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Bake Your Own Bread Challenge

Bread is something we try not to put a lot of thought into and just grab what is on the shelf. If we actually put a little effort in though, fresh bread can elevate even the most common sandwich, and can save us a lot of money plus improve our health. So, lets take a closer look at bread, and how we can make our own with very little effort and only a fraction of the cost.

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Bake Your Own Bread Challenge

by zirbirt

Most of us use bread in one form or another. Unfortunately many seem resigned to using the chemically infused bland stuff that comes from the "bread aisle". There is little worth eating in that aisle, but it's easy, so it becomes the basis for what we think of as bread.

We all love the smell of fresh baked bread. We all love the texture and very few can resist the urge to bite into a nice piece of fluffy warm fresh baked bread. Bread, when freshly made can be incredibly intoxicating.. but it can also amp up some old favorites in amazing ways.

With a good bread in hand, French toast goes from a slimy thin blech to a hearty delicious meal. Common sandwiches start to feel like something you would get in a high dollar restaurant, and bread pudding all of a sudden is something you WANT to make.

The average family consumes 4-6 loafs of bread a month. The average commercially produced loaf of bread is about $3. Which means, the average family pays up to $200 a year for a bread like substance so full of preservatives and moisteners that really its little better than eating school glue. It is bland, the texture is gross and it is not something really worth eating, but it is convenient.

Now many of us have made the switch to bakery bread. This is much better, and does have more flavor. I don't think anyone can argue the difference between bakery bread and packaged commercial bread. We know bakery bread is much better... but it is also a lot more expensive. You can expect to at least double the cost of bread, and sometimes triple it, if you plan to switch to bakery bread.

The thing is, bread is REALLY easy to make. It does not require a bread machine, and though a stand mixer with a dough hook makes it even easier, you don't even need that. Yes, rising time is a consideration, but really, you can do anything while your bread rises. You do not need to sit there and wait for it. The actual work time to make bread is about 10 - 15 minutes... and if you set aside the time to do it only twice a week, you will find out that you do not need to spend a fortune on bakery bread OR settle for that glorified almost inedible paste.

Making your own bread is easy, and it is actually cheaper than buying loafs of commercially made gunk.


THE CHALLENGE

Tell yourself, for 1 month, I will bake my own bread. I will tough it out for 1 month and do that work. Just one month, then you can decide to go back to whatever you were doing before. My bet is, if you make your own bread for 1 month, you will not turn back.


The shopping list.

What you need: FLOUR, YEAST, SUGAR, SALT, oil, A BREAD PAN (2 is better)

First you need a bag of bread flour ($3-$5) You definitely want bread flour. Bread flour contains a lot more gluten than normal flour, and though we hear a lot about how bad glutens are, they are not. Some glutens are bad, some are not. Glutens are required by our bodies and in this case, it is required to give the bread its nice solid structure.

Next up, yeast. You can do the little packets.. but I find buying a block of active dry yeast is the best way to go. Usually 2 lbs of yeast is under $10, and will make many many loaves of bread. The jars also work for under $5.. but I have just had much better luck with the 2 lb blocks. This is the same basic yeast that is found in the packets, but because of the way it is packaged, it seems to have a lot more active yeast in it.

If your using a recipe that wants a packet of yeast. It is 2 1/2 tsp per packet of yeast..

Storing yeast is easy. Unopened it can hang out in the cupboard for a year or more. Once opened, transfer if to an air tight container (like the disposable glad kitchen containers or Tupperware), and store it in the fridge. It will stay good for at least 2 months after opening, usually.

Finally you need some normal sugar, and some salt (I definitely recommend Kosher salt here).

That's it.. so lets look at my basic bread recipe:


Basic White Bread

1 Cup Warm Water (about 110 degrees, basically warm to touch but not hot)
2 Tbs white sugar
2 1/2 tsp Yeast
1/4 cup Vegatable oil, canola oil or melted butter
3 cups bread flour
1 tsp salt

That is everything..

To begin, put the warm water in a bowl and add the sugar and the salt. Mix this up and sprinkle the yeast on top. The yeast will kinda foam up after about 5 minutes. This is how you know if your yeast is good.

Now, just add the oil and 2 cups of the flour and mix till thoroughly combined.

Now, if you have a dough hook, just use that for this next step, but if not, you will need to knead... by the way this is a great way to work out some aggression..

just spinkle some of the flour onto a clean area on you counter (I lay wax paper down and do it on wax paper, but you don't have to). Then flop your dough mixture onto it. Have 1 cup of bread flour sitting next to you and begin just flattening and folding the dough. Add some flour every couple of folds.. (about 1/4 cup each time you add.. and don't add more till it is fully folded in).

If it starts to get sticky, sprinkle flour on it.. Here is the thing. Pay attention, you do not HAVE to use the entire cup of flour.. stop when the dough starts to feel firm but soft... Now.. flatten and fold it a few more times till it seems smooth.

Ball it up.. and spray the inside of the bowl with cooking spray (or a little oil) roll the ball in the bowl and set it in there.. cover with plastic wrap... and let sit for about an hour (it should double in size). *** note this is the first rise, it helps with the bread texture, but I have skipped it in the past and actually still had good bread... though it had some oddball bubbles. So it does help with the texture of the bread, but it can be skipped if you really don't want to double rise your bread.

Ok, now flop that out on the counter and flatten and fold it a couple of times to get some of the air out. For normal loaf pans, cut it in half and put it in 2 pans sprayed with cooking spray. Alternatively, you can use a large loaf pan, or you can shape it a bit and just put it right on a cookie sheet (if you want kind of a French bread look).. or cut it into 24 pieces for diner rolls.. or 12 pieces for sandwich rolls. Yes, it is excellent for all those things... and more.

Now here is the trick. Boil 2 cups of water. Put a cake pan or some form of baking pan in the bottom of the oven, and leave the oven turned OFF. once the water is boiling, pour it into the pan.. and stick you bread dough on a rack above the pan. The moisture and heat from the water will keep your dough moist and give the yeast lots of warmth to help make your bread rise.. quickly, and without getting that yucky dry crust on the dough.

After about 1 hour, check on your dough, it should be huge.. Pull it out of the oven.. remove the pan of water (which will no longer be hot).. and turn the oven on to 375 degrees.. let it preheat.. put you bread pans in, and let them bake for about 20 mins, then check on them. Your looking for a nice medium brown on the entire loaf.. So keep checking ever 5 minutes. It usually takes about 30 mins in the oven total to finish a loaf.. but it may vary a little.

I store my bread in ZIplock freezer bags (the big ones).. If you don't want to use the bread immediately, remove it from the oven after 20 mins.. Then let it cool.. once cool shove it into a ziplock or wrap in seran wrap and place it in the freezer.. When you want it, stick it in a 375 oven for about 15-20 mins (from frozen).. and it will be just like fresh baked). I have kept them in the freezer for up to a month..






zirbirt
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