A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the routine our family uses to make our own yogurt. Once we got that down, the next obvious (and more intimidating!) step was bread-making. While the process is definitely more complicated when it comes to number of steps (and timing those steps correctly around 2 exuberant kiddos!), baking bread for our family has not been nearly as difficult as I initially thought it would be. (And I have never been known for my baking skills…so if I can do it, literally anyone can do it!)
My first few attempts were a lot of trial and error, as it took me a while to find a recipe that fit all of my requirements. I wanted to use 100% whole grain AND wanted a nice, tall sandwich loaf…that of course tasted amazing. The first batches tasted great but always came out flat – way too “short” for sandwiches. Then I found a recipe that rose nice and high but was so fragile it crumbled into a million pieces whenever I tried to use it. Finally I settled on this recipe. I’ve tweaked it a little – I use applesauce instead of butter, sometimes maple syrup instead of honey, and use liquid whey whenever I have it on hand (I end up with a lot after making ricotta cheese.) The result is a beautiful soft bread that is both delicious and nutritious. And now that I’ve gained some baking confidence, I’ve had a lot of fun branching out into other bread-making endeavors for special occasions – breadsticks, soft pretzels, burger buns, etc.
Ironically, our family actually doesn’t eat a ton of bread. Between all 4 of us we probably average only 2-3 slices per day during the week. On weekends we are off climbing we’ll eat more because we pack sandwiches for lunch. So considering our consumption level as well as the fact that my recipe makes two loaves, I really only end up baking bread every couple of weeks or so.
Here’s how we make it work:
1. Start Early (or the night before.) If I’m doing all of the steps in one day, I start early in the morning. The yeast can be proofing while I fix breakfast, and the kneading process (I use a stand mixer) can be going on while we finish eating and Big C gets ready for school. (What’s even easier is to prepare the dough the night before and let it do it’s 1st rise overnight in the fridge.)
2. Good Timing. If I can get the 1st rise going by 8 or 8:30, that means bread is coming out of the oven just before Baby Zu and I have to leave to pick up Big C at preschool. (If the dough is already in the fridge, I just take it out and shape it when I wake up, then let it rise again…it’s usually ready to put in the oven by 10/10:30.)
3. Slicing. I received a bread slicer for Christmas, which pretty much took my bread to the next level. Slicing the bread into thin, even slices is a breeze. (Before the bread slicer, I had trouble cutting pieces thin enough for sandwiches without getting crumbs everywhere.)
4. Flash-freeze. Fresh, homemade bread only lasts a few days on the countertop, so I only leave a handful of slices out. The rest goes in the freezer. Before packaging them up, I lay all the slices out on stacks of parchment paper, then stack them together on a cookie sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This flash-freezing method adds a step, but it’s worth it to me because it keeps the individual slices from sticking to each other when I just need to take one slice out at a time.
5. Freezer Storage. I package the bread by wrapping stacks of 4 slices in cling wrap, then putting the stacks in whatever plastic storage bag I have on hand – I really like using old plastic bread bags and those thin plastic produce bags from the grocery store, but if I’m running low I’ll just pop them in a ziploc bag.
6. Thawing. If I make a sandwich for Big C out of frozen pieces in the morning, they will be ready to eat by lunchtime. If I want to eat a piece right away, I just toss it in the toaster oven. It may sound weird that we often eat frozen bread, but trust me, when it’s packaged up right away, it still tastes super fresh (and WAY better than storebought!)
I haven’t taken the time to do a cost analysis, so I don’t know exactly how much each loaf costs me to make, or how that compares to storebought bread. My guess is that it would be about the same or slightly less than a decent whole grain bread at the grocery store, but significantly cheaper than a comparable sandwich bread from a local bakery. What I do know, however, is that for a reasonable price I’m providing my family with yummy bread that is chock full of nutritive value, with zero fillers or preservatives.
Does this mean we’re going to be bread snobs and ONLY eat our own bread from now on? Definitely not. I’ve given myself permission to back out and toss some Nature’s Own into the grocery cart whenever I need to. But with every loaf I make, that storebought bread looks less and less appetizing, and the more spoiled we get! Does anyone else bake their own bread? I’d love to hear what routines work best for other families.