For our parents’ (or at least our grandparents’) generation, home baking was a part of everyday life. Homemade bread, dinner rolls or fresh biscuits were on the table at most family meals.
But in recent decades, we’ve gotten away from that due to people being much too busy for the time-consuming mixing, proofing and baking required for this family meal staple.
As a result, food producers have realized they can steadily increase the price of bread because it’s not something most people are willing to make at home anymore. A recent research trip to the local grocery store showed a basic loaf of plain white bread now costs anywhere from $1.78/loaf for Wonder Bread to $2.95/loaf for Sara Lee. Specialty artisan loaves can cost up to $5.00/each!
What we’ve forgotten, however, is that making our own bread is one of the most primal pleasures in life, dating back to our caveman days. When the aroma of fresh-baked bread wafts through your kitchen, I defy you to not feel a sense of serenity. And when you place the loaf you kneaded and baked with your own hands on your family’s table, there are few things more rewarding.
For a lot of people, myself included, once you start baking your own bread, it becomes
an obsession. How can I make it better, what can I add to it? What about sourdough starters? Quick breads? Brioche? Holiday breads? There’s no bottom to the bread maker’s obsession.
It also can be a fun activity for your whole family. Cut off a chunk of your dough and give it to your kids and they can play for hours kneading and shaping it into whatever they want. Where do you think the idea for Play-Do came from?
Here’s a simple white bread recipe that’s easy and foolproof. The quality is every bit as good, if not better, than any loaf on your grocery store’s shelf, plus there are no preservatives or artificial additives.
Also, this bread cost only $.98/loaf to make, less than half the cost of the average
store-bought loaf. Then there’s the satisfaction of having made it yourself.
This recipe makes two approximately 1 lb. loaves – one to serve right away and one to freeze for later or give away to a neighbor or friends. Save the bags and ties from store-bought bread and use them to keep your homemade loaves fresh longer.
Basic White Bread
1 pkg Active Dry Yeast
2-1/2 cups warm water (110-115F)
½ cup nonfat dry milk powder
½ cup vegetable oil
2 TBS sugar
1 TBS salt
8-1/2 to 9 cups AP Flour
1 TBS butter, melted
1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in ½ cup of lukewarm water (baby bath temperature). Once the mixture begins to bubble (about 5 minutes), add the remaining water, dry milk powder, oil, sugar, salt and 3 cups of flour. Use Kitchen Aid with dough hook attachment or hand mixer (or just a wooden spoon) and mix at medium speed for three minutes or until smooth. Slowly add the remaining flour until a soft dough forms.
2. Lightly dust a counter with flour, then turn out dough and knead until completely smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to completely cover the dough with a thin sheen of oil. This prevents a skin from forming. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.
3. Punch down dough and knead for another minute. Let rest for a few minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut dough into two equal halves. Place the two pieces in two 9”x5”x3” greased bread pans. Or for an Italian loaf, roll into torpedo shape, place on greased sheet pan, and cut 2-3 slits in top with sharp knife. Cover again and let rise until doubled, about another hour.
4. Pre-heat oven to 375F. Place pans in oven and cook until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Remove from pans to cool on wire racks. When completely cool, brush with melted butter.
Warning: Baking your own bread is highly addictive. Once you start, you’ll want to try all kinds of different variations. For example, try replacing 3 cups of the AP flour in the above recipe with whole wheat flour for a heartier, more dense whole wheat bread.
Once you get hooked, you’ll want to learn more about bread baking. There’s a ton of great books out there, but I highly recommend “Bread Alone,” by Daniel Leader, a master artisan baker who studied in France ($21.45 hardcover from Amazon, but try your local library first). The pictures alone are worth the cost.
Bread baking is one of the most fun culinary experiences you can have. I hope you take the time to try it out. If you enjoy it half as much as I do, it will be well worth the effort.