Want Quality Bread Without Paying High Prices? Bake Your Own
When it comes to bread, your options aren't limited to purchasing pricey, high-quality, whole-grain goodness or buying a half-stale dollar loaf full of high-fructose madness from the clearance aisle.
You can actually inexpensively make your own nutritious, delicious bread at home. It's not as intimidating as you would think, and it's a great way to spend quality time with your kids -- not to mention fill your home with the amazing smell of fresh baking.
Will it actually save you money? Yes -- you could save between $1 and $4 a loaf, depending whether you usually purchase conventional or organic bread, according to Mother Nature Network. That’s a serious savings for your grocery budget.
Ready to give it a try? Here’s how to bake bread at home.
Step 1: Find a Recipe
First, decide what kind of bread you would like to make. Are you looking for something to slice up for sandwiches? If so, consider a yeast-based bread, such as white or whole wheat.
This basic bread recipe requires just six ingredients, and makes two loaves of perfect, golden bread that is great for sandwiches (see step four for instructions). Or, opt for a whole wheat sandwich loaf with this recipe.
But there's no need to stick to traditional sandwich-bread recipes. Consider whipping up some banana nut bread or cinnamon raisin bread for breakfast or snacks. Better Homes and Gardens also has an extensive list of their favorite bread recipes, from double-decker pumpkin bread to chocolate-zucchini bread.
Step 2: Collect Your Equipment
Take a few minutes and read through your recipe closely to figure out what equipment you will need.
Of course, you will definitely need an oven. Check out what kitchen supplies you already have on hand, and see if you'll need to pick up mixing bowls, a whisk, loaf pans, measuring cups and spoons, a kitchen thermometer, or any other items you don't have. Thrift stores are a great place to find inexpensive kitchen supplies, as long as you don’t mind that they might not match the rest of your collection.
If you like bread making and want to make it a regular habit, consider adding a breadmaker to your kitchen ensemble. Once, I was able to find a working breadmaker in good condition on FreeCycle without paying a penny. Also, be sure to check Craigslist, thrift stores and local Facebook garage sale groups. Many would-be bakers change their minds and sell or give away their lightly used breadmakers dirt cheap.
Step 3: Purchase Your Ingredients
If you're planning on baking bread as part your regular routine, consider buying ingredients in bulk. Costco, Sam's Club and other bulk stores often have excellent deals on flour, salt, sugar, yeast, oil and other basic ingredients.
Also, check your local supermarket for deals, especially around any “baking holidays” (such as Thanksgiving and Christmas) to stock up on inexpensive staples.
However, take care to read expiration dates (especially on the yeast) to make sure that you have a good chance of using it while it's still good. For perishables, such as eggs and milk, check the weekly supermarket ads, keep an eye out for coupons, and take advantage of cash-back rebates.
Be sure to repackage bulk goods to keep them fresh. For example, once you open a 50-pound bag of flour, make sure to repackage it and keep it in a cool, dry and dark place. The refrigerator and freezer are good places to store flour, though sealed containers are key to keep it from absorbing any odors or flavors. Typically, plan on using flour within a year, though this handy guide shows you the shelf life of some common flours (as well as storage considerations).
Step 4: Brush Up on Your Basic Bread-Making Techniques
These three key techniques are important to master so you can turn out quality loaves of bread. Spend a few minutes acquainting yourself with these techniques to make things run smoothly once you start baking.
Working With Yeast
Don't be intimidated by working with yeast. Many new bakers are worried they’ll accidentally kill the yeast, and their bread won't rise. However, that doesn't have to happen.
Be sure to have a good kitchen thermometer and make sure the liquid you’re mixing with the active dry yeast is at the correct temperature (typically 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit).
Here are a few tips from The Kitchn on working with yeast, including ways to tell if your yeast is still fresh.
After you sprinkle flour on your work surface, place the dough on the floured surface. Now you're ready to knead the dough.
This YouTube video demonstrates basic techniques for kneading, including pushing the dough into itself, folding it in half, and turning the dough, flouring when necessary, until it is smooth, silky and elastic (usually after about 10 minutes of kneading).
Test for Doneness
How can you tell when your loaf of bread is done and ready to eat? It should generally be a deep golden-brown color, without any wet spots.
Test a sandwich loaf for doneness by taking it out of the oven, removing it from the pan and thwacking the bottom of the loaf. If the bread is done, it should sound hollow. Breakfast loaves will typically be more moist and have different doneness tests. Check the recipe to be sure.
Step 5: Get Baking!
Now, you’ve selected your recipe, collected your equipment, purchased ingredients and brushed up on techniques. It's time to turn that pile of goodies into delicious, aromatic bread. Let's go back to the basic bread recipe from step one and get baking.
- 1 package (¼ ounce) active dry yeast
- 2 ¼ cups warm water (110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit)
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 6 ¼ – 6 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- Dissolve the yeast in warm water in a mixing bowl.
- Add sugar, salt, oil and three cups of flour to the yeast and water, mixing until smooth.
- Slowly add more flour until the mixture forms a soft dough.
- Roll the dough onto a floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Put the dough in a greased bowl, rotating to make sure all of it has a thin coating of oil on its surface.
- Cover with a clean cloth, place it in a warm location, and let it rise until doubled (about 1 ½ hours).
- Punch dough down, then divide in half.
- Place each half in a greased 9×5 inch loaf pan.
- Cover again, place in a warm location and let rise until doubled again (30 to 45 minutes).
- Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
Keep it Fresh
Since your homemade bread doesn't have the preservatives found in store-bought bread, it can spoil faster. You can always pop a loaf in the freezer (or refrigerator) to help it last a little longer.
Also, be sure to store it in a sealed bag, with all the air squeezed out, or another air-tight container. Enjoy!
Your Turn: Have you tried baking your own bread?
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.