Yes, you can bake bread

Fresh Bread

There’s nothing quite like the joy of fresh baked bread. Photo: SurlyGirl via Flickr.

My husband and I are on one heck of a family resilience bender. When we first got married almost three years ago, we focused on insulating our place from attic to basement, shaving 20% off of our heating and cooling expenses. This really adds up.

But in the past six months our efforts have turned more to homemaker re-skilling. We’ve added a rain barrel and composter. He’s learned to brew beer. And after getting into canning, I’ve also begun the art of real, regular bread baking.

Rising to the occasion

I’ve always been a good baker, of sweets and breads. But I wanted to move from occasional baking to truly regular baking. Everyone in our house loves bread, and we go through about three loaves a week. Because we like crusty bakery bread, that meant about $12-$15 a week on bread. Yes, almost $60 a month. We were spending $600-$700 a year on bread!

So I ended up getting Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day after my dearest friend’s husband took it up and said his experiments with bread making were going well.

Sure, my skeptic’s radar went up over any title telling me I could do something in only five minutes a day! It sounded like a gimmick, but still, if it worked, that sounded better than hours per day on rising, kneading, resting, and baking. Or — easier but more expensive — just continuing to keep up with our heavy bread costs even as food prices were rising more.

Getting started

Yes, I had to make an initial investment in some of the supplies.

While the dough can be made with simple hand stirring until just combined, I already had a Kitchen Aid mixer, my most treasured kitchen appliance, given to us by my in-laws as a wedding present. If you’ve been waiting to buy one, go ahead and get it if you plan to make bread regularly, even if it does mean a semi-large initial investment. (They’re great for pie crusts, cake & muffin batters, pizza dough, you name it.)

As to the rest of the main supplies I got for the project, they were a baking stone (I asked for it for Christmas, again from my in-laws, and it doubles as a pizza stone), a broiler pan for doing in-oven steam, a pizza peel for loading the dough into the oven, and an oven thermometer. There was an expense of about $75 total. An investment, as they say.

I’ve been doing the Great Bread Baking Project of 2012 for almost two months now and our bread expense has gone down to about $10 a month. That’s only $120 a year! We’ve seen no significant rise in our energy bill because of it. And it’s fun.

Yes, the book’s method really works. They’re not kidding when they say that your actual daily investment is only about five minutes.

The basics

ARTISAN-BREAD-IN-FIVE-MINUTES-A-DAY

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking, 2007, Thomas Dunne Books, 242pp.

For those of you who haven’t heard about it, this book focuses on a kind of wet dough technique that relies on continual rise of the dough over days in the fridge. You just pull out a hunk when you want to bake, let it rest, pre-heat your stone, and bake. (They also have a website for more bread tips and a bread online community and all that good stuff.)

Since I work at home anyway, this is a breeze for me. But folks who travel to a workplace during the week could readily integrate this into an early morning routine or after work and seriously find it easier than easy. I kid you not.

In just two months I’ve achieved a perfect crusty crust and a mostly perfect crumb (the interior), though I am working on making it a little less dense and not quite so moist, with a few more holes throughout. Still, it tastes great and has an awesome texture. My husband compliments me on it like crazy, and my bread-happy kids are just happy with all the bread.

I started by just doing the book’s master recipe. Um, trying to master it. I did, and am now onto whole wheat, rye, herb-infused, and seeded crusts. To all I add an ancient strain of sourdough starter I received from a fellow Permaculture fan.

My kids want me to do a sweet bread, a French-inspired pain au chocolat, and for Easter, a braided loaf. Sure, why not? I’m not intimidated at all.

Fresh, crusty, tasty, perfect artisan bread may seem like an exotic offering that’s beyond the scope of the average person. Let me emphasize that that is simply not true.

People used to bake bread all the time. Daily. This is as basic to human life as anything in the past couple millennia.

I was initially intimidated, too. Sure, I was great at making bread a few times a year, and loved the whole kneading, rising, and baking process of what was otherwise an out-of-the-ordinary experience. My pumpkin, zucchini, banana and cranberry loaves were also fun every so often. But doing more than that seemed like a lifestyle shift that I wouldn’t or couldn’t make.

Phooey.

I can do it

The truth is I can bake bread, regularly, as part of daily life. The benefits are many, including:

  • I know exactly what my ingredients are.
  • I create nearly zero waste (minimal flour packaging can be composted).
  • My bread expenses have been cut by roughly 80%.
  • Fresh bread right from the oven? No brainer!
  • Family resilience increased significantly.

If you were or are also put off by the prospect of bread baking, take it from me: you can bake bread. And you’ll love the results.

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice

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Comments

  1. Franc says

    You can bake bread, but there’s a much more pressing question: Should you ?

    It’s not the amount of calories you consume that’ll make you sick,
    but the sources those calories come from.

    And in terms of long-term health, grains are about the most awful thing there is to eat.

  2. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you Lindsay for writing this post! I too am an Artisan Bread In 5 Minutes A Day convert and I’ve seen this book change so many lives – mine included. It makes me so happy to say, “I haven’t bought bread since 2010,” and it was a key step in my personal journey to get the factory out of my pantry. I, like you, am on a personal mission and I am always heartened to stuble upon like minded folks. You’re Occupy Parenting blog gives me great hope! You have very lucky children.

    • says

      That’s great! I’ll tell you it’s also inspired me on so many other DIY fronts. I’ve decided to turn this in to a Yes, You can…series. Beginning w/ my next one, fermentation!

      Thanks for commenting in.

      Best,

      Lindsay

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