Grocery stores utilize myriad strategies to trick customers into purchasing more than they truly need: playing depressing music, putting the kid-friendly food at kid-eye level, hiding the milk all the way in the back, etc. Add to this the fact that the average food shopper ends up throwing away 12-percent of the food they’ve purchased due to spoilage and you’ve found a money-exploding minefield.
It therefore makes sense that we spend less money when we limit our grocery trips. I, for one, used to spend an additional $50/week on those “just a couple of things” grocery runs, but fortunately I found a way to curb both my trips to the store –primarily for milk and bread– and my spending. I started baking my own bread.
INVESTMENT (TIME AND MONEY)
When I started baking, it was an experiment. I had a 30-pound bag of flour in my basement that my mother-in-law bought us when Glenn Beck was fanning the flames of apocalypse. Turns out, it’s pretty inexpensive to bake your own bread when you already have a whole lot of flour. If you don’t have a 30-pound bag of flour in your basement, you can purchase whole-wheat and all-purpose flour pretty inexpensively; it typically works out to $1/pound or less. A three-pack of yeast costs about $2. If you start baking bread a lot, I recommend buying your ingredients in bulk for greater savings. I bought my loaf pans at a yard sale for $0.25/apiece.
Baking bread takes time, sure, but most of that time is during the rising process and baking process; very little hands-on work is required. I spend about 20 minutes at the beginning to mix and knead the ingredients, then it rises for 90 minutes, then I spend about 15 more “active” minutes out of the next four hours.: the time it takes for both halves of the dough to do a second rise and then bake in the oven. I work from home right now so this schedule fits well with my life, though I’ve whipped up some bread on the weekends when we’re home doing projects.
I don’t use a breadmaker because I don’t have one, because it would take forever to make four loaves of bread in a breadmaker, and because the breadmaker loaves are about half the size of each of my loaves.
My go-to bread recipe is modeled after one published in “Freezing and Canning Cookbook: By the Food Editors of Farm Journal” (1963). It appealed to me because I could adapt it for whole-wheat bread, it didn’t require molasses, and it makes four loaves per batch. Here’s how I do it:
Lynn B. Johnson’s homemade whole-wheat bread
- 3 pkgs. active dry yeast (one strip of three packages works great)
- ½ C warm water (just hotter than your skin temperature)
- ½ C sugar
- 1 T salt
- 1/3 C melted butter
- 5 C water
- 8-9 C all-purpose (white) flour
- 8-9 C whole-wheat flour
- 2 or 4 loaf pans (9x5x3)
- Sprinkle dry yeast over warm (110-degree) water. Don’t make the water too much hotter than your body temperature or it will kill the yeast.
- Combine sugar, salt, melted butter, and water in a really large bowl (5 quarts is great). Stir in 4 C all-purpose flour and 4 C whole-wheat flour. Add yeast. Add enough of remaining whole-wheat and all-purpose flour (8-10 C total) make a stiff dough that cleans the bowl when you stir.
- Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until smooth and satiny. This can take 5-8 minutes or longer. When the bread is fully kneaded, it won’t stick to your hands. If the dough feels a little dry, wet your hands and then knead it. You can also knead your bread dough in a stand mixer on the “stir” speed with a bread hook, but do it in two parts so the dough doesn’t get gummed-up in your mixer motor.
- Once your dough is kneaded, wash, dry, and grease your big bowl with butter. Put your dough in the bowl and then turn it to bring the greased-side up. Cover with a towel or some cling wrap; let it rise in a warm place (80-85 degrees, if possible – I put mine on top of the dishwasher while it’s running, or in the sunbeam of a window, or on top of my refrigerator) until the dough doubles in size: about 90 minutes.
- Punch down the dough in the bowl, and turn out onto a floured surface. Divide the dough in half. Set aside half back into your bowl to rise again if you don’t have four loaf pans. Divide the other portion in half. Shape each half into a smooth ball and let it rest for 10 minutes. Grease two 9x5x3 loaf pans. Shape each ball into a loaf shape and put into a pan. Grease the top lightly with softened butter or shortening; cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Half an hour into the rising process, move an oven rack to the bottom level, and then turn on your oven to 400 degrees.
- After the dough in the loaf pans has doubled, bake in a 400-degree oven for 40-50 minutes. Immediately turn loaves out of pans onto a cooling rack. Cool thoroughly.
- Rinse your loaf pans with cold water. Dry them and grease them with butter, then punch down your other portion of dough and repeat the divide/rest/shape/rise/bake process.
- Makes four loaves. Wrap or package loaves individually as soon as they are totally cooled. I like to wrap mine in aluminum foil and put them in the freezer until I’m ready to use them. Then, when you need a loaf of bread, take it out of the freezer the night before to defrost. Keep the bread wrapped during the defrost process, and re-wrap it tightly each time you use it. Zippered-freezer bags are good for keeping bread fresh, so long as you squeeze the air out each time you close the bag.
While it would take less time to run to the store, such a trip for one thing inevitably ends up in $30 spent from my pocketbook. My homemade bread has less air in it, so the loaves are denser and therefore more filling and last longer. Plus, I know exactly what went into it. Four loaves of my bread typically last for about a month. Before, when I bought bread from the store, we’d go through a loaf every four days.
The results are so very tasty — plus, it makes the house smell like fresh baked bread. Yum.