Ever since I got laid off from my full time job I suddenly have more time for things I always wanted to do. One of them is home made bread. I wrote about making kefir in November of last year. I guess the DIY bug in me has annual cycle. :-)
We always buy our bread freshly baked at the local Jewel store. Costco also sells very nice whole grain bread but you have to buy two loafs and it is too much for our family of 4. A loaf of fresh bread in Jewel is $4 which can be a burden considering we eat a loaf a week (and sometimes more). Guess what, the $4 can buy you 20 loafs if you are willing to invest a little bit of time. Here are the precise steps you need to follow if you want to start with a simple “no frills” bread recipe.
Prepare the starter
Bread needs yeast to ferment and turn puffy. Usually recipes ask for dry yeast as one of the ingredients. A 3-pack costs around $1-2 in the grocery store. The good news is you can pretty much avoid it if you bake regularly. What you need to do is prepare a starter by mixing 1/2 cup of water, 2/3 cup of flour and adding just a pinch of dry yeast. Use a 32 ounce clear plastic container with a tight lid. Cover it with a towel and keep overnight. Next day add another 1/2 cup of water and 2/3 cup of flour. Mix thoroughly, close the lid and keep it for another night. On the third day the starter will expand noticeably and you will see a lot of small bubbles through the clear plastic container. The starter is ready.
Mix the dough
Mix 6 ounces of starter (appx. 1/5 of the container) with 1 cup of water and 3 cups of flour. Then add 1 teaspoon of salt and mix everything thoroughly. You will now need to knead the dough. You can do it by hand or if you like myself have a bread machine then put it in the “dough” mode and have it knead the dough for you instead. If you do use a machine, don’t let it heat the dough, stop the machine as soon as it stops kneading.
Maintaining the starter
Add 1/2 cup of water and 2/3 cup of flour into the container with the starter and mix thoroughly. The starter will be ready again the next day. If you don’t plan to bake bread tomorrow then put the container into the refrigerator. It can stay there dormant for up to a week. If you for some reason don’t bake in a week then just discard a part of the starter and add 1/2 cup of water and 2/3 cup of flour. Mix and place back to the fridge.
Ferment the dough
Prepare a container (I use 1.5 liter Pyrex) by slightly oiling its walls. Shape the dough into a small ball and put it into the container. Turn it once to coat with oil. Cover with damp towel and leave in a moderately warm (74-80F) place until it doubles in volume. Fermentation usually takes a few hours and a good strategy is to leave the bread overnight to ferment and bake it in the morning, but it of course depends on your schedule. If you need it to ferment sooner then consider placing the dough in a warm place. Don’t place by a heater vent, the dough doesn’t like draft.
Bake the bread
Pre-heat the oven to 450F. Gently invert the dough from the container into a floured board. Place the board in the center of the oven. This will ensure that the bottom and the top crust bake evenly. Once the dough is in the oven, open the oven door and quickly spray the oven walls with water using a spritzer bottle. Repeat the procedure one more time in a couple minutes. If there is an electric bulb in the oven, avoid spraying directly on it. Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 400F and bake another 15-20 minutes or until it is rich caramel color. To test if the bread is ready, remove it from the oven and hold up side down. Strike the bottom firmly with your finger. If the sound is hollow, the bread is done. Bake for another 5 minutes if not.
Treat your tastebuds
There is no tastier bread than the one you yourself just baked. We ate two loaves this week and my kids are asking for more. Once I perfect this simple recipe I am going to start experimenting with the ingredients, e.g. by adding different grains, switching starter flour from wheat to ray, and maybe adding a bit of molasses. For now however I simply enjoy freshly baked bread and the savings!