Better Times Cookbook | Justpeace | Better Times |
Access to Energy Conservation | On Pilgrimage in Oklahoma City

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Many people think baking your own bread is somehow complicated.
But bread baking was invented a very long time ago. So, how difficult can it really be? It takes less of the cook's time than getting into the car, driving across town to a grocery store, standing in line, and buying a cheap loaf of inferior bread.

There are about ten million different recipes for bread, so we're just going to talk about the basics. One of the fun things about baking bread is that even if you make a mistake, the result is usually so much better tasting than anything you buy at the grocery store that everyone will think you are a genius. Bread making may not be the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but it isn't making nuclear bombs and destroying the rain forests either. It is a way to add a lot of value to the quality of your life, with just a little effort and planning.

Frugal HINT: If you bake a lot, buy yeast in quantity at a bakery supply store or large warehouse store. It is a LOT cheaper in bulk than the little packets sold in grocery stores. (Those packets run a buck or so for about 3 tablespoon fulls, and a 4 ounce bottle is $4.50 or more. But I just bought two POUNDS of yeast at a warehouse store for $2.50!)

Making Bread is easy as one-two-three-four! A basic summary showing how easy it is to make your own bread. Read the "Your Basic Bread Recipe" below for more detailed instructions.

Your Basic Bread Recipe

This kind of bread takes more time than the "Quick Breads", because it has to "rise", but the actual involvement of the cook is about 15-20 minutes, max. Bread is basically liquid, flour, oil, and yeast. The various possible combinations of these ingredients produce the various kinds of breads. Once you understand the Your Basic Bread recipe, which is based on my own grandmother's recipe, feel free to experiment.

Begin by measuring into a large mixing bowl 1 cup of warm water -- and the emphasis here is warm, not hot, about the temperature of a baby's bottle. Add 1 tbsp of sugar, stir to dissolve. Add 2 tbsp of yeast (or two packets). Sprinkle the yeast onto the top of the entire surface of the water, so the little yeast buds are all moistened. Let this sit for about five minutes. The yeast will begin to bubble and form a foam on the top of the water. What's happening is that the little "yeastie beasties" are busily going to work, doing what they do. It's called a bloom.

Add 3 tbsp of oil or melted (and cooled) shortening or margarine, 1 cup milk, 1 tsp salt (or less, depending on personal taste), and 2 more tbsp of sugar. Mix well, add three cups of flour and stir 50 times clockwise, and then 50 times counter-clockwise. At the end of this step, when you dip a spoon in the batter and raise it out of the bowl, the batter kind of strings its way off the spoon back into the bowl.

Add another 3 to 4 cups of flour and mix until the dough forms a good ball, coming away from the sides of the bowl. (You may need to add a little more flour.) Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and let it sit for ten minutes (if you are in a hurry, you can skip this waiting time.) Knead the dough five to ten minutes. The more kneading, the nicer the crumb and the texture of the bread. The dough should be just a little bit sticky. If it is too sticky, however, sprinkle with flour during the kneading process.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

To knead the dough, flatten the dough and fold it over, pressing on it with your hands. Turn the dough sidewise and do the same thing. Flatten, fold, press, turn, flatten, fold, press, turn and so on and so forth. Get the kids involved here. You can say the Lord's Prayer while you do this, and build a little rhythm. If you do this, you will find that at the end of the kneading you will be experiencing a marvelous feeling of inner peace and happiness. (It really does work.)

When you have finished kneading the bread, roll it into a big round ball and put it in a greased bowl, rolling the dough around in the bowl so a thin film of oil covers the dough, and cover the bowl with a cloth or paper towels. Say a little prayer and thank God for this bread.

Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour. It should double in size (that's those little yeastie beasties doing their job). "Punch down" the dough. That is, make a fist and press it right into the middle of the dough. It will deflate. That's OK. It's what it's supposed to do. Let it rise again until almost double, for about another 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into two equal parts and let it rest for 10 minutes. Shape into loaves and put into pans. Let it rise again, until sides of dough reach the pan and the top is well rounded (30 minutes to 1 hour). Be sure to grease the loaf pans first. (Shortening is best for greasing any baking pan.)

To make dough into loaves: flatten it into a rectangle. The width should be about an inch longer than the length of the pan, the length should be about 12 inches. Fold dough in half lengthwise. Flatten into a rectangle about 15 inches long and five inches wide. Press down on dough with hands. Fold in thirds by overlapping the ends. Press with your hands. Fold toward you, 1/3 of the way at a time, pressing on each fold with the heel of your hand, so it is making a round cylinder. Roll back and forth. Seal each end by pressing with the edge of your hands. Smooth the loaf with your hands so it is even. Put in a nine inch loaf pan with the edge down.

Bake the loaves at 425 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes. The loaf pans should not touch each other or the sides of the oven. To test for "doneness", tap the crust, it should sound "hollow". It is doesn't, bake a few minutes more.

When done, immediately remove the loaves from the pans. Set on wire racks or across the edges of the loaf pans so that air can circulate around it. Let it cool at least 20 minutes before slicing and eating. Do not skip this step. If freshly baked bread is sliced too quickly, the inside remains damp and "doughy".

Some other tricks for bread making include: Brush the baked loaves with melted margarine or butter after removing them from the pan, to make a soft, tender crust. To make raisin bread, add one cup raisins to the dough when you knead it. For whole wheat bread, use half whole wheat flour and half white flour.

Variations: For sweet roll dough (such as for making raised cinnamon rolls), increase oil or shortening to ½ cup, increase eggs to 2 eggs, increase sugar to ½ cup, use 1-1/2 cups milk, reduce water to ½ cup. Make into desired rolls after the second rising. For Dinner Rolls, prepare as sweet rolls, use less sugar, use 1 cup water and 1-1/4 cups milk. Dinner rolls bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Form dinner rolls by rolling dough into small balls (after second rising), let rise a half hour, then bake.

If you are baking for your weekly needs, freeze anything you aren't eating right away. Use good freezer bags. Allow about 3 hours to thaw a 1 pound loaf of bread. Slices of frozen bread can be toasted in the toaster without thawing. Frozen rolls and biscuits can go directly from the freezer to the oven. Heat in a slow oven (275-300 degrees) for 10 to 15 minutes.

For Refrigerator Rolls, after first rising, put in refrigerator in tightly covered air-tight container. When you want to bake rolls, take some dough out of the container, form into rolls, let rise in a warm place, then bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.

For Crescent Rolls, after first rising, divide dough in half. Roll each half into a circle, spread some melted margarine over the dough. Cut like a pie, and roll each piece up starting with the large end first. Let rise double, bake at 400 degrees until golden. Variation: in addition to margarine, spread dough with some kind of filling, roll up, let rise, and bake.

For another type of bread or hot roll dough that keeps particularly well in the refrigerator, add 1 cup mashed potatoes to the water and yeast, increase sugar to ½ cup.

Cinnamon Rolls

Sweet roll dough -- sugar -- cinnamon -- melted margarine

Roll sweet roll dough into a rectangle, spread with melted margarine, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Roll up and pinch seam to close (sometimes it helps to dip your fingers in water as you pinch the seam). Cut into 1 inch rolls. The best way to do this is to slice the dough with a thread or dental floss. Holding the string in both hands, slide it underneath the roll of dough, then cross your hands so the thread pulls through the soft dough.

In a 9 X 13 inch pan, mix together the following: ½ cup margarine (melted), ½ cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons Karo white syrup. Coat the bottom of the pan with this mixture. Set the cinnamon rolls in the pan (don't crowd them). Let rise for 30 minutes or so. Bake at 350 degrees until done, about 20 to 25 minutes. This makes a cinnamon roll with a crunchy caramelized bottom. If you don't want the crunchy bottom, just place rolls in a greased pan to rise and bake. When you make this recipe, be sure to double it, or you won't have any left over to have with your coffee the next day.

Making Bread is Easy as One-Two-Three-Four!

1. Put 1 cup of warm water plus one tablespoon sugar in a mixing bowl. Add two tablespoons of yeast. Let sit for about five minutes.

2. Add three cups of flour, 1 cup of milk, dash of salt, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and 3-4 tablespoons of oil or melted (and cooled) margarine or shortening. Stir 50 times clockwise, and then 50 times counter-clockwise.

3. Add another 3 to 4 cups of flour and mix until the dough forms a good ball. Turn dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and let it sit for ten minutes. Then, knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes.

4. Let rise in a greased bowl for about an hour (it should double in size). Punch down the dough. Let it rise again for 30 to 45 minutes. Divide into two equal parts and shape into loaves. Place in loaf pans and bake at 425 degrees for about 25-30 minutes.

Better Times Cookbook | Justpeace | Better Times | |
Access to Energy Conservation | On Pilgrimage in Oklahoma City

For much greater detail about my plans for adapting my "urban homestead" to meet the looming challenges of peak oil, climate instability, and economic irrationality, see Gatewood Urban Homestead, the permaculture design for my home.

New Blog from Bob!
- the politics of local food, the local food cooperative movement, and the practicalities of using local foods in the kitchen.