for your dough. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.
- While your oven is preheating, let the dough rise on your cookie sheet or pizza stone for another 30-40 minutes.
- When the oven is ready (450 degrees), add 2-3 cups of water into the metal pan on the bottom rack of the oven then place the cookie sheet or pizza stone with dough onto the middle rack,
- The larger loaf will bake for 25-30 minutes. Both the top and bottom should be a golden- brown color. If you opted to make two smaller loaves, decrease the cooking time by 10 approximately minutes.
- When it’s golden brown, remove from the oven and let it cool.