Wednesday, January 20, 2010


How much would a loaf of bread have to cost before you'd quit buying bread?

I've been chewing on that one for awhile now. Regular, inexpensive wheat sandwich bread is about $1.50 here, and I buy two loaves each week (we eat a ton of sandwiches, as Hubs takes one for lunch each day and usually Daughter and I each have one, so that's 6 slices minimum per day). I buy that because it's relatively cheap and convenient, but I would rather have better. However, the in-store baked good stuff, like honey-oat-apple, and hearty multigrain, costs about $4 for a small loaf.

$4! For a loaf of bread! Our grandparents and great-grandparents would just barf. Gosh, even our parents remember when bread cost a nickel.

If bread can go from a nickel a loaf to, on average, say $2.50 for a decent loaf of wheat, what will the price get to in our lifetime?

Now, I'm not one of these peak oil activist types, and I hang onto the hope that we will continue to have enough fuels to keep things humming, but I am enough of a realist to know that things aren't getting any cheaper. The cost of fuel affects EVERYTHING. As oil and gas continue to rise in price, all our goods and services will as well. It costs the farmer more to produce the crops, costs the truckers more to haul the wheat to the mill, costs the mill more to process the grain, then again costs the truckers to haul the flour to factories, etc, etc.

So maybe a better question is, how expensive does gasoline have to get before you quit buying bread? If bread is $5 per loaf will you buy it? How about $10? It could totally happen. Our grandparents probably couldn't imagine bread going from 5 cents to well over $3 for some loaves. How about if gas itself costs $5 or more per gallon? How many trips would you be willing to make to the store each month?

I'm guessing fuel prices will continue to rise. Prices of goods will rise as well, and that quick run to the supermarket to grab 3 or 4 things will start looking like a bad idea. Inflation is likely, and we are already seeing wages stagnate while prices rise. Just watch the nightly news and you'll see it.

My plan is to slowly move my family away from total dependence on the supermarket. I've been simply devouring blogs about growing, processing, and storing food lately, and it is certainly feasible, though a lot of work. But I don't like feeling that I would be totally lost if for some reason the supermarket became inaccessible to me.

I want to build a small raised garden this summer and grow some lettuces, tomatoes, maybe cukes, some peppers, much as I can with my extremely limited knowledge and experience. And I am going to make bread-baking a part of our daily lives around here.

I am blessed to have a kitchenaid mixer. Oh, thank heavens for this amazing machine.

My dad, who taught me most of what I know about yeast baking, buys high-gluten flour in 50lb bags. He splits it with me, and we store it in these old cookie containers. They are perfect for the job - not too heavy. I combine flours - about 2 cups of this, and 4-5 cups of unbleached AP flour or a blend of AP plus whole wheat, depending on my mood.

We purchase yeast from our club store (BJ's) in a two-pound double pack for $3.69, and take one pound each. I use the supermarket brand shortening (generic Crisco) because it doesn't affect the flavor (I save my real Crisco for pies where you'd notice). I buy the huge can and keep it in the fridge to prevent rancidity.

It takes maybe 5 minutes to mix up the ingredients, including heating the milk/sugar/salt/shortening mix on the stove. The dough hook on the kitchenaid makes short work of kneading, but if you don't have a powerful mixer with a dough attachment, this can certainly be done by hand. You must knead for 8-10 minutes if by hand, while the machine can do it in about 5-6 minutes.

After kneading, you simply put the dough in a greased bowl (I use cooking spray), cover it with a clean white flour sack towel or something similar, and then cover/wrap the bowl all snuggly-wuggly in a blanket to keep the dough warm.

Kneading is also a great job for kids. Here I am enslaving my daughter - this is after the first rise. We have knocked the dough down and are preparing it for the pans.

Plunk the bread into greased pans - this recipe makes two loaves, but I split it into one loaf and 6 rolls to use for our dinner of french onion burgers tonight - and allow to rise again. This is at the end of the 2nd rise. You can see how high the loaf has risen above the edge of the bread tin.

After 30 minutes in the oven, you'll be rewarded with the lightest, most delicious bread you've ever eaten. Makes the storebought stuff taste like pasty cardboard.

Who wouldn't want a burger on one of these babies?

I couldn't stop myself from splitting open a still-hot roll and loading it up with sweet, fresh, salty butter. SO GOOD. Actually, so far I've eaten that and two slices of the loaf.

If I can do this in the nice weather, and then run out back for some lettuce and other salad supplies from the garden, then all I have to keep in the freezer is meat. I can reduce my need to load up my grocery cart! I can spend less money! This bread recipe costs about 50 cents, I think.

And making bread is not as time-consuming or difficult as most people believe. It is experiencing a resurgence in my generation that makes me so, so happy. What a great thing, to be able to create this basic staple for your family, free of preservatives and mystery ingredients. It does take practice to get a good, light loaf with a good crumb. I used to make really sh*tty bread! But with practice and patience (can't rush the rise!), I've gotten pretty good at it. Oh - you can even use a bread machine just for the mixing and kneading, but I recommend baking in the oven in real bread tins.

Tomorrow, my birthday, is to be a baking day. On the agenda: pumpkin bread (to use up some canned pumpkin I opened last week), english muffin loaves (so delicious, and waaaaaayyy cheaper than buying english muffins), and cookies if time permits.


Basic White Bread

1/2 c milk
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp shortening (can use butter or marg)
2 packages active dry yeast (mine is bulk, so I use about 2.5 Tbsp here)
1.5 c warm water (105-115F)
5-6 c AP flour (or a mix)

Heat milk, sugar, salt, and shortening in a small pan over low heat until fat melts and sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl (mixer bowl if using a mixer). Add milk mixture and 4.5 cups flour. If using mixer, attach dough hook and mix about 1 minute.

Continuing to mix, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and mix until dough is slightly sticky to the touch. If using a kitchenaid, dough will cling to hook and clean sides of bowl.

Knead about 5-6 minutes by machine, or 8-10 minutes by hand, till dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in greased bowl, cover, let rise in warm place for about 1 hour or till doubled.

Punch dough down and divide in half. Shape each half into a loaf (or rolls if desired), and place in greased bread tins. Cover, let rise in warm place about 1 hour or till doubled.

Bake loaves at 400F for 30 minutes - if top browns too quickly, loosely cover with foil. Bake rolls for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.


There are a gajillion recipes and resources related to breadmaking on the web. I'd be happy to try and answer any questions anyone might have. Please do let me know if you try making bread!


Louise said...

Right on. We've been making a lot of bread (and pizza dough) around here lately, too. Such an easy way to save some money. I'm also digging the way that the old traditional methods of home-keeping are coming back into vogue, including sewing, cloth diapers, etc. Your bread looks yummy!

Shari said...

Somehow I previously missed this post:)
I make alot of bread, rolls etc. Today I made Italian bread shaped into sub rolls for sandwiches.
Nothing beats homemade bread!