Before having kids, I would often daydream at work about all the things I would have time for as a stay-at-home-mom. I would go hiking, start a garden, take naps, and learn to bake bread from scratch. Now that I'm "living the dream", I've realized that I could have been enjoying fresh-baked bread all along. It's really not that difficult, and the health benefits and cost savings make it well worth my time. I bake all of our sandwich bread, dinner rolls, tortillas, hot dog and hamburger buns, and pizza dough. Now that I've been doing it for nearly two years, I've developed a pretty easy routine that I thought I would share with you. I'm not going to describe how to bake bread, as I am not in any way qualified to do so, but I will link to some of my favorite recipes and resources.
We usually go through two loaves of sandwich bread a week. We use it for toast, sandwiches (obviously), garlic bread, or a simple snack dipped in olive oil or spread with butter, jam, or Nutella. The most hands-on time consuming part of baking bread is assembling all of the ingredients, so every two weeks, I get everything ready for four loaves of bread. I start a double batch in my stand mixer and assemble all of the dry ingredients for another double batch in a freezer bag. I bake two loaves that day and store one in the freezer for later in the week. One week later, I already have a "kit" for another two loaves ready to go.
Baking a loaf of bread takes about three hours from start to finish, so it can easily be done in an evening. The basic process starts with about 15 minutes kneading the dough, 90 minutes rising, shaping the dough into a loaf, another 45 minutes rising, and finally about 30 minutes baking. That sounds like a lot of time, but really, it's only a few minutes of hands-on work (especially if you have a stand mixer or bread machine to do the kneading!).
I started off baking bread with nothing more than one bread pan. I kneaded by hand and used store-bought whole wheat flour. Eventually, I borrowed my parent's bread machine to do the kneading for me. Over the past two years, though, I have made two major purchases that I LOVE. Both are rather expensive items but well worth the initial investment because I use them all the time and they should last for many years. (Plus, if you consider that my bread costs about $0.50/loaf to make, and store-bought whole wheat bread goes on sale for about $2.50/loaf, I've already saved about $416 in the two years I've been baking bread, not even counting the other bread items I make).
- Grain Mill: Whole grain flour goes rancid very quickly, but you can preserve the most health benefits by grinding your own flour immediately before use (which is why I keep the dry ingredients kit in the freezer). I bought a WonderMill Electric Grain Mill ($269.95). It's fast, quiet, and easy to clean. I can grind whole wheat berries (or any grain, for that matter) into regular flour, bread flour, or pastry flour.
- Stand Mixer: This is a new addition for me. We bought a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer (about $250). I prefer a stand mixer to a bread machine because I am able to knead dough for two or more loaves at once. Of course, I use this for cookies and other treats, too!
Since we go through bread ingredients rather quickly, I've found a few great non-grocery store sources that save money in the long run:
- Wheat Berries: I buy whole white wheat berries from the LDS Cannery (LDS is an acronym for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You don't have to be LDS to visit a cannery; just ask an LDS friend, like me, to take you). For a great explanation on the subtle differences between white wheat berries and red wheat berries, check out the blog Food Storage Made Easy. In a nutshell, white and red wheat are the same nutritionally but the white berries have a milder texture and taste, making your flour seem more like white refined flour. A 25-pound bag only costs $5.80!
- Vital Wheat Gluten: This stuff is expensive at the grocery store. I buy it online from Honeyville Grain.
- Yeast: Those tiny jars (or worse, envelopes) of active dry yeast are also really expensive at the grocery store. Costco sells 2-pound packages of yeast...I forget the price, but I'm pretty sure it was about the same as the 4-ounce jars!
- For sandwich bread, I usually make King Arthur Flour's 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread. I love the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook, which also includes great recipes for Oatmeal Sandwich Bread and Sprouted Wheat Sandwich Bread (plus TONS of other great whole grain recipes, including sweets!).
- Whole Wheat Hot Dog Buns: You will never eat another store-bought hot dog bun again, I promise!
- Perfect Pizza Dough
Have I mentioned my favorite benefit to baking my own bread? It makes the entire house smell DELICIOUS! The best air freshener around!